Rule of thumb: don't mess with ball joints.

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Feb 01, 2003

Dear Tom and Ray:

I have a 1982 Mazda B2000 pickup truck, which has been the most reliable and trustworthy vehicle I have ever owned. It is all beat up, and it's now primarily used for trips to the dump and miscellaneous hauling. It has almost 100,000 miles, but it only gets driven about 2,000-3,000 miles a year now. The steering has been groaning lately, and my mechanic says the ball-joint boots cannot hold the lubricant. He said the ball joints and associated tie rods should be replaced. He said the cost of this repair is likely to be far more than the truck is worth. He also said that for as little as I drive it, I could probably get by without making the repair; it would just be noisy and sticky to steer. But I found that if I drown the ball joints in WD-40, the groaning goes away and steering is easier for months at a time. Is this safe? Can I just continue to use the WD-40 as the ball-joint lubricant indefinitely? -- Richard

RAY: I wouldn't, Richard. Our general rule is: You don't mess with ball joints.

TOM: The lubricant that belongs in there is a very heavy-duty, high-temperature grease. And you're replacing it with a household spray that isn't really even a lubricant. It obviously has lubricating properties, but WD-40 is really a desiccant, or water remover.

RAY: And, given the stakes -- if a ball joint breaks, a wheel falls off -- it's not something you want to mess around with.

TOM: On the other hand, if you're on your way to the dump anyway ...

RAY: I'd go ahead and change the ball joint, Richard. It's probably only one of them that's bad. And they only cost 100 bucks. C'mon. You've had this truck since 1982, it hasn't given you a lick of trouble, it's the best vehicle you've ever owned, and you won't drop 100 bucks to keep it running?

TOM: And "how much it's worth" doesn't matter, Richard. So what if you can only get $50 for it if you sell it? The question is, what's it worth TO YOU? My guess is, it's worth a lot more than that.

RAY: Besides, if you're never supposed to put more into a car than the car is worth, my brother would violate that law every time he fills up his car with gas.

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