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The Last Set of Ball Joints You Will Ever Buy

Posted in How To: Suspension Brakes on November 29, 2017
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Often times on these pages you will read stories about upgrades that are done preemptively. We swap in larger axle assemblies before we are left stranded on the trail with a broken ring gear, or we install a full cage before we experience a rollover. Both of these examples are worthwhile upgrades, even if you cannot quantify how long your old axle or factory sport cage would get the job done. By contrast, the installation of these Dynatrac Heavy Duty Ball Joints is not as esoteric.

After multiple trips under a 7,000-pound truck, culminating in a 2,300-mile road trip to Baja for the Mexican 1000 (October ’17), the ball joints in the Dana 60 front axle under our Ford were done. Like, stick-a-fork-in-them done. These weren’t cheap import ball joints either, but factory Spicer parts that we hold in high regard. They were simply out of their depth contending with 42-inch Pit Bull tires and hydraulic assist steering. Dynatrac picks up where Spicer leaves off, with heat-treated billet housings and chromoly balls. Grease fittings allow us to service the ball joints and the Teflon coatings reduce friction and wear. They are more expensive that factory replacement parts, but prematurely cupping and wearing out a set of 42-inch tires puts the price into perspective.

We had installed the Spicer joints instead of spending the money initially on Dynatrac ball joints thinking that the tires were the only cost to putting off the upgrade. As it turns out, that was not the case. After going through a few sets of knurled ball joints, the bores of our steering knuckles were enlarged to the point that the Dynatrac ball joints were a loose fit. “Owners of Ram trucks are even worse off because the ball joint presses into the end forging, not the knuckle,” explained Dynatrac’s head honcho Jim McGean. Dynatrac offers their heavy duty ball joints for Ford and Dodge Dana 60s, Ram AAM 9.25 axles, and Jeep JK Dana 30 and Dana 44 front axles.

If we had a stock Super Duty front axle, we likely would have sourced a set of wrecking yard knuckles to replace our damaged ones. We have a set of Dynatrac knuckles that have provisions on the top for steering arms though, and they are not as cheap and easy to replace as stock knuckles. While they are not fond of knurled ball joints, Dynatrac does offer their ball joints with a knurl for people in the same situation as we are. These provided a much tighter fit in the bores, solving our issues.

We aren’t naive enough to think that the Dynatrac ball joints will last forever under our big Ford. Like tie rod ends and brake pads, ball joints are wear items. The beauty of Dynatrac’s ball joints is that instead of tossing them when they wear out, you can rebuild them with simple hand tools. They don’t need to be removed from the knuckles, ensuring that the bores do not enlarge further and preserving our steering knuckles. Learn from our mistakes and do it right the first time with Dynatrac ball joints. As we learned the hard way, there is more at stake than accelerated tire wear.

We had already upgraded our Dana 60 with Dynatrac knuckles that place the drag link on top of the knuckle to reduce bump steer and the company’s Free Spin Kit. Dynatrac’s Heavy Duty Ball Joints were the next logical upgrade.
We needed a hub removal socket since we are running Dynatrac’s Free Spin Kit that replaced the unit bearing with a fixed spindle and serviceable bearings. If you are still running unit bearings the process is easier, as they only require four bolts to remove.
Dynatrac includes detailed instructions with photographs, a list of tools you will need, and torque specifications. They also include several warnings to avoid common mistakes during installation.
Once the axleshaft and hub assembly are out of the way, both the top and bottom ball joint nuts can be loosened to remove the knuckle. Loosen the lower ball joint nut, but don’t remove it entirely, to prevent the knuckle from falling off.
Dynatrac ball joints are much more durable than stock and feature a replaceable heat-treated stainless-steel military-spec spherical bearing encased in a high-strength, heat-treated billet steel body. A heat-treated chromoly stem is fitted inside the removable bearing. Dual sealing technology keeps contaminants out of the joint.
The factory Spicer ball joints (left) are good units for stock trucks, but our 7,000-pound Ford has 42-inch Pit Bull tires and hydro assist steering. These are far beyond the parameters that OEM parts were designed for.
This is where we ran into issues. After installing multiple sets of ball joints in our truck, including knurled ball joints, the knuckle bores were too loose to seat the Dynatrac ball joints. Learn from our mistakes!
Since new knuckles were not an option for us, Dynatrac knurled our new ball joints at no additional charge. This tightened them in the bores to an acceptable level. And since they are rebuildable we will never have to remove them again.
Dynatac’s heavy duty ball joints are made in America. This supports the US economy and allows for improved quality control. They have the ball joints on the shelf and ready to go, often shipping the same day you place your order.
Antisieze was applied to the ball joints before pressing them into the knuckles. This ensures that the joint presses smoothly into the bore and limits the potential for galling the knuckle.
While a ball joint press tool can be used, it is easier to press the ball joints into the knuckles with an actual press. Note to use the correct size tooling to capture the bottom of the ball joint and to press on the body of the joint, not the stem.
The final step of the ball joint installation is to add the snap ring to the lower ball joint. Note that the body of the Dynatrac ball joint is much taller than the factory ball joint due to its rebuildable nature.
Once the ball joints are installed, the knuckle is ready go back on. Tighten the upper ball joint first to pull the knuckle into alignment, then tighten the lower ball joint to 150 ft-lbs. The castle nuts should be torqued to 71 ft-lbs and fitted with cotter pins prior to reinstalling the axle shafts and outers.
Once we had the front end back together we were ready to hit the trail and explore with confidence.

Sources

Dynatrac
Huntington Beach, CA 92647
714-421-4314
www.dynatrac.com

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