I'm trying to replace the front control arms in my 2005 bmw 330ci (e46). I'm stuck trying to separate the inner ball joint on the passenger side. I'm using a pickle fork and a hammer. It seems that the pickle fork is fully inserted and the joint still hasn't separated. What else can I do to separate this ball joint?

Picture of the ball joint with the pickle fork inserted

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  • after seeing the pictures you will definitely need a bigger pickle fork to get it separated, if that's the route you want to take. (a ball joint separator would also be a good option) – rviertel Jan 19 '17 at 19:40

I would recommend you a ball joint puller. Sooner or later you will need to remove a ball joint without replacing it, so a pickle fork is out of the question. Heating the control arm sounds a bit dangerous to me, so there is only the mechanical solution left.

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Edit: Alternative solution: Since your fork appears to be too thin for the spacing you could insert a large/thick open-end wrench between control arm and frame and then reapply the fork

  • These work really well, load it up with the spanner, tap the joint, more load another tap etc... Don't just keep winding it up, take care it can go off with a bang or jump out. – Solar Mike Jan 19 '17 at 12:15

The easiest way to separate a ball joint is to hit the knuckle straight on. Hit it like you stole it. And I'm not talking about hitting the ball joint where the threads are at. Hit the metal part where the ball joint goes up through. Ensure you have something to pry it apart as you are doing it only so you can tell when it's actually separated.

EDIT: Here's an image of how I was talking about hitting it. Ensure the part of the suspension you are working on is fully off the ground. Also, ensure you loosen the castle nut, but don't remove it all the way. This will keep the lower control arm in check. It will also protect the threads of the ball joint in case you miss while you are swinging. You can usually find more room to work on the lower ball joint if you turn the wheel to the left or right completely. It usually works best if you turn it the opposite direction of the side you're working on, then swing from the back ... but every make is different. I believe the last Honda I worked on I did it from the back side. The method I've shown will work for any type of ball joint if done correctly (ie: tie rod end).

Ball Joint Removal

  • I saw this in a YouTube video for a Honda. I tried it but the inner ball joint is in a tough spot on this car. Also would have helped if I jacked it up higher or had a more appropriate hammer for this job. Anyway, I'll give it another try tomorrow. – kjgregory Jan 19 '17 at 4:01
  • You should be able to get at it from above in the engine compartment. That's the best angle to take the nut off as well if I remember right. Use a BFH and a socket extension. I also remember the pickle fork could get hung up on a small flange around the ball joint, so make sure that's not happening. – Lathejockey81 Jan 19 '17 at 4:32
  • I added some pictures. Can you point out on the pics where to hit. I don't see how I could possibly get to it from above on this car... maybe in the 325ci. Also how hard to hit? It's difficult to get much power due to lack of space. – kjgregory Jan 19 '17 at 19:18
  • @kjgregory - I finally see your dilemma. I couldn't see your images at work. While my method works for most vehicles, BMW had to do something off the wall ;-) My suggestion in your case? Get a second pickle fork and overlap it with the first. Just bring the forks in from opposite directions.. You're going to need two pair of hands to do this, but it should work. – Pᴀᴜʟsᴛᴇʀ2 Jan 20 '17 at 1:54

Are you sure you are using the right size pickle fork? If its inserted all the way and it is no longer pushing the two pieces apart, it sounds like its too small. Heat, hammers, and pry bars have their place but there's no substitute for the right tool.

  • Good question. I didn't get a response from the bmw community when I posed this question, so I went ahead with the fork that I had. If there are different sizes, then maybe I need a larger one. – kjgregory Jan 19 '17 at 8:15
  • Try the size up, you should be able to get one at a local auto parts store, they typically loan them out for free. – rviertel Jan 19 '17 at 15:48

I recommend getting something to pry apart the two then while prying, strike the outer part of the joint. If that doesn't work, you could try to expand the outer part with some heat. Propane might work but MAP or oxy-acetylene would be hotter and quicker.

  • 3
    Heating a control arm is a dangerous thing, somebody might be encouraged to heat it up to a point where it permanently looses hardness/strength. I would prefer a ball joint puller. – Martin Jan 19 '17 at 11:24
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    I agree with @Myself. Heating a suspension component is probably the last thing I'd do to get it lose. If I had to go this route, I'd replace the component I had to heat up. – Pᴀᴜʟsᴛᴇʀ2 Jan 19 '17 at 12:47
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    I used to have a 3 series and the ball joint with the control arm only cost a few dollars more than just buying the ball joint, so I was kind of assuming the whole control arm would be replaced – rviertel Jan 19 '17 at 15:54
  • Yeah I assumed that as well. – Tedwin Jan 19 '17 at 15:55
  • Sorry, I explained myself bad. I assume the deal is to to heat the part where the cone of the ball joint is attached into it, so the taper expands and releases the cone. In case of the E46 this would be either the steering knuckle or the black load bearing "frame" (displayed in the image above), I see a real danger when heating one of them with some high powered flame.. – Martin Jan 19 '17 at 17:16

That pickle fork is definitely too small. Then when you are using do not be shy with the hammer. These really take a beating to get loose. I restored an E36 M-3 and have pretty vivid memory of the fron suspension fighting me the entire time.

As @myself pointed out, that at some point you may want to separate a taper without destroying the boot. The separator is the way to go.

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