Our truck’s Ball Joints and Inner Tie Rods went bad, and we ended up rebuilding the entire front end of our truck. Here is what we did and how we did it ourselves with several major complications, some innovation, and the generous help of strangers at a Boondockers Welcome host!
We ended up saving some money, making new friends and getting back on the road.
After learning about our truck problems in Missoula, we started researching the job that needed to be done. After the initial diagnosis from the Tire-Rama guys in Missoula, we drove to Polson, Montana where we stayed a few days at a Boondockers Welcome.
Here we jacked the truck up and verified for ourselves the condition of the front end.
Front End Rebuild – Take 1
Ball Joints and Inner Tie Rods
The Ball Joints and Inner Tie Rods were bad.
These parts on our truck are unserviceable from the factory – meaning we cannot perform regular maintenance and regrease these and prevent them from going bad. So, after 150,000 miles, these parts had worn out. These once stiff joints were now loose and wobbly.
At AutoZone we bought new ball joints and control arms which include outer and inner tie rods – figured we might as well replace the outer ones while we were at it. They turned out to be going bad too.
Problem #1 – Finding a Ball Joint Press
In order to replace the ball joints, we needed a ball joint special press. After renting one from the local AutoZone, we realized that we needed one that was much bigger for our truck. The standard press would not work for our huge ball joints. Unfortunately, there were none to be found for rent from any of the auto parts stores. So we couldn’t do the job in Polson.
We drove up to Glacier National Park and checked out all the auto parts stores in Columbia Falls in between hiking and exploring the park. None had the right press and adapters for our 1 ton. We even had O’Reilly’s Auto Parts order a special press and adapter from their warehouse, but still not big enough.
So we couldn’t do the job at Glacier National Park. We also had given up hope of finding a press that would work with our ball joints. We had to find another way, or take it to a mechanic and shell out the $1000.
Front End Rebuild – Take 2
Lower Control Arm Replacement…and Replace the Brakes while we’re at it
After inspecting the front end some more, Tom determined that the lower control arm bushings were also bad. With this in mind, we decided that instead of replacing just the ball joints, we would do a whole lower control arm replacement.
The lower control arm replacement, while more expensive, are considered the easier way to replace the ball joints because they come with the ball joints already pressed in – so no need to find a press. They also come with the bushings already pressed in.
Since we were going to tear the whole front end apart and we were getting close to needing a brake pad replacement anyway, we got some new brakes to put in.
Kalispell, Montana – Boondockers Welcome
We came to Kalispell to get to a larger town so we could get all the parts we needed. Driving washboard dirt roads out to our boondocking spot in Hungry Horse (Best Boondocking Spot EVER) near Glacier National Park hadn’t helped any, and we had a bit of urgency about us. (Thank goodness for the free park shuttle for getting around inside the park, though!)
We found a Boondockers Welcome host in town for the night and in the morning went looking for parts.
Getting the Parts
We already had the tie rod ends (got in Polson) but returned the ball joints and ordered the lower control arms. O’Reilly’s Auto Parts would get them from their Denver warehouse in a few days.
We returned to our Boondocker’s Welcome host and asked if we could stay a few more days to get parts and fix truck. They told us we could stay as long as we liked! They also offered the use of their pole barn and extensive set of tools!
Rebuilding the Front End
When we got the parts, Tom tore into the front end. Here was the order of operations:
- Disconnect sway bar
- Removed the wheels
- Removed the brake calipers
- Removed shocks
- Disconnect Outer Tie Rod
- Break free lower ball joint
- Lower arm
- Remove Spring
- Remove control arm
- Move over sway bar end link & rubber bumper stop to new parts
- Put new control arm on…
and this where we ran into our second major problem.
Problem #2 – Camber Bolts didn’t fit
The camber bolts used to attach the lower control arm did not fit in the new bushings. The new bushing holes were significantly smaller, and the bolts would not go in. The control arms did not come with new bolts, and we could not put the new control arm on. So here we were with our front end all disassembled, and we were majorly stuck.
We called O’Reilly’s to see what happened. They had no idea. They had camber bolts that were the right diameter, but nowhere near long enough. They had no record of what was supposed to go with their lower control arm that was ordered specifically for this truck, and they were absolutely no help at all.
They recommended that we call the manufacturer… We were so frustrated. We called around to other auto parts stores and none had bolts the right size. Our host again told us we could stay as long as we’d like – and we were so grateful!
Grinding Down the Cambor Bolts
Tom decided to take a risk and grind the old camber bolts down to the right diameter. Luckily, our BDW host had a grinder as well. It took a lot time, but we finally got the bolts ground down to fit through the smaller bushing holes!
Finishing the Job
We worked late into the night and got one side completely back together. The next morning we started on the other side. Now that we knew what we were doing, the going went smoother, but it also went slower due to being sore and tired from all the hard work the day before!
Back on the Road!
After the front end rebuild we got the truck aligned so we were finally able to drive again! After 2 weeks of problem solving, 5 nights in Kalispell, 2 days of waiting for parts, 2 days of work, and about $400 later we have a completely rebuilt front end that will hopefully last us another 150,000 miles!
Boondockers Welcome – to the rescue!
We are incredibly grateful to Ron and Lilli Ann, our Boondockers Welcome hosts! If we had not happened upon them we would have been scrambling trying to get this work done either in a parking lot or in the woods.
The tools that Ron had made the job as easy as it could be – jacking up the truck, impact drill, heat guns, large wrenches, grinding wheel, and other things we didn’t have. On top of that, they let us stay on their beautiful property for free, let us plug in to their electricity (we metered it so we knew how much we used), and fill up our water tanks with their well water.
We made them dinner a few times to show our thanks!
If you are not a member of the Boondockers Welcome community and you RV a lot, we highly recommend getting a membership. It’s only $40 a year, and it pays for itself over and over again! You also get to meet amazingly wonderful generous people all over the country. It allowed us the time and flexibility to solve our truck complications with several days stay in Polson as well as in Kalispell. It also gave us beautiful, relaxing locations to work in and great company!
Travel Stage: Missoula to Hungry Horse to Kalispell
Date Range: August 17 – Sept 2, 2016
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