Ball Joint Replacement

by Mike Gensler

Here's my ball joint procedure - its a little wordy (but then, that's me), but it is fairly comprehensive. This was on a 73 bus, but the earlier busses (and probably bugs too) should be pretty much the same. This was written up in April 97 so suggested prices and/or vendors mentioned later in the instructions may have changed - your call.

Other than the "damned clamp" on the swaybar, everything ended up being pretty straight forward. It took me about 4 hours to take everything apart and about 3 to put it back together. Now that I've done it, I could probably cut the time in half (well maybe...).

If your joints are anywhere near as bad as mine were, you really need to replace them. The rubber boots on mine were torn up when I got the bus 6 years ago and the joints had deteriorated to the point that they literally 'rattled in their cages' - one by as much as 3/16" side-to-side and up and down!

Tools used: - normal wrenches and sockets 10, 11, 12, 15, 17, 19 - small, medium, and large flathead screwdrivers - channel-lock or long-handled pliers - 2 foot crowbar (pry-bar?) - 5 lb sledge hammer (to knock the arms off and back on) - allen wrenches 8 and 6 (I'm not 100% sure of the sizes - the 6? is for the hub lock nut and the 8? is for the torsion arm set screw) - 2-arm 'puller' (I got mine at the local Pep Boys for $20 and it has been VERY useful for lots of different applications). You will need this to get the ball joints to let go of the steering knuckles - my uppers and one of my lowers fell right out, but the other lower was stubborn and I had to use the puller - a really big wrench (I used a 20" crescent) that will fit the big nuts on the ball joints

Supplies: - LOTS of rags - you'll be dealing with heavily greased parts here. I bought a box of those little latex gloves like your dentist uses and wear them anytime I'm doing this kind of work. That way you don't have to walk around with grease under your nails for 3 days. - WD-40 - how could you do ANY job on your bus without some of this wonderfull stuff? - grease - I used some black, hight temp., multipurpose moly something stuff from the local Pep Boys (I think they consider it wheel bearing grease). I used about half of a can (like 3" tall and 4" diameter)

If your front suspension is as dirty and caked with crud as mine and you are working in your garage or driveway, you might want to tape some newpaper down under where you're going to be working because all that crud is greasy and you'll end up knocking a bunch of it off. I had to scrub my driveway with Tide and a stiff broom afterward because nobody told me this and I was to thick-headed to realize it ahead of time.


  1. - remove the front shock absorbers (2 bolts - 19mm)
  2. - loosen the front lug nuts and put the bus up on jack stands or cinder blocks or whatever - just so long as it is secure and safe
  3. - remove the front wheels
  4. - remove the brake pads (drive out the 2 pins and yank them out)
  5. - remove the brake line clip that secures it to the steering knuckle (just grab it with a pair of long-handled pliers and yank it straight off - a little WD-40 is good here)
  6. - remove the brake calipers (2 bolts - 19mm) and hang them out of the way with some wire
  7. - remove the hub dust caps - don't forget to remove the little circlip that secures the speedo cable on the driver's side
  8. - remove the hubs - loosen the allen lock nut and remove the nut (driver's side is a right-hand thread) then just pull the hubs off
  9. - remove the rotor backing plate (3 bolts - 11mm) - you don't have to, but it is simple and gives you a lot more room to work
  10. - remove the big nuts from the upper and lower ball joints
  11. - if they didn't just pop out, use the 2-arm puller to get the joints out of the steering knuckle then push the knuckle (still attached to the tierod) out of the way toward the rear of the bus
  12. - remove the nut and bolt from the end of the sway bar (15mm)
  13. - remove the clamp from the sway bar - on the bottom side of the 'big' clamp is a sliding, tapered clamp that hold the opened ends of the big clamp together. On the back (toward rear of bus) end of the tapered clamp is a tab that is bent up into the rubber bushing. Wedge a screwdriver under this tab and bend it down straight (so it is in a line with the bottom of the tapered clamp). Then pound it off (from the back, toward the front of the vehicle). I used a 6" piece of wood with a metal plate on its end so I could hammer against it because there's not much room to get a good clean hit at the clamp itself. I put a floor jack under the lower torsion arm to help remove the stress against the sway bar - I don't know if this helped or not, but I think it did. For me, this was the hardest part of the whole deal and took over an hour before I finally got ONE of the clamps off. I left the other one on and took the arm with the swaybar attached to that one to get the new joint pressed in. The guys at the shop looked at me kinda funny, but that's life. I was later informed that if you use a clamp or channel-lock pliers to squeeze the big clamp together that it comes off much easier - makes sense because that's how you get it back on.
  14. - remove the set screw in the upper and lower torsion arms (19mm to loosen the lock nut, then 8mm allen to remove the screw)
  15. - remove the lower torsion arm - just take the sledge hammer and start whacking it from the back side - it slides straight off. I wouldn't do this at 2am unless you really don't like your neighbors very much!
  16. - remove the grease seal - mine stayed with the tube - its just a big (2"?) rubber ring. If your putting new ones on, toss the old ones
  17. - remove the upper torsion arm - I removed the upper suspension stop
  18. - that 2inch round rubber thing that the arm is currently resting against - first by using a big screwdriver to pry the clip that secures it out toward you (a little WD-40 helps here). I used a 2 foot crow-bar (pry-bar?) to lever the torsion arm up so I could get the stop out. An extra pair of hands would be helpful for this, but with some creativity you can manage it yourself. After it is out of there, the upper torsion arm will be resting against the metal.
  19. - knock the upper torsion arm until it clears the metal it is resting against (ie. there is no longer any pressure against it), but DO NOT REMOVE IT FROM THE TORSION BAR YET!!! Use the sledge hammer to bang on it, just like the lower one. I sprayed some WD-40 on the metal where the arm is pressing against it, just to lube it a little. You need to get the torsion arm on the other side to this same point before removing either of the upper arms. Otherwise the bars inside still have tension on them from the other side and this causes problems.
  20. - when both upper arms are free of tension, remove them

When you've got your new joints in your arms, the installation is just the opposite with the following notes:

  1. - put the new torsion arm seals on all 4 arms - that way you won't forget one!
  2. - put lots of grease on the torsion bar and all over the torsion arm
  3. - I used some kinda high temp, moly something or other all purpose (same stuff I shoot into the fittings when I grease the tube) from the local Pep Boys
  4. - put BOTH upper arms on the torsion bars before you start pounding them back on
  5. - I used the crowbar to 'lift' the upper arms up and over the metal that they rest on while I pounded them back on
  6. - putting the upper rubber susp. stops back on is just as much a pain in the ass as taking them off was - watch your fingers!
  7. - to get the tapered clamp back on the big sway bar clamp, I used a pair of channel-lock or long-handled pliers to squeeze the big clamp together until I could get the tapered clamp started, then just pound it all the way on and bend the securing tab back up into the rubber bushing
  8. - put a jack under the lower torsion arm so you can raise it up as you put the new ball joints through the steering knuckle and keep it raised as you tighten the nuts, otherwise you are tightening against the pressure from the torsion bars
  9. - make sure you put the holder for the brake line back onto the upper ball joint before putting the nut back on - things stack in order of eccentric bushing, steering knuckle, brake hose holder, washer, nut.
  10. - if your old ball joints had washers under the nuts (mine did), keep them and put them back on the new ones - my new ones didn't come with them, but you need them.
  11. - keep an eye on the end of the ball joint (the end the nut goes on from) as you tighten it. I had to put a (12mm?) wrench on the end of one of the joints to keep it from turning while I tightened down the nut.
  12. - this is a good time to replace your wheel bearings if they need it (I had the VW dealer install the new bearings in the hubs for an additional $51). Also maybe brake pads? - your call.

    ******* NOTE: There is an 'eccentric' bushing on the upper ball joint. It is an oblong thing with a large hex-shaped end so the front-end allignment shop can turn it to adjust your camber or castor (I don't remember which). It is apparently just pressed onto the shaft of the ball joint, but I couldn't get mine off. The guys at the dealership transferred it to the new ball joints when I had them pressed in. Make sure you get this thing off the old ones and onto the new ones or you're screwed!

    Bus Boys (800-792-2697) sells a set of 4 torsion arms with new German ball joints already pressed in. If I had it to do over, I'd probably buy those ($175/set plus $50 core-refundable on return of your old arms). I paid $16 each for the joints from Ron Salmon's Bus Depot (610-754-8989), then paid $102 to the dealer to press them in = $166, so it's not much cheaper and you have the hassle of taking them over there and the wait while they do it. Again, don't forget to get the eccentric bushing off your old upper joints.

    I tried to give you as much detail as I could remember on this. I wrote this up the day after I finished the task so hopefully this is fairly accurate, but its possible that I left something out. Just take your time with it and use lots of common sense and take all the standard safety precautions. If you know anyone else that could benefit from this info, please feel free to share it.

    Back to Library Suspension