Replace the Upper Ball Joints on a Third Generation (2002-2005) Ford Explorer
2002, 2003, 2004, 2005 Ford Explorer Models
There have been a lot of posts on here and some other Ford forums regarding the replacement of upper ball joints on a 3rd Gen (2002-2005) Explorer. In the past few months, a few members have reported that they have been able to successfully replace the ball joints by themselves, and not the entire control arm/ball joint assembly. If you have a Haynes manual for your Ex, take a look at it….even it tells you that the upper ball joints are not serviceable and you must replace the entire arm assembly. FALSE!
** Note ** This vehicle is a 2003 4X4 XLT. It will apply to any 2002-2005 Explorer, 2wd AND 4wd.
This is just a very brief rundown of how I changed my upper ball joints on my 2003 4×4 XLT:
Total time for me: 2 hours (only air tools used were to remove wheel, everything else by hand).
Mechanical difficulty: Medium (I am mechanically inclined and if you can undo some nuts you will be fine. The “medium” rating is because the press does take some strength, however use some leverage and you will be ok!)
Service Manual: Good for reference and a must for any vehicle you own. (Haynes demonstrates the steps to remove the upper arm, but not the upper ball joint)
Ball Joints: I used Moog K80008’s which were purchased at Advance Auto Parts for around $42 ea. Moog’s are a very trusted brand…
Ball Joint Press Tool and 4wd adapter set; I rented mine from AutoZone…FREE…you need rental tool #27165 (press) and #27023 (4×4 adapters). ** They do have an adapter set for Ford SUV’s Part #27163 however I found it was not necessary in the process.
Wrenches/ratchet/sockets: 18mm and 13/16″ wrench or ratchet/socket, 1/4″ wrench, 5/16″ hex-head socket.
Other Tools: Worklight, Hammer or mini-sledge (what I used), Liquid Wrench spray, and a metal coathanger (very important!!).
Step 1: Uninstall
*We all know how to jack up your truck, parking brake, jack stands, wheel chock, etc. Whatever your method, do it and make it safe.*
- This is what you should be seeing after you take off your wheel. Perhaps your upper ball joint is as bad as mine….
- Disconnect your ABS sensor plug located on the top of your fender well accessible from the hood, and let it hang free away from your work area. It likely is routed through your upper arm. It looks like this:
- Remove the nut that secures the upper ball joint to the knuckle, using an 18mm wrench.
** This step is imperative if you have a 4×4….you MUST secure the knuckle assembly so that it stays in place. You do not want to extend your CV axles or damage brake lines if you have not secured this….because once you free the upper joint, an unsteady knuckle assembly could do some damage! **
- Tie back your knuckle assembly using a metal coat hanger, wrapped around the coil spring, so that it will not move around, and will pretty much stay in it’s original position. The Haynes manual also recommends using a coathanger around the coil spring!
- Once your knuckle is secure, use a hammer (I used a mini-sledge) and tap the ball joint out of the knuckle assembly from the underside, where the threaded shaft is.
** Note ** You can use a ball joint separator here as well, however the resistance you are feeling is likely not that of a stuck ball joint, but rather the resistance of the control arm bushings…I preferred not to use a seperator because I didn’t want to put any down-pressure on the knuckle which was being stabilized by a coathanger…
- Using a 13/16″ wrench, remove the nuts that hold the upper control arm, to the frame. Also note that in the 2002-2005 models, shims are used here. I will picture them below. They MUST be put back in when re-installing!
** Note ** Do not remove the nuts on the side, they are the bushing nuts. Only remove the nuts from underneath, as pictured above.
** Again, you do not need to loosen the above bolts on the sides of the upper arm, they are for the bushings. **
- Remove the upper arm (you may have to move it around a few different ways to clear everything)…be sure to not snag any brake lines, your ABS wire, etc!
- Your ball joint press tool set should be something similar to this…I used the tools in the top left and right set from AutoZone FREE rental tool program (see top of post for part #’s), the bottom set is the “Ford SUV set” which I did not use.
- Preparing to press it out. Using the cupping tool from set #27165 and the medium receiving ring from set #27023 on the receiving side for the ball joint to be received into.
- This balljoint was toast! The top split through only because I was using too small of a diameter receiving cup the first ‘go-round’, but the medium sized one I used in the above picture was the correct one. Trial and error…
- Prepare your new balljoint to be pressed in. I used some liquid wrench around the outside flange to make things smooth when pressing in. It’s very important that you press it in evenly….you don’t want to bend the control arm! The new ball joint should press in much easier than the old one pressed out….make sure it has a good seat all the way around!
- Reinstall upper control arm just the way it came out. Remember those shims!!! If you loosened the bushing bolts on the side to replace the bushings, make sure to tighten them back!
- Secure ball joint with the provided nut. The ball joint will twist when you start to tighten the nut, so you must use a hex-head socket to keep it from turning, while tightening. Tools I used: 18mm for nut, 5/16″ hex-head socket, and 1/4″ wrench to hold socket. I positioned the wrench so that the knuckle did the “holding” for me while I tightened the ball joint nut.
- Re-route your ABS wire and plug it back into the socket, unhook your coathanger, and this is the final result!