Thursday, October 16, 2014

How to replace the lower control arm ball joint on GM Grand Am, Calais, Somerset, Achieva, Skylark

     The grease cup on the lower ball joint on this 1997 Pontiac Grand Am was torn. Although the ball joint was still good, it wouldn't be long and it would wear out. I had the front end up and ready for a brake job, so it made sense to do this now. The ball joint on this car is riveted to the lower control arm. I attempted first to grind away and then punch out the rivets with the arm on the car. Nope, no way. These appear to be pressed in. I then tried to drill them out from under the jacked- up car. The clearance, even for a right angle drill was so small, I couldn't help but miss the center of the rivet. I decided to pull out the control arm and do the drilling on a bench. I mention this trouble I had in answer to the question "why didn't you take out the rivets with the arm on the car? I couldn't do it. Maybe you can, but maybe you'll waste hours trying. This procedure covers how to do it with the control arm out of the car.

The Repair Basics                          

  • Safety: Safety glasses, gloves, and a dust mask. 
  • Tools: Two jacks, 19mm and 15mm sockets, 21mm and 18mm open end wrenches, 3/8" Allen socket, ball joint fork, electric drill and bits from 1/8" to 1/2". May need pry bar and vice-grip pliers. 
  •  Parts and materials: lower ball joint, brake parts cleaner, grease.
  •  Cost of parts and materials: lower ball joint  $16.83
  •  Shop labor cost for the job: $??? 
  •  Home mechanic estimated time: 3-4 hours   

    1)    Break the lug nuts and jack up the vehicle.
    2)     Remove the wheel.
    3)     Use some brake parts cleaner to remove dust from the work area. Wear a mask. Unbolt the brake caliper with 3/8” Allen wrench. Hang it up securely out of harms way.
    4)     Remove the rotor, which is in the way of ball joint removal.
    5)   Disconnect the motion sensor and secure it out of the way
    6)     Remove the bar link with a 14mm deep well socket on top and a 14mm box end wrench on the bottom. This is basically a long bolt with 4 rubber bushings, a metal sleeve, 4 cap washers and a nut. It is bolted from the sway bar to the control arm and therefore must come out. 
    7)      Remove the cotter pin on the castellated nut.
    8)      Remove the ball joint castellated nut with an 18mm open end wrench. There is no room to get the preferred box end in there. Also, it will only turn out part way before it hits the teeth of the sensor wheel. At this point go to the next step.
    9)    Using a ball joint fork, separate the ball joint where it is pressed into the knuckle. Then use the fork to pry the control arm downward to allow clearance to remove the castellated nut.

Tap the ball joint loose from the steering knuckle

  10)    Remaining are two bolts, one front and one rear, holding the control arm in place. The rear is straightforward. Use a 19mm socket and breaker bar on the bolt head (under) and a 21mm open end wrench to hold the nut on top. The front bolt and nut is trickier.  I was able to hold the nut (in a channel accessed through an opening underneath)with a 18 mm open end wrench while turning the bolt head with a 15mm socket and ratchet (1/2”). Once both bolts are out, wiggle and jostle the arm till it comes out. Note the orientation of the round rear rubber bushing as it is not quite symmetrical. 

Removing the front control arm bolt

 11)   Now, with it out of the car, put it on work bench. Carefully center punch the rivets . I had ground them off flush, but this is probably unnecessary as the outer ring left over after drilling can simply be knocked off. Using a step bit process, I started at about 1/8” and worked up to 1/2", sharpening the bits as I went along, I finally got all three drilled out. The one I miss-drilled from under the car required three small holes drilled and I then used a small chisel to pound it out. Check the hole size on the control arm. Mine was slightly too small for the bolts provided in the kit and I enlarged it rather easily with a round hand rasp.

Carefully center tap and start with a 1/8" drill bit 


 12)   Mount the the new ball joint in the control arm by tapping it in with a hammer. If applicable, install a grease fitting (provided with mine) and fill with grease. Make sure the ball joint is facing upward. The wiring harness holders will be up. Now mount the nuts and bolts and torque to 50 ft lbs. My instructions had no torque listed but 50 seems adequate.  Re-position the large round rubber isolator in the left rear hole. The end with the ridge faces down. 
 13) Seat the control arm back in position on the vehicle. Do not have the ball joint in the knuckle at this time. Start with rear end first. I found the rear rubber isolator hangs up and is hard to seat. I had to take it out and cock it so it would slide it. I managed to get it to finally seat with a pry bar and by clamping a vice grip pliers around the bushing and tapping on the pliers. I also tapped a round chisel into the hole to align it. The front end of the arm fit in easily. 

Canting the rubber bushing a bit will aid in installing this close-fitting part
   14) Bolt the control arm in place. Install both bolts. On the rear use a 19 mm socket on the bolt and a 21 mm wrench on the nut. On the front mount, put the 15mm bolt through, but leave 1/2" of the bolt sticking out. To get the nut started, put it in the channel provided by the cut out and hold it against the bolt threads while turning the bolt head with a ratchet. When it is threaded on a bit, insert a 18mm open end wrench in the opening and turn the bolt until you feel the wrench catch on the nut. Torque the front bolt to 89 ft lbs and rear bolt to 125 ft lbs.
   15) Now seat the ball joint stud in the hole in the steering knuckle. Once aligned, tap it with a hammer until it seats and the threads are above the top of the knuckle hole and can be caught with the castellated nut. Turn the nut with a 19mm wrench and torque to 45 – 55 ft lbs and insert the cotter pin.
  16)  Remount the sway bar link to the control arm. Lift with a jack under the ball joint to aid in getting the bolt, with washers and bushings through the sway bar from below. Torque to 17 ft lbs.
  18)  Remount the rotor and brake caliper. It's a good idea to put some grease under the "hat" of the rotor to keep it from rusting to the hub. Torque the caliper 3/8" Allen bolts to 38 ft lbs.
  19)  Mount the wheel and partially torque the lug nuts. Here, too, put some grease on the underside of the wheel where it contacts the rotor. Lower and apply final torque in sequence to 80 ft lbs for steel wheels. 
  20) Test drive. It may be necessary to have the alignment checked and adjusted.

                         the entire arm                                          Just the ball joint


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