97 XLT 4WD Upper & Lower Ball Joint & Tie Rod End Replacement | Ford Explorer - Ford Ranger Forums - Serious Explorations

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97 XLT 4WD Upper & Lower Ball Joint & Tie Rod End Replacement

Sid Daley

Well-Known Member
January 6, 2003
Reaction score
City, State
Surrey B.C.
Year, Model & Trim Level
97 XLT Sohc
All credit to Dave over in:

-- Snipped --

Just thought I'd have one last clean thread that passed on my experience to anyone that cared on the trials and tribulations of replacing the ball
joints and outer tie rod ends on a 97 Explorer XLT.

The job is not that bad, but IMHO it is not for the faint of heart or person just starting to work on their vehicles who does not have good basic
mechanical skills and access to some specialty tools. The first step is to read the shop manual about 3 times and fully understand what you are getting into. If you aren't a capable mechanic with access to the proper tools, don't even try this. There are parts on the vehicle and tools under a lot of tension during this job. If they come loose, they could seriously injure or even kill. With that said, I take no responsibility for anyone that reads this and attempts this job. This is my experience with highlights of the parts of the process I found difficult or quirky your experience may vary....

With that said, the tools I used were:
- Safety glasses
- Good quality high lift floor jack
- Good quality jack stands (2)
- Caged puller (I used a Posi-Lock 206 purchased at NAPA for $139)
- Ball joint removal/installation tool for lower ball joint (loaner from
AutoZone, $99.95 deposit) This looks like a big C clamp.
- 3/4" long piece of heavy walled iron pipe - got mine from Home Depot for
free - make sure it slips freely on the end of the lower ball joint that
fits in the lower control arm
- Impact wrench for the axle spindle nut and other assorted nuts and bolts
- Ball joint separators (aka "Pickle Forks") I had two sizes
- Torque wrench (click type) that reaches 100 ft lbs (don't mess around
with one of the old beam type. There are some spots where you need a lot of
force and wouldn't be able to read it due to the angle)
- Good selection of ratchet & sockets, 1/4, 3/8 and 1/2 inch drive for all
nuts and bolts involved
- Good selection of miscellaneous hand tools including pliers, locking
pliers, small diagonal cutters, alignment punch, small punch, big
screwdriver or pry bar, plastic hammer, 2 pound ball peen hammer, and some
mechanic's wire to tie everything up and out of the way while working.
- Haynes or Chilton's shop manual, or shop manual of your choice. Factory
manual is not required, but you will need more direction than I provide
below, as well as torque specs for the components you reinstall.

If you don't own the specialty tools above, most can be rented. All the
tools above are required - none are optional - so if you don't have them,
don't have access to them, or can't rent them, don't even attempt this job.

The most important point befor starting is to realize that you will be
working near parts of the car that if they spring loose could kill you, or
if they fall on you could do the same. Don't attempt this unless you have a
locking puller (where the jaws lock together at a set distance and cannot be
spread apart and come off while in use), or the factory puller specifically
designed for the job. Also, make sure the vehicle is safely supported on
jack stands. The jack can be removed, but then place it under the lower
control arm for safety, and to assist in a later step. Be careful to just
snug it under the arm. To much lift and it will lift the vehicle off the
jack stand.

There are a couple quirks to this job. First, the upper control arm bolts
on the drivers side must we worked past the fuel and brake lines attached to
the shock tower. It is possible to remove them without removing the lines,
but you really have to play with them, move them a little, rotate them, move
them a little more, and so on. It took me at least 25 minutes to get them
out. The passenger side on the other hand took me about 3 minutes a bolt
tops. I found that swearing seemed to help on the driver's side, though
that is strictly optional.

The other trick is when relieving the tension on the torsion bar, mark the
position of the puller when you are relieving the tension. It will help to
get it into the right place when putting it back on. I also held onto the
puller when removing and applying tension to keep it from rotating sideways.
And also, make sure the torsion bar is resting in the same place you removed
it from. Be sure to count the turns on the torsion bar adjusting bolt on
the way off so you can get it to about the right height when reinstalling.
The manual says to apply to additional turns when reinstalling.

Aside from that, everything is pretty straightforward. I first sprayed all
the nuts and bolts with WD40. Then I loosened the nuts on the lower ball
joint, tie rod end, upper spindle, and upper control arm mounts. An impact
wrench comes in handy for some of these. It is required to remove the axle
spindle nut. You have to remove the brakes, calipers, shoes, rotors, and
dust shield. If your brakes need service, now is the time to do it. I had
just changed mine out the week before, so I had a clean rag to handle them
with, and a clean box to store them in while I worked. Tie the caliper up
out of the way with wire. you can then separate the lower ball joint and
tie rod end with the separator tool. The lower ball joint took a bunch of
whacks with the hammer on the separator tool to get it loose. But keep on
whacking, it will come loose with a thunk. Keep the nut on the spindle by a
couple threads from the end until the parts come loose. It's a tapered fit,
so it will be pretty tight.

On the upper spindle (upper end of the knuckle), the pinch bolt must be
removed completely. I used my impact to remove the nut, then spin the bolt.
The bolt is not threaded, it's just that spinning it seemed to make it come
out easier. It still took some gentle persuasion with a hammer and then the
punch to get it out. And the upper ball joint shaft is keyed, so the bolt
must come all the way out to get the shaft out of the spindle. I again used
the ball joint separator to remove the shaft from the spindle. Things were
pretty rusty, but the separator worked just fine.

Once you have this loose you can remove the bolt from the lower ball joint
and slide it off the axle shaft. Then tie the spindle up and out of the
way. Be careful of hoses and the ABS sensor wire when tying up the brakes
and spindle. You will also have to tie the axle up and out of the way,
though it always seemed to be in the way.

To remove the lower ball joint, first remove the circlip on the upper part.
I tried using the ball joint press to remove the joint, but the
configuration on the bottom of the control arm just wasn't allowing that. I
would have liked to have had a small air impact hammer with a broad flat
tipped head to drive the ball joint out, but absent that, use well placed
blows from the ball peen hammer. Be vigorous, but be careful. If you nick
the edge of the ball joint, or deform it, you will have real problems on
your hands. Keep your blows to the center of the joint. Start with the
flat side and then switch to the ball end when the joint is moving down
through the hole. And keep body parts out of the way on the underside. It
will hurt if it hits you. Having the jack placed under the control arm
helps to take any bounce out while you are beating the ball joint out.

You can remove the rest of the nuts, and remove the bolts on the upper arm
and remove that. I did it after removing the lower ball joint, but it
doesn't matter. You can mark the upper joint, but you'll have to get an
alignment after doing all of this, so I really didn't worry too much about
it. The bolts will come out - rotate, slide, rotate - slide some more -
they are a real pain, and the driver's side is much worse than the passenger
side. Again, swearing is optional, but it did make me feel better.

The tool I rented to install the ball joints only came with 3 installation
sleeves. I found the medium sized one worked fine on the bottom of the
lower ball joint, but then I needed a second one on the upper side of the
lower control arm to receive the joint as it extends about 3/8 of an inch
above the control arm. This is where the Home Depot pipe comes into play.
I started out placing the upper disc of the puller on the lower control arm,
and then when I had the ball joint in flushed up with it, I inserted the
short piece of pipe and pressed the ball joint in the rest of the way.
While not required, the impact wrench comes into use very nicely on this
step. It is much easier than using a ratchet.. After it is fully seated
into the lower control arm, put the clip on the top of the joint and you're
done with that. Note that the ball joint has a big lip on it that fits
tightly against the control arm mounting surface, but there is a gap on the
one side as the control arm is angled. After installing the lower joint, I
put the knuckle back on and just snugged the nut to keep the knuckle from
flopping around. I kept it tied as well.

Then, I installed the upper control arm - the driver's side on mine just
slipped into place, the passenger side took some coaxing and alignment with
the drift pin. The spindle on the upper joint slides into the upper part of
the knuckle. I used the plastic hammer to tap it down fully into the
recess. Then I tapped in the pinch bolt into place. The last step for me
was to replace the tie rod end.

Replacing all the components is just the reverse of removal. Make sure you
torque all the nuts to spec. The specs can be found in the manual. Then
replace the brake dust shield and brake components and put the wheel back
on. Then I reinstalled the torsion bar. The second one was much easier,
especially since I marked the puller position and knew where to place it.
Be very careful when putting the adjusting bar back into place as your
fingers will be in a position to be lost if the puller lets loose.
Reinstall the adjusting bolt, remember to count the turns back on and add

That's it - I lowered the car, test drove it a short distance and let it sit
until I could get it in for an alignment. I am also going to have them
adjust the ride height (at the torsion bar) when they do the alignment.
Will only take a couple minutes.

The driver's side took me about 4 hours to do. This was because of all the
messing around with the upper control arm bolts, and trying to figure out
the ball joint installation tool. The passenger side took about 2 1/2

I figured I saved about $900 in labor based on a quote I received. I spent
$139 on the puller. The parts - lower ball joints, outer tie rod ends,
upper control arms, totalled about $335 at AutoZone. All were name brand
parts - Perfect Circle from Dana Corp. NAPA wanted $175 per upper arm,
Carquest was $135 per upper arm. All the part I have are not greasable, but
the parts I took off, after 119k miles were still fully loaded with grease.
So I don't view that as a problem. I'm not putting many miles on the
Explorer these days, so this should last for the rest of its life with me.

Hope this helps if you are considering this job.

-- EndSnip --



January 10, 2002
Reaction score
City, State
wellington,ohio in the northeast
Year, Model & Trim Level
'96 E.B. 4wd
Thanks for the post, I am conserding doing it. I got a quote for 750$. OUCH!!!!! now the parts are another thing I am still looking for them. one place wanted 139.99 for thr top and 17 for the bottom. another place wants 30 for bottom and 80 for top . I am still looking but thanks for the info it is appreiciated...