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Ball Joint Trouble

Replacing Drop Arm Ball Joint


This 'How-To' is courtesy of that infamous Lilliputian Landy Lady, Dirty-Girty, who had been told, when her beloved 90, 'Her-Landyship', failed her MOT, she had 'excessive play' in both the drop arm ball-joint and the drag-link end ball-joint.

Apparently this is a common MOT failure point, and CAN lead to some horrendous repair quotes, as if you read either the Haynes Manual or the factory service bulletins / repair overhaul manuals, there is no instruction for replacing a drop arm ball-joint, it simply says 'refer to specialist', and from what I can gather, the 'approved' manner of replacing a drop arm ball-joint is to replace the whole drop arm, as at dealer mechanics rates, its cheaper to buy a complete new assembly, then replace the bit on the end.....

BUT.... if you check the various specialist emporiums, they list a drop arm ball-joint repair kit, for under a tenner....... HOWEVER! As we were to discover, you MAY not even need to spend THAT little money! Bonus!

Thing is, Land-rovers use very old fashioned 'recirculating ball, worm & sector' steering boxes. Almost every other car built in my life time has had a rack-and pinion steering mechanism, and an AWFUL lot of mechanics, not familiar with Land-Rovers DON'T know that play in the steering is likely to be in the steering box and COULD be adjusted out, not necessarily in the ball joints.....

1    Checking Steering Box 'Back-Lash'

OK, so starting from the premise its been suggested the drop arm ball-joint needs replacing, lets NOT take any-one at their word, and have a look at the steering box first.

This is a DEAD easy job, and requires just ONE specialist tool... Land Rover special Tool No. LRT-57-018, which is actually a common a garden ball-joint splitter available at any half decent motor-factors for about 15 or so, and WELL worth having in your tool box.....

Its basically a big clamp, with a forked end that you can wedge between the head of the ball-joint and whatever its fitted in, with the other lever bearing on the end of the thread, so that when you tighten up the clamp, it pushes the ball-joint out of its hole.....

You can get forked chisels that you can hammer into the gap and use to pry the ball-joint out, or spend a lot of time hammering the threaded end through, hoping not to deform it so much it wont go through the hole.... either can work, but a proper ball-joint splitter makes things a whole lot easier.

Anyway, back to the point, first thing to do is to centre the steering. VERY important this, service manual says that adjustment MUST be checked with the steering in the dead ahead position, or very close to it.

Next, remove the split pin from the castellated nut on the end of the drop arm ball-joint; undo castellated nut, remove that AND the washer beneath, and as shown in the pic, split the drop arm ball-joint from the drag link.

This disconnects the steering box from the steering, and you can give the drop arm a 'waggle' to see if there is any free play in the steering.

If the drop arm waggles, even only a LITTLE bit, then you have two possible causes, and the first one to check is that the drop arm is tight on the splines on the steering box shaft.

Drop arms are notorious for NOT wanting to come off the shaft when you want them too, but when you want them to stay on.... they can work loose. There's a tab washer, and I seem to recall its a 30mm nut holding it on, and its worth checking the torque on it and re locking the tab washer to be sure that's not giving you any play before carrying on, to adjust the back-lash in the steering box.

This is done with a suitable allen key or allen socket and a spanner, on the adjustment grub screw and lock washer right in the middle of the top plate of the steering bolt.

As in the pic, (no I've not got it mirrored, 'Her Landy-Ship' is Left Hand Drive) its probably none to clean, and quite likely a bit rusty, so worth giving it a brush over to begin with to get rid of as much muck as possible, and so that the allen socket doesn't slip, using something pointy, like an old screw to dig out the hex head.

First of all, loosen the lock nut; but THEN undo the adjustment grub screw, roughly two or three turns.

The one in the pic was VERY mucky, but even a cleanish one will have had the thread of the adjuster exposed for a long while, so before trying to screw it IN to tighten up the back-lash, use a wire brush to clean up the thread and make it easy to screw in to the steering box; a little coppa-slip is a good idea too.

Now, holding the lock not still with the spanner, you can wind in the adjustment grub screw to remove the back-lash.

You can do this on your own, winding the screw in a quarter turn at a time, and then reaching down or under to waggle the drop arm and feel for any movement in it, and adjusting accordingly, but easier to have some-one else actually waggling the drop arm while you adjust.

Now, the service manuals don't give any specifications for how tight 'tight' should be, or how much back-lash there ought to be; it simply says 'adjust until no movement is felt', so this is pretty much a case of a delicate touch to 'feel' for small movement, not the big 'heavy' movement of actually turning the gubbings inside the steering box, waggling the steering wheel, JUST movement of the drop arm on the shaft.

When you are satisfies you cant feel any back-lash in the steering box, JUST to be sure you don't over tighten the adjuster, adjust 1/4 turn beyond your preferred adjustment setting, then back off until you 'just' feel some back-lash again, then adjust 1/4 turn in, to remove it.

THEN, if happy, you can hold the adjustment grub screw still with the allen socket, and tighten the lock nut to fix the adjustment.

Dead easy, and about a ten minute job, for a moderately competent mechanic, and I'm pretty sure, an over-looked procedure that is the cause of an awful lot of unnecessary Drop Arm Ball joint replacements!

2    Drop Arm Ball-Joint Replacement

OK, well presuming the drop arm ball-joint DOES need replacing, or you have bought the kit and want to replace it ANYWAY, again, its NOT that tricky. In Girties case, the MOT fail had been for the ball-joints, but when we came to renew them, we discovered the play had been almost entirely in the steering box back-lash; BUT, the Track rod End on the drag link had a perished gaiter, and didn't look too healthy, and to be honest, neither did the drop arm ball-joint, and it was considered prudent to change them both, as the MOT fail docket advised, if for no other reason that on retest, MOT inspector would expect to see nice shiny new rubber gaiters and ball-joints..... And waggling them about, well, they didn't have any noticeable 'play' in them, but their action was decidedly notchy, and when we stripped the drop arm ball-joint, it did show some alarming and uneven wear patterns, and some evidence of damage.....

THIS is worth mention, because 'Her Landy-ship' has a 2" lift kit. Its also a high end kit; complete with strengthened and camber corrected radius arms, extended bump-stops and all the little details advised to avoid 'trouble' with a lift; which at 2" is NOT considered very 'extreme' these days.... BUT, damage on the drop arm ball-joint shaft DID show that the joint had been stretched beyond its normal range of rotation on full articulation.... every-one questions the flex range of prop-shafts, but not MANY question the flex in all the steering linkages, and after stripping this one, I have found yet another reason to be disinclined towards lift kits!

Anyway.... NOTHING in the books to tell you how to do this job, apart from comments that it demands a number of specialist tools 'beyond the scope of the amateur mechanic'...... you need a decent pair of circlip pliers...... and a G-Clamp!

Picture shows the contents of the ball-joint overhaul kit; looks horrendous, but actually not that scary.

Important bit is the shaft, which has the ball on the end, in the middle of the picture.

There is a ring shown above it, and a cup beneath, and the bottom of the ball fits in the cup, and the ring slides over the shaft and sits on the top, trapping the ball between then, the shaft poking out the top of the ring.

You then have that short conical coil spring, and that fits under the cup at the bottom, pushing the cup against the ball, and the ball up into the ring.

And beneath that, the big goldie coloured cap or shim, which fits in the bottom, secured by the big circlip, into the actual hole in the drop arm, with the similarly sized rubber ring between them as a seal.

Then, when that lot has been squashed into the drop arm, the big rubber gater can be fitted over the end of the protruding shaft, secired at the bottom around a lip on the drop arm casting with a spring clip, and onto the neck of the ball-joint shaft at the top, by another smaller one.

Which leaves just the castellated nut, split pin and washer, to fasten the ball-joint through the drag link when everything else is done....

Make sense? No! Course not..... OK, have a fiddle with the bits, and try and put them together the way that makes sense, and I'll draw a sketch of what it should look like!

On the left, the 'exploded' view of all the bits assembled around the drop arm end.

On the right, a 'section' through the joint, as it would be when assembled into the drop arm end.

Make a bit more sense?

So, in theory, undo the circlip off the bottom, and all the gubbins inside should fall out...... it wont, and the ring is likely to be a bit stubborn and stay put, but,

Take off the circlip, and the end cap sould fall away, with the spring and the cup. The ball-shaft may drop out, or can be pushed out from the top, and the little rubber 'o'-ring can be rolled out of the grease, leaving a hole in the drop arm end, full of grease, and a rubber cap on top that can be prised off.....  But I wanted you to get the assembly into your head before you start pulling it apart so you know what to look for, tug, twizzle, prod or bash! OK?

 So, lets get round to the job, proppa, then.

Step One:

Starting from scratch, you have a choice to make; the book suggests that the drop arm should be removed from the steering box, and the ball-joint replaced as a unit with it. It would be reasonable to presume, the suggestion is that the ball-joint would be replaced with the drop arm 'off' the car by a professional reconditioner.

However, we are not professional reconditioners, and knowing how stubborn drop arms can be to remove, we would PROBABLY prefer to try and renew the ball-joint with the drop arm still in place, on the steering box, on the car.

This is NOT impossible, and in Her Landy-Ship's case that is exactly what we did, but that picture of Girtie poking out of Her-Landy-Ships engine bay, SORT of suggests it's NOT in the easiest of places to work on, and remember Her-Landy-Ship is Left Hand Drive, so there may have been a bit more room on her. Looking at Honey, the amount of 'stuff' loitering around and above the drop arm, space would definitely be more limited, for the one critical operation of knocking the top ring out, but for everything else, not to much of a problem.

If you WANT to take the drop arm off, it would make fitting the new joint easier, but, only if you can get the drop arm off easily. If I was going to have to do Honey's, I'd start by trying to leave it in situ, and plan on taking it off ONLY if I ran into trouble getting the top ring out.

So, the first steps are, to decide whether you are going to remove the drop arm or work in situ.

Take normal precautions as far as chocking the wheels, or securing the axle on stands, etc, (depending on how much clearance you want / need) And gaining access to the drop arm, which may mean removing front spoilers/valences, or steering guards etc.

Then, you can tackle the ball-joint itself, and the first thing is to, remove split pin and undo the castellated nut off the top of the ball joint, and remove the washer from beneath, to allow you to 'split' the joint and lift the drag-link off, as for adjusting the steering box back-lash.

At this point, worth while securing the drag link out of the way, so it's not wagging around or likely to drop on you while you work.

Here, we used a few cable ties to hang it from the front cross-member.

At this point, if you are working 'in situe' you can go straight to Step Two, if not, you'll need to remove the drop arm from the steering box.

This can be a bit of a pig if the arm is stubbonly attached to the steering box shaft, but the principle goes like this:-

Bend the lock washer between steering arm and retaining nut clear of the nut.

Using a large socket, (I think its 32mm from memory), and breaker bar, undo and remove drop arm nut, and tab washer.

The drop arm may then be removed from the steering box shaft.....

If you are lucky it will simply drop off, or may come loose with a few gentle taps with a rubber mallet. But unfortunately, it may take a little more 'brutal' persuasion!

The Haynes & Service manuals suggest using a hub puller, and there are 'flats' in the side of the drop arm casting, and a countersink in the steering box shaft for that purpose, but these provisions can prove redundant,

When I swapped Jaqui's steering box, I actually managed to bend the screw of my hub-puller, as the drop arm was simply attached to the shaft with more force than the puller could muster. And that was after we had WELDED the wings of the puller to the flats on the drop arm, to stop them slipping off!

Comment on the forums, offered many suggestions, ranging from using a fence post mallet dropped on the drop arm from the engine bay, to a large scaffold pole as a lever between the drop arm and the steering box...... Along with plenty of 'just use a bigger hammer' type comments.....

In the end, I took Jaquis steering box off, as was the plan, complete with arm, and took it to a local engineering company to remove for me with a hydraulic press. Cost me a tenner....

But that tale noted, if it proves stubborn, worth having a go at doing the ball 'in situ'.

If the steering box is actually being replaced, may be worth checking the price of a new drop arm; from memory, without ball-joint, when I did Jaqui, they were about 40, and that may be a worthwhile expense to save a lot of hassle.

Step Two

Right, you can now start to strip the ball joint off the arm.

First thing to do is to remove the circlip from the bottom of the arm.

SO many people look at these and try and remove the circlip with screwdrivers, pin nose pliers, old nails and lots of swearing, but hey!

A decent pair of circlip pliers are about a tenner, and BOY! they make life SO! much easier!

Remember, if working in situ, you are working from underneath, and that there is a spring, and a load of bits and pieces as well as a lot of 'gunk' likely to fall out as soon as you release that clip.

An old blanket and a plastic bag in the 'drop-zone' is a useful tip to catch it all and stop stuff pinging off everywhere.

All the bits of the ball-joint shown in the pic beneath the arm, except perhaps the top 'ring' should pretty well fall straight out

And its worth catching them to inspect, as we did, for any unusual signs of wear or damage.

All the bottom bits, out, the rubber boot, and it's two retaining clips can then be levered off the top of the drop arm, using something 'pointy', that isn't a screwdriver!







Step Three

This, is the awkward bit, if you are working in situ, if the top ring doesn;'t drop out with the rest of the ball-joint  lower parts.

And because of the tight access, I couldn't get a picture of Girtie actually in the act, of drifting the ring out with a broad engineers chisel on the narrow exposed flat that you would see from above 'just' sitting inside the ring of the drop arm from above.

It will also probably be covered in grease, slippy and hard to see, but if you poke about in the hole with a finger, you should be able to feel the lip you need to knock against to drift it out....

Easier if you clean the area a bit first, and DO make sure the ring is actually in there and not dropped out with the rest of the bits, or you could be hammering dents into bits of the ball-joint casting for little reason!

But once you have all the 'old' ball-joint bits out of the drop arm, should look a bit like this, and will need a thorough cleaning ready for re-assembly with new grease.

Step Four

Time to put it all back together again, so have a look at my scrappy sketch and get it back in your head.

Re-Assembly, is in those immortal words, the reverse of disassembly, so it should be pretty straight forward now; but lets run through it BEFORE we do it.

First of all, last thing out, was the lower 'ring', so that's got to be the first bit to go in.

The other 'lower' parts all fell out as soon as we took the circlip out, so they are going to need a bit of 'jiggling' to get in, in the right order, and held in place, while we fix the bottom plate and circlip on.

And this is where we are going to need the G-Clamp and a couple of sockets to hold everything together, and that spring under tension, as we get the clip in.

So, first of all, find the 'old' ball-joint, because that makes a useful 'tool' to drift in the new ring, but a bit of rag or the fruit-net packing around the taper of a new track-rod end is worth putting over it to protect the ring's ground surface when you tap it.

Next, get all the lower bits and something clean to lay them out on, IN ORDER ready to go back in.

And grab a big pot of Graphite grease to lubricate them all.

Now double check you have all your bits, and all the necessary tools readily to hand......

Step Five

Protecting the 'Ring' by wrapping something soft around the ball of the old ball-joint shaft, GENTLY tap the new ring up the bore of the drop arm hole, until it seats.

Then remove the old ball-joint shaft, and 'protection' and wipe the ball-joint hole out of any lingering grease of 'fluff' from the protection around your impromptu 'drift'.

Next in is the new ball-joint shaft, but FIRST, gloop a good wadge of graphite grease up the drop arm housing, and over the ring.

Then add a good gloop of graphite grease over the ball joint shaft and the bottom cup.

Now, IF it's easier for you, you can put the ball-joint shaft in first and 'hang' it in the drop arm, by putting the top washer and castle nut on to stop it dropping all the way out, while you fiddle everything else under neath.

But, with the ball-joint shaft in, next goes the cup, all smothered in graphite grease.

Then the spring.

Next, goes the large, thin 'O'-Ring, and this needs a bit of care. It has to sit in the gap in the small bevil between the drop arm housing and the end cap.

The 'better' way to make sure its seated properly is to smear the end cap and 'O'-ring with grease, and use the grease to 'stick' the 'O'-Ring to the end cap, in the right place, but it can be fiddly, and you may prefer to do it the other way round and stick it into the rebate in the drop arm housing.

But IF you do that, be careful, becouse if you dislodge it, holding the spring or putting the end cap in, you may not see it so easily.

Either way, holding the assembly together with your fingers, you now need to compress it all to get the circlip in place.

Now, large socket over the top of the ball-joint shaft, I think I used a 30mm, to get enough clearance over the taper and be able to bear on the drop arm casting.

But here's the 'trick', IF you screw the bottom of the G-Clamp up to the bottom plate, you don't have much, if any room to fiddle the circlip into place...

So 'small' socket, in this case a 1/4" drive 10mm, to give a smaller contact patch between the clamp and the end cap, and room to wiggle the circlip into place and get the circlip pliers on it.

THEN you can wind up the G-Clamp to compress everything into the housing, and manipulate the circlip into place and use the pliers to spring it into its groove.....

Watching ALL the time for any sign of that seal coming unseated.

If you've glooped loads of grease in, you'll probably get a fair bit squidge out through the gaps, make sure it IS grease not 'O' Ring, and wipe away the excess, top and bottom.

Make sure that the circlip is PROPERLY in its groove and holding everything, before you take the G-Clamp off, and then you can give it all a good wipe and fiddle with the ball-joint shaft from the top, and make sure it moved nice and smoothly.

It WILL be stiff, but that's good.

Step Six

Now, time to turn your attention to the ball-joint upper bits, namely, the rubber boot and its two retaining clips.

This is simply annoyingly fiddly. The bottom of the boot has to be seated over the lip on the drop arm casting, and typically it doesn't want to go over, but its just like fitting a tyre to a bicycle, working your way around the lip, using gentle persuasion, until it 'pops' into place.

First thing though, is to gloop the top of the shaft with graphite grease, so that the shaft stays lubricated, and THAT is something that helps make it more slippery to fit, but persevere, it WILL go on.

And once fitted up, wipe off the excess grease.

Next up is the larger of the two spring clips and this HAS to go around the bottom of the boot / gater, bearing on that lip on the drop arm casting.

This can be a bit of a swine, again, just fiddly, but you need to open the spring up as far as you can with a pair of pliers to get it over the rubber, then when you have it 'sort' of on the boss, best way to get it properly seated is to turn it, around the boot, gently so as not to damage the rubber, winding it down, like a key-ring, until all the loops are in the recess, and clamping the rubber in place.

Next bit is the clip to hold the top of the boot to the ball-joint shaft. This is a simple spring clip, but a bit stiff, and you have to open it up to get it over the rubber.

I have NORMALLY struggled, trying to grip these things with a pair of screwdrivers, but Girtie had a brain wave and asked me if I had a bit of cotton, so I went and got some, and she showed me how she gets rings off swollen fingers..... great trick, except the spring clip was a bit too strong and the cotton a bit weak, so buiilding on the principle I substituted a cable tie, and hey presto! A new technique was invented!

Basically, loop a cable tie around the spring clip, then wiggle one side of the spring clip over the rubber, then you can tug on the cable tie to expand the clip and wiggling it around the side of the clip not on the rubber, work it into place.

Once you have the clip seated, you simply clip, or undo the cable tie and pull it out from between the rubber and the clip!

Step Seven

THAT, is pretty much IT!

All you need to do now, is put the drag link back on the end, and you have the drop arm ball-joint replaced.

So, unclip the drag-link from where you hooked it up out of the way and manipulate the steering to line it up on the ball-joint taper.

GENTLY get the taper through the hole and the drag-link end mated, THEN you can give it a good hefty 'tap' with a hammer to seat the end on the tapers.

Put the new washer on, and then the castellated nut, which you should torque to the appropriate tightness.

And THEN, rotate beyond that a small amount to line one of the cast elations up with the hole in the ball-jouint shaft, so you can fit the split pin.

Job done.... almost.

Advice is to recheck the torque on any fastenings you have fiddled with, after about 50-100 miles, just to be sure they haven't 'relaxed' as they have bedded in.


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