How to Grease Ball Joints with or without a Zerk Fitting

How To Grease Ball Joints

With or Without a Zerk Fitting

This is a question we get at DST a lot: “How do I properly grease my ball joints?” Most aftermarket ball joints have grease zerk fittings which make the lubrication process a lot easier, but some folks want to add a little grease to the sealed, stock ball joints on their vehicles that do not have zerks. This how-to will lay out detailed instructions for greasing sealed ball joints and those that have zerk fittings.

For some this may seem like a simple task but doing the job right is important for the longevity and performance of the part and, consequently, the car. Your vehicle is expensive, the individual parts that make up your vehicle are less expensive, but grease is much cheaper than either. If you can keep your parts in good working order with a little periodic lubrication your vehicle is going to thank you with better service over more miles.

Here are the parts we will be working with:


How to Grease Ball Joints with Zerk Fittings

ball joint with a grease zerk fitting

Ball joints allow you to steer smoothly and are constantly moving so throwing a little lubrication their way is a small favor for the big job that they do every day. The rule of thumb is to grease these parts every, or every other, oil change which might seem excessive, but again; little thanks, big job.

One concern about greasing ball joints is not wanting to overfill it and bust the seal, which leaves the joint open to contaminates, potentially causing huge problems leading to failure. This how-to will get you through the maintenance process and back on the road with freshly greased ball joints.

Tools:

Like any DIY project you start with assembling your team. You’ll need…

tools for lubricating a ball joint with a zerk fitting

  • A Grease Gun – We suggest a manually powered grease gun that will put you in direct control of how much grease goes in and allow you to “feel” any resistance that the ball joint might be giving while you grease it.

    * A mini grease gun simplifies the greasing process when there is little room to maneuver.

  • Grease – Use the OEM suggested grease or a Heavy Duty Lithium Synthetic or Marine grease. This will serve you better and longer and many brands will actively repel water.

  • Flexible Hose – This is almost a universal requirement. The grease zerks on many vehicle’s ball joints are almost impossible to connect to directly, even with a mini grease gun. Save the frustration and use a hose.

  • Rag – To clean the zerk and wipe excess grease away. This will A) keep dirt and debris from collecting around the joint and B) allow any leakage to show up more quickly later down the road.

DST offers these tools (minus the rag) in a Grease Gun Combo for your convenience.

Instructions:

Now, if your vehicle’s ball joints came with a grease zerk fitting installed, the process of greasing is very simple.

First, you should inspect the dust boot for leaks. If it is torn or possibly even gone then you should replace the dust boot since contaminates might already be inside the smooth metal innards, wearing the part down and setting it up to fail soon.

torn dust boot leaking grease

Now, you want to clean off the zerk to avoid any contaminates following the grease inside. You should see bright shiny metal before you attach the grease gun. If it’s just too rusty or corroded then you should remove the grease zerk and install a new one.

cleaning the ball joints zerk and dust boot

Next, attach the grease gun to the zerk fitting. Try to meet the fitting as squarely as possible and press down until you feel the “snap” of the adapter grabbing the zerk. If the coupler on your grease gun is adjustable you can twist and loosen the clamping mechanism for an easier application just remember to tighten it before pumping.

connecting the grease gun to the zerk fitting

* If the nozzle of the grease gun hasn’t connected to the zerk then grease will ooze from between the zerk and the grease gun.

grease oozing from between a grease gun and zerk

Then, watch the dust boot and slowly give the grease gun a few good pumps until you see the boot begin to swell. DO NOT CONTINUE GREASING ONCE YOU SEE THE BOOT SWELL. The seal that holds that grease in the ball joint can be compromised if too much pressure is applied. If this happens you will be replacing that part sooner than later.

how to lubricate a ball joint with a zerk fitting

* Some ball joints have a grease relief valve that will allow old grease to safely exit the ball joint without compromising the seal. In those cases it’s best to pump till old grease oozes out of the valve.

old grease oozing from a relief valve

Detach the coupler from the fitting. If you tilt the coupler slightly and pull it should come away easily, but be careful not to tilt it too much or you might break the zerk and add a good deal more time to your maintenance plans.

detaching grease gun from a ball joint zerk fitting

* If you don’t have an adjustable coupler on your grease gun you should get one. It really makes detaching the grease gun and the zerk much easier.

how to detach a grease gun from a zerk fitting

Lastly, wipe any excess grease away from the zerk and dust boot. Drive the car around the block and check the joints for leakage.

* If you have a rough commute or hit the trails on the weekend then take your vehicle out on some similar terrain and check the joints afterward.

cleaning any excess grease from the zerk and dust boot

Adding grease can help eliminate noise and other inconveniences but if you notice excessive vibration or your vehicle begins drifting while you’re driving then your ball joints may be close to failure. In these circumstances we suggest replacing that ball joint with a part that comes with a zerk fitting for easy future maintenance. If you’re looking for a replacement ball joint Moog is an industry leader in longevity and most of their articulating parts come installed with a grease zerk fitting.

Trouble Shooting:

Now lets go ahead and cover the biggest problem most folks encounter with greasing zerk fittings.

How to clear a plugged grease zerk fitting

Few things are more frustrating than knowing a job is going to be a piece of cake and then have something go wrong. You expect the lubrication process to be short and sweet but if grease is oozing out of every connection on your gun when you start pumping then something is definitely off.

a plugged zerk fitting not accepting grease

You can remove the zerk and try to pump grease through it as a first step but if nothing comes out then your zerk is probably plugged with old hardened grease. Here we will show you a simple way to clear that zerk fitting.

First, remove the zerk fitting and attach it to your grease gun.

removing a grease zerk fitting

Try pumping some grease through the zerk and this will sometimes push hardened grease out of the fitting.

pumping grease through a plugged zerk fitting

If there is still no grease moving you can use a propane torch to heat up the zerk. This will boil out any hardened grease that is plugging the grease fitting.

using heat to clear a plugged zerk fitting

Now just reinstall the zerk and you should be able to get some grease into your part.

Now we will look at some other problems that can come up when greasing a zerk fitting.

  • Make sure your grease gun is fully connected to the zerk. If you’re sure it’s connected well and grease is still escaping from around the zerk fitting make sure the coupler is as flush as possible against the zerk.

  • Keep some pressure on the coupler to make sure the seal is tight.

  • NO POWERED GREASE GUNS. You lose the ability to “feel” when the joint begins to resist the pressure and there is no better way to blow a seal than a powered grease gun.

  • Grease zerk fittings can be replaced with 45 or 90 degree angle fittings, making present and future maintenance easier in terminally hard to reach spots.

So, there you have it. Like we said, the process is really easy and if you want to give this simple DIY a try, DST offers a Grease Gun Combo that includes all the tools we used in this article. You can also look at our post about how to grease tie rod ends with a zerk fitting for another suspension part that can be greased in your own garage.

Does anyone have any other helpful tips or tricks for easy lubrication of a ball joint with a zerk fitting? Please leave any comments or questions in the comments section at the bottom of the page. Good luck!

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How to Grease Ball Joints without Zerk Fittings

sealed ball joint without a zerk fitting

Many ball joints are sealed these days and do not come with grease zerk fittings. Theoretically, these ball joints will not need any extra grease and are sealed up tight so contaminates can’t get inside, but if you notice a groaning while turning then the culprit might be a grease-thirsty ball joint.

You can use a grease zerk needle attachment to get past the dust boot and pump some grease into that ball joint. This can eliminate those noises and potentially extend the life of the part, but this method will almost certainly not grease the entire part. As a stop-gap measure this should stretch the life span of your ball joint.

Tools:

These are the tools that you’ll need to get this project done.

tools for lubricating a sealed ball joint

  • A grease zerk needle adapter – This needle is fitted with a grease zerk and will attach to your grease gun.

    * Take care when attaching the needle, since some force is required you could easily skewer your hand. Most needle attachments come with a plastic sheathe, so leave that on until the zerk is attached to the grease gun.

  • A grease gun – We suggest a hand powered grease gun that will put less pressure on the seal of the ball joint and allow you to monitor how much grease is getting in the joint.

  • Grease – You should use the OEM suggested grease or a Heavy Duty Lithium Synthetic or Marine grease. These are perfect for automotive applications and will last longer than other types.

  • Flexible Hose – This is not necessarily a requirement, but it makes the job about 10 times easier. Save yourself some frustration and use a flex hose.

  • Rag – The mechanic’s friend. Stuff one in your back pocket and use it to clean the boot before (to keep dirt from entering with the needle) and after (to keep debris from collecting around extra grease).

You can get all of these tools (find your own rag) in a Grease Gun Combo from DST.

Instructions:

Here are the step-by-step directions to get some grease in that ball joint.

As with any part with a dust boot, you should check the boot. If it is torn or missing completely then you need to replace the dust boot since contaminates might already be inside the smooth metal innards, wearing the part down and setting it up to fail soon.

torn dust boot

torn dust boot leaking grease

Clean off the boot and joint so you can see what is going on with the boot and the seal when you begin pumping grease into it.

clening dirt and debris from a ball joints dust boot

Attach the zerk needle adapter to the grease gun. This can be tricky so we advise caution. If you are not careful you could easily be using the rag to wipe blood off of the needle (like I did making this article). If the coupler at the end of your grease gun is adjustable try loosening it to make the process easier.

how to attach a zerk needle to a grease gun

* Remember to tighten the adapter once the needle is on or grease will ooze out from between the needle and grease gun without making it to the joint.

Insert the needle into the side of the boot near where the boot is connected to the housing of the ball joint so new grease has a better chance of getting into the bearing.

using a zerk needle to grease a sealed ball joint

Pump slowly until the boot begins to swell. Some say you should continue greasing until you see grease ooze around the boot but maintaining that seal is important so we opt for the safer route. Make sure you can watch to dust boot while you are pumping grease, because once it begins to swell you are done and pumping beyond this point could damage the seal. No more than a few pumps should be necessary.

dust boot of a ball joint swelling with grease

Remove the needle and clean off any excess grease. There probably won’t be much if any excess grease but if there is wiping it down will keep dust and debris from collecting on that extra grease around the joint and allow a quicker diagnosis of future problems.

Lastly, take the vehicle around the block or down a dirt road if that’s your daily commute. Once you’re back in the driveway take a look at those wiped down joints and see if any grease is leaking. This could mean a busted seal, but if everything looks and sounds in order then congratulations, you’ve just greased the un-greasable.

Quick word about failed ball joints

This method will buy a noisy ball joint some time, but if you notice excessive vibration, a “clunking” sound, or you drift to one side while driving then you probably have a failed ball joint. Moog offers excellent replacement ball joints for many vehicles, and they usually come with a grease zerk fitting among other advantages over OEM replacements.

Trouble Shooting:

Check out these tips to keep from hitting a snag while greasing these joints.

  • NO POWERED GREASE GUNS. There is no reason to use a powered grease gun for this application. Only bad things can happen, so stick with the hand pump.

  • Keep the hole as small as possible. Be wary of any dirt, debris, or water on the needle or boot since they could follow your needle inside.

  • Using a flex hose makes the puncturing of the boot easier and keeps pressure off the needle while it’s in the boot to keep the hole small.

  • You can use a weather stripping adhesive to cover the hole that the needle makes if you’re worried about contaminates squeezing their way inside.

And that is how a sealed ball joint can be safely lubricated. All of the tools that were used in this how-to are part of DST’s Grease Gun Combo if you want to give this project a try. You can use these same tools and our post about how to grease tie rod ends with a zerk fitting to lubricate another sealed suspension component on your vehicle.

Has anyone used this method to grease a sealed ball joint? We would love to hear about any success stories or helpful hints that you’ve uncovered. Please leave any comments or questions in the comments section below, and let us know how it goes. Good luck!

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Comments

    1. Profile photo of Josh DanielsJosh Daniels

      Hey Edwin,

      Good question! U Joints usually come equipped with these female (flush, cup, etc.) zerk fittings. This style of grease fitting is usually necessary since a standard zerk would break off against another component during operation of the vehicle. They can be a real pain since they require a special grease needle for lubrication, but here are some quick tips for a female U Joint zerk:

      • Make sure you use the right size grease needle for the zerk on your U Joint.
      • Try to find the needle’s pressure “sweet spot” — push too hard and it impedes the flow of grease, too soft and most of the grease ends up on the outside.
      • You could try replacing with a standard zerk fitting, but it might break off against another part of your vehicle.
      • One of the easiest tricks is to treat the zerk like a cap. Just remove the fitting, pump in grease with a needle, and put the zerk back on.

      Does anyone else know of any tips or tricks for a U Joint or other greaseable suspension parts?

      Thanks again Edwin!

    1. Profile photo of Josh DanielsJosh Daniels

      Hey Laurence,

      Great question and one of the biggest issues most folks have with this method.

      Puncturing the boot really seems like a silly thing to do since you’re essentially compromising the integrity of the shield that keeps the grease in and debris out. There are a few ways that you can keep the boot completely intact.

      First, some dust boots can actually be lifted away from the housing of the ball joint enough to insert the needle between them, so you can get around sticking the boot.

      Another solution we mentioned in the trouble shooting section of the article involved using weather stripping adhesive to cover the hole left by the needle. This will give you a flexible, heat resistant barrier that will keep grease in and debris out.

      In all honesty the hole should be small enough that there won’t be much grease leaking out unless the boot is already damaged. In this case it’s a good idea to replace the dust boot. If there isn’t any adverse handling problems or excessive noise coming from the ball joint then it might not need grease that badly, so you might consider taking the manufacture’s word that it doesn’t need periodic grease and just replace the ball joint when problems do arise.

      Does anyone else want to weigh in on the “benefits vs risk” issue of greasing sealed ball joints with a zerk needle? We would love to hear what you think!

      Thanks for the question Laurence.

  1. Profile photo of Randi FarneyRandi Farney

    This is so helpful!! So if my current ball joint is not greaseable, is there a way I can add a grease fitting? Also, are there different sized zerks for each ball joint?

    1. Profile photo of Josh DanielsJosh Daniels

      Hey Randi,

      While it is possible to drill and tap a zerk fitting into a sealed ball joint, this is generally not advised.

      For one thing greaseable ball joints are designed to allow grease to flow out, taking contaminates and old grease with it. But a sealed ball joint is just that; sealed. With no where for the grease to go you will have a hard time getting any into that ball joint even with a grease zerk installed.

      Secondly, you run the risk of getting metal shavings into the smooth inner workings of the ball joint during installation, and that will send your part down hill faster than a grease deficit.

      In regard to your other question, the most common sizes are 1/8″ and 1/4″ but, there are a few different sizes of zerk fittings so you won’t know which size is on your particular ball joint unless a) the manufacturer has it listed or b) you measure the zerk yourself.

      Has anyone installed a grease zerk into a ball joint? Was it successful?

      Thanks for the questions Randi.

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