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 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.
Like any DIY project you start with assembling your team. You’ll need…
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.
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.
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.
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.
* 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.
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.
* 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.
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.
* 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Try pumping some grease through the zerk and this will sometimes push hardened grease out of the 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.
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!
How to Grease Ball Joints without Zerk Fittings
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.
These are the tools that you’ll need to get this project done.
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.
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.
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.
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.
* 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.
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.
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.
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!