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I have a torn ball joint boot on my old VW:

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I'm away from home, and ideally I'd drive back the 800km/500mi and change it then. The ball joint doesn't otherwise seem to have excessive play (the car recently passed its annual safety inspection), the only problem is the torn boot.

Am I safe to drive it back home like this? It's a smooth highway all the way. I don't care about any further damage to this ball joint, I'll be fitting a new one - I'm only concerned about safety.

3 Answers 3

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It should be safe to drive it home.

The only purpose of the boot is to keep the lubricant (grease) in the joint. When the boot is torn, the grease will start to dry out and/or leak out of the boot, leaving the joint dry. This dryness will mean a lack of lubrication. Lack of lubrication will mean accelerated wear. The ball joint will not wear out immediately. It takes quite a long time. As long as this is a new tear, it should be a long while before it wears out to the point where there would be issues.

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  • In all fairness I don't know how old the tear is - I'm driving this car again after not using it for a while. I've noticed it now, might have been there for a while - but as stated it's hardly been driven in the past year.
    – user4520
    Jul 4, 2023 at 13:59
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    I would doubt it'll be an issue, but you'll definitely want to address it as soon as possible. Jul 4, 2023 at 14:02
  • I always felt that more damage comes from the road grit and water that gets in, rather than the grease getting out. That might just be due to UK weather. Either way, the joint is compromised, but it should last 1000 miles. First symptom is generally imprecise steering, and clonks when turning steering while stationary. Jul 5, 2023 at 7:32
  • @Paul_Pedant - Yes, I should have mentioned that. Thanks for the add. Jul 5, 2023 at 10:37
  • I remember the Morris Minor and the Morris Marina. They had a torsion bar suspension -- a long straight spring that twisted, and ran back along the underside of the body. The design had a ball joint that carried the whole weight of the car vertically. It was pretty common to see them by the roadside with one front wheel sticking out sideways, and a gouge in the tarmac where the suspension arm had flipped downwards. Jul 5, 2023 at 19:55
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Just don't worry, carry on and fix it when possible.

On a dry, high-quality road this is safe for at least few thousand kilometers. A moderate rain is not an issue either.

In the worst case, you will hear the typical "ball joint bumping" when making turns long before any possible catastrophic failure.

And the catastrophic failure itself doesn't mean the wheel will fall off.

In situations like yours, people driving offroad are used to making various protections for the exposed joint involving electrical tape, polyethilene, cable ties and likes.

You don't need anything like this if you don't plan crossing rivers or other offroad exersizes.

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It might be fine, it might not be fine. Sometimes there is no warning sign and you get to experience the rush of an insatiable tire wobble or have a wheel fly off your car.

Verify that the ball joint isn't bad; see this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=62bVn7E8gyk

Yes, it is possible that just the rubber boot is torn and the ball joint is good for a few thousand more miles.

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