The ball-joint separated from the spindle on my 1997 Chevy Silverado 2500 2WD truck. Read what happened, and how I fixed it!
My truck is a 1997 Chevrolet Silverado 2500 2WD with the 7.4L engine. I purchased it used more than 10 years ago, and I love it! I have used it mainly for my work commute and pulling our 5th wheel trailer.
It has been through a lot of adventures. A few years back, the engine blew and I swapped in a rebuilt engine. There are many stories I could tell about that truck, but it has to be for some other time.
This story is about the ball-joint failing on the driver’s side lower control arm, making the truck completely undrivable, and about how I repaired the truck.
Recently the power steering gear box had been failing. I replaced it with a rebuilt one, and then had the front alignment adjusted at a local shop.
I asked the tech who worked on the truck about any front suspension/steering issues and he said that he gave it a good shakedown, and everything seemed solid.
Over time the steering wheel started getting more and more misaligned. Then one day, when I was backing into a parking spot at work, I heard a loud noise, and the driver’s side front of the truck dropped hard. I stepped out and saw the front wheel leaning in a bizarre angle. I looked under the truck and saw the lower control arm ball-joint disengaged from the wheel spindle and the control arm leaning on the pavement. The threads on the ball-joint shaft were stripped out, and the nut was later found on the pavement near the truck.
I knew there was no quick way to fix it on the spot, so a tow truck came and picked up the truck and dropped it off on my driveway at home.
In order to replace the ball-joint, it has to be pressed out of the control arm, and the new one pressed in with a hydraulic press. Since I wanted to replace the control arm bushings too, I decided to buy a new control arm with the ball joint and bushings pre-installed. I ordered the control arm assembly right away online and by the time the weekend arrived and I was ready to start working on the truck, the control arm had arrived.
When I started removing the wheel and other needed parts, I noticed that the steering tie rod sleeve was bent. It is a cheap part to replace and readily available at local auto parts stores, so no problem there! When I removed the wheel spindle I noticed that the lower ball joint shaft nut had worn into the shaft base on the spindle, making the spindle unusable.
The local auto parts stores didn’t have a new spindle in stock. Online, where I checked, they could only be purchased in pairs, for about $400. Luckily, a local wrecking yard, according to their inventory database, had a spindle that fit my truck, for $50, but they were closed for the weekend.
OK, I figured, I will get the most of the work done over the weekend and pick up the spindle on Monday.
This project is fairly simple, expect for removing and installing the coil spring. This being a heavy duty truck, the coil spring is extremely stiff, and is under high pressure when in place. It is extremely dangerous to not remove and install the spring properly.
This is by the way not a step by step how-to article. The Internet and YouTube is full of how-to articles for any type of car repair jobs, so it would be redundant for me to write up one. If you are a mechanic, you already know this stuff, but you might still find a gem or two here beyond what you already know or find in instructions on the Internet. I use one of those repair manuals found at auto parts stores, those are very helpful for anyone who works on cars. But feel free to ask or comment here, if you have any questions or suggestions, and I will do my best to respond fo them.
I borrowed a coil spring compressor tool from the auto parts store, but it was meant to be attached outside the coil, and it didn’t work for me. I needed the compressor tool that is placed inside the spring. After removing the spindle and the chock, having the hydraulic jack placed under the control arm, I stepped aside and carefully lowered the jack, until the spring flew out. It didn’t actually fly far, since most of the pressure was released of the spring by the time it dislodged from the control arm, and I was on the side. So there was no risk of injury, But I do not recommend anyone to do it this way.
Once the damaged parts were removed, I installed the new control arm. I went back to the auto parts store and picked up the proper spring compressor tool.
The following Monday I went to the wrecking yard and picked up the spindle, cleaned it up, and installed it, along with all the other parts.
The rubber boot on the inner tie rod was bad, so I disconnected the rod from the steering rod, together with the sleeve and the outer tie rod. I measured the length of the rod/sleeve/rod assembly, removed the good tie rod from it and attached it to a new sleeve and tie rod. Then I adjusted the new assembly to the same length as the original assembly. That way the alignment should be fairly accurate, until I bring the truck to a shop for a new alignment.
Once everything was back in place, including the wheel, I decided to do a makeshift alignment check, using strings running parallel with the wheels. This method is only good for the toe-in adjustment. It doesn’t use absolute values, but rather relative values. Since the passenger side alignment was not affected by the incident, I adjusted the driver’s side alignment to the same value as the passenger side. I didn’t have to adjust much since I got the tie rod assembly length very close to the original one. I will still bring the truck to a shop for a complete front end alignment. But at least it is now drivable.
I took the truck on a test drive, and everything felt very solid. Even the steering wheel was centered again, the way it should be!