Uni-ball vs Ball Joints

keezer37

Explorer
I thought a write up about my experience with uni-ball UCAs might help others Googling for info on the subject.

Installed new in August 2007.
Removed in October 2010.
Total mileage about 56,000. (one San Diego winter, two Ohio)

I removed these as I noticed both uni-balls were worn and reinstalled the OE that I saved.
I first removed the left naively assuming that it would be a bit more trouble getting the long bolt out. It went smooth enough.
The right however was a bit less yielding.Persuasive as I was, the spacers & heim on the forward arm of this UCA had become one with the long bolt. Tap as I might with my short handle sledge, she would not break free. I noticed I had begun to deface the nut I partially threaded on to protect the threads. At this time power tools were required. Luckily, I was able to unscrew the UCA from the heims & spacers. At this point I went after the forward heim outer portion with my angle grinder so I could slide the long bolt out. Went easy enough. Now that it's out and on the bench, removing the ball of the heim and spacers shouldn't be too bad. Boy was I wrong. Long bolt head clamped down in the vice, pipe wrench on the spacer. Something's gotta give, alas not the spacer. So, more angle grinding, dremelling with a carbide bit to completely cut the spacer and...nothing. So, completely cut the opposite side of the spacer. It's in half now. Two separate pieces clinging to the bolt and still I had to hammer my trusty marlin spike between the bolt and spacer halves to get them to release.
Geeeez! (excuse my language)



And, as the uni-ball wears, the top hat portion evidently snagged the top edge of the sleeve I guess.




In all honesty, I never intended to have to take these to a cold climate and swapping them out for the winter wasn't gonna happen. Perhaps some day I'll order up the parts (basically everything but the arms themselves) and use them again if and when I live in a warm dry climate again.
 
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keezer37

Explorer
Interesting. Do you guys salt your roads back in Ohio?
Yes. The old school stuff too. None of the oxygen starving kind available that inhibits rust.



I live in Wisconsin, so are uni-balls not recommended for winter areas?
That's my opinion. And I would like to note that I intentionally did not mention any company name as as I do believe this would be the case for any brand in an environment where road salt is used.
 

corax

Explorer
That's my opinion. And I would like to note that I intentionally did not mention any company name as as I do believe this would be the case for any brand in an environment where road salt is used.
Do you think smearing a dab of grease on both sides of the uniball would have helped to prevent the wear or just attracted more grit?

I'm sure there are some New England guys with uniball UCA's, what's your experience?
 

ntsqd

Heretic Car Camper
I've been a voice in the wilderness on this sort of thing for a long time. SRE's and SB's don't belong on regular street driven vehicles. They're fine on vehicles that see a race vehicle level of prep and maintenance, but very few actually do this. There is always the guy who's driven them X miles in all kinds of conditions w/o a problem, but he's a statical anomaly and doesn't know it. Or he's full of it, one of the two.
 

MotoDave

Explorer
I've been a voice in the wilderness on this sort of thing for a long time. SRE's and SB's don't belong on regular street driven vehicles. They're fine on vehicles that see a race vehicle level of prep and maintenance, but very few actually do this. There is always the guy who's driven them X miles in all kinds of conditions w/o a problem, but he's a statical anomaly and doesn't know it. Or he's full of it, one of the two.
Uh oh, you're poking the sleeping bear again! Wheel spacers, oh my!

I agree with Thom, spherical bearings (uniballs) aren't used by OEM's for a reason. They're used on race cars that see huge amounts of continual maintenance. Ball joints are used by OEM's because they are much better sealed, in some cases self adjusting, and the OEM's know joe trucker is never going to get a grease gun near them for 250k miles.

Another complaint of mine is all of the aftermarket uniball kits I've seen use cheap commercial series sphericals, which use alloy steel balls and races. The aerospace stuff will last longer, but I guess they'd severely affect the price of the kits.
 

EricBirk

Adventurer
I have certainly noticed more maintenance on my UCA's over the stock ones. Whenever I do front end work I mark the bolt and the base it is up against with a marker so I know if anything has moved. I clean the Uni's very well at every car wash, and then lube them with a spray teflon lube.

I learned the hard way the first time around that grease is not something you want to put on them. They lasted about a month...
 

Petrolburner

Explorer
None of the photos show up for me. I have been wanting new UCAs to fix my upper ball joint angle after the lift, if the $600+ Uniball control arms aren't a long lasting solution, what is? Or should I just not worry so much about the stock upper control arms?

 
OEM's use the least cost part that will get the job done - they don't think any further than that. (In fact they have made a science out of determining minimum investment required to return maximum profit ratios).

Most uniballs are designed w/Teflon materials between the housing and spherical ball. Manufacturers of rod ends/spherical uniballs state that they should not be lubed. Even with teflon spray...

Uniball joints are for the most part quite superior to ball joints in terms of ultimate strength - even the non-aerospace versions. Can't remember any auto manufacturer ever using aerospace components anyway...

OEM ball joints are for the most part fine for normal driving purposes - but they stopped installing grease zerks industry wide on autos about 25-30 years ago for the most part. The "lifetime lube" is for the lifetime of the part - usually about 30K miles.

If you wheel hard - you can benefit from these spherical joints because even if they blow up, the joint won't seperate because the attachment bolt goes completely through the joint. Ball joints can pull out of the socket - then you're walking if you don't have spares. Many car manufacturers today make control arms that have ball joints that aren't replaceable - or at least easily replaceable. Also, any of you guys ever messed with GM 1/2 ton truck lower ball joints from the 60's, 70's and 80's? They were the same part as the cars size wise. (3/4 ton ball joints should have been used instead). Probably explains why this was/is a super common replacement item on those old trucks. They weren't up to the job - at all. FJ Cruiser OEM UCA and LCA ball joints are way too small for the vehicle as well, so sometimes replacing w/uniballs is the best/only way to get a properly sized part.

If the uniball/heim joints are sprayed down w/water on a regular basis (i.e. weekly and ASAP when mudding or driving in rustbelt areas in the winter where salts are used). AND if you inspect them every so often - they will be trouble free. Yes, they are not generally as quiet as a greased ball joint. Yes, they require more maintenance in washing/inspection but that's all there is to it. A properly cared for uniball can have as long a lifespan as a std. ball joint - even longer if the OEM part was marginal to begin with. Nothing OEM or aftermarket will last its nominal lifespan if not taken care of on a regular basis.

If your uniball/heim joints are beating out the lining and failing early - you need to look at what you're doing wrong drivingwise - or buy better quality or larger sized parts after checking to make sure the geometry is not in some kind of bind.
 

ntsqd

Heretic Car Camper
109, I gather that you have the data to back up your statements? Because I've never been able to find some of that and I'll be curious to know both what it is and the source of it.
 
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MotoDave

Explorer
Don't fully buy your cost argument. I'm sure there are cheaper options for shocks for the TRD tacomas than bilsteins. Every once in a while an engineer gets something by the costing guys and what he wants to make actually makes it to production:) If Toyota spec'd a uniball type joint on all their trucks, and sourced them in the quanitites that balljoints are produced, there would be no cost difference. A ball joint is a spherical bearing with a threaded/tapered shaft built into the ball. They are sealed, and some have self-adjusting properties, which is what makes them last longer.

I think the reason for the large size uniballs typically used in aftermarket UCAs has more to do with being able to use high misalignment spacers than it does with strength. Cant say I've seen a broken uniball (or ball joint for that matter) that wasn't caused by operating outside its working range and binding something up.

I do agree that with an agressive mantenance routine like you mentioned you could make them last a long time, but my guess is its more than most people want to do.
 

shawkins

Adventurer
Don't fully buy your cost argument. I'm sure there are cheaper options for shocks for the TRD tacomas than bilsteins. Every once in a while an engineer gets something by the costing guys and what he wants to make actually makes it to production:) If Toyota spec'd a uniball type joint on all their trucks, and sourced them in the quanitites that balljoints are produced, there would be no cost difference.
Bilstein shocks are a much better marketing point than Uni ball UCA's would be. It makes more sense on the balance sheet for Toyota to spend more on the shocks because of the Bilstein name they will sell like hotcakes. The general consumer doesn't recognize the names Aurora or FK. Also, uni balls are way overkill for a stock rig where the large majority of them never even see dirt.
 

jesusgatos

Explorer
None of the photos show up for me. I have been wanting new UCAs to fix my upper ball joint angle after the lift, if the $600+ Uniball control arms aren't a long lasting solution, what is? Or should I just not worry so much about the stock upper control arms?

Your stock balljoints actually have a little bit more range of motion than uniball-equipped upper arms. There's nothing wrong with the stockers.

A few people over the years have made high-quality balljoints for applications that would traditionally use some kind of spherical bearing, and I really wish that would catch-on. If they were more affordable, and more widely available, I'd use them. I've put thousands and thousands of miles on vehicles with spherical bearings (suspension & steering), and generally had pretty good luck with them. But I buy expensive ones, use boots wherever possible, and service my vehicles regularly. Still and all, would rather be using something sealed. I think that's really what it comes down to.
 
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