There is a saying that goes “Use the right tool for the right job”, and nowhere does that apply more than to the world of automotive mechanics. Using the wrong tool can not only make the job harder, but can create an unsafe condition and ruin your parts. Sometimes there are several tools available for one task, making it hard to figure out which is the better choice. The ball joints on your suspension is certainly one of those areas.
We’re going to talk about four common types of ball joint tools that can be used to separate the ball joint from the spindle. Some of these tools are very simple, others are more complicated, and which one you use often depends on the task at hand. There are also a few specialty ball joint tools that are manufacturer specific, but we’ll get into those another time.
You might think it sounds crazy, using a hammer to knock a ball joint out, but it isn’t. This should be the first method you try on any newer vehicle (10 or so years on the road). The trick here is to use the hammer correctly. You DO NOT hit the stud of the joint, rather you tap the side of the spindle (where the stud slides through) with the suspension loose. If the joint is reusable, then this will save it. In most cases, the stud will simply pop out of the spindle, saving you some headaches. It depends on the age of the joint, how long it has been installed, and how clean the suspension is. The longer the joint has been in use, the more likely it is for the stud to have seized in the taper.
Please note – If the suspension has pressure from a coil spring, then this is not the preferred method.
The most commonly known tool for separating ball joints is the pickle fork. What is essentially a long two-prong wedge, the pickle fork is also known as a part destroyer. Do not use a pickle fork on a reusable part. If you are removing the joint in order to replace or service something else, the pickle fork will only cost you more money. The reason is that you can’t save the dust boots, a fork will always rip them. If you are replacing the joint, then it really won’t matter. To use a pickle fork, simply slide it between the spindle and the control arm as tight as you can and then hit the free end with a hammer. This drives the wedge between the two points and forces the joint out of the taper.
Simple Claw-Type Press
The next type of tool is a press. This is a one-piece press that has a cast or forged two-prong claw and a threaded stud in the center. More commonly used for tie-rod joints, these can be used on ball joints. They work if the joint is not seized too bad. Cheap versions tend to not fit between the spindle and the ball joint head, and they may spread apart if too much pressure is required. Another potential pitfall is damaging the threads for the castle nut on the joint stud. To avoid this, thread the castle nut on upside down (with the split side towards the joint), and then apply the press. This keeps the head of the stud centered. This can be used in conjunction with the hammer method to put a little pressure on the joint stud as well.
Ball Joint Press
The professional tool is the ball joint press. This is a more complicated version of the claw press. This tool uses a clamshell and adapters to ensure a clean and safe removal of the ball joint from the control arm. The joint will also remain reusable. The problem with this type of tool is that they are expensive; they typically cost a couple of hundred or more to get all the adapters. Just keep in mind that you will need to think ahead before you start your project if you need this tool.
As with any suspension work, take great care to ensure the vehicle is safely lifted off the ground, use jack stands and NEVER work under a raised vehicle with just a jack supporting the weight. When it comes to coil springs, safety is paramount, never release the tension on a coil spring without taking the proper safety precautions first. If you have any doubts, contact your local NAPA AutoCare Center and let the pros handle it.
If your car was built before the late 1980s, chances are the engine uses a carburetor to feed the air and fuel into the engine. Carburetors (or carbs) are complex components that perform several key functions when it comes to engine performance: air/fuel flow (throttle), air/fuel mix (atomization), fuel storage (fuel bowls), idle quality, and for vehicles with automatic transmissions, the carburetor can even manage the shift points through the linkage.
Air/fuel flow – Air comes into the carburetor through the air horn at the top of the carburetor. There are two main systems- the primary, and the secondary (for 4-barrel carburetors). Air is pulled into the engine through intake manifold vacuum. As the air flows through the venturi (barrel) of the carburetor, a vacuum is generated by the pressure drop as the airflow velocity increases from the design of the venturi. This pulls fuel through the main jets of the carb’s metering system, and is then sprayed out of the boost venturi inside the main barrel of the carburetor. Each barrel of the carburetor has a separate system. The throttle blades are controlled directly by the driver through the gas pedal.
AF mixture ratio – Also referred to as the AF ratio (AFR), this is the balance of air and fuel in the engine. Expressed as a ratio, for example 12 pounds of air combined with 1 pound of fuel is 12:1. Regardless of the engine’s design or performance, the ratios remain consistent.
5:1 –Rich burn limit. The engine will run rough and erratic.
6-9:1 – Extremely rich. Low performance with black exhaust which may make your nose and eyes burn.
10-11:1 –Very rich. Boosted engines may run here to control detonation.
12-13:1 – Rich. Best power range for naturally-aspirated engines.
14-15:1 – Chemically ideal. 14.6:1 is the ideal AFR, leaving no unburnt fuel or oxygen.
16-17:1 – Lean. Best for fuel economy. Acceptable for part throttle cruise.
18-19:1 – Very lean. This is the limit for acceptable driving.
20-25:1 – Lean burn limit. While it varies by engine, at this point, you run the risk of detonation, hot spots and burning up pistons.
AFR is controlled through three systems: idle, primary, and secondary. This is a function of how much fuel is delivered into the engine based on the flow of air.
Fuel storage – For start up, and bursts of power, the carburetor must store a small amount of fuel inside itself. Unlike a fuel-injection system, where the fuel is highly pressurized (40-65 psi), carbureted systems are typically set to pressurized the fuel to only 6-7 psi. Because the fuel is delivered under vacuum and not pressure (like EFI), having a small amount of fuel onboard is very important. Most carburetors hold a couple of ounces of fuel at all times. The level of fuel inside the bowls is adjusted through the needle and seat. When the fuel level dips below the set level, the weight of the fuel float opens the needle, fuel flow in through the port in the seat until the float rises, closing the needle. When the throttle is open abruptly, for passing, merging, or just for run, the extra fuel required is mechanically pumped through the carburetor via a spring and plunger system directly from the fuel bowls to the venturis.
Idle quality – A function of the idle metering system, as well as the throttle blades, the idle quality of the engine is important for several reasons. A rough idle means sloppy performance in stop and go traffic, more wear and fouling of the spark plugs, and hard to start conditions, especially when the engine is cold. At idle, the idle metering system delivers all of the fuel , the other two systems are not involved. In off-idle conditions, when the throttle blades are opening, the idle system works in tandem with the primary metering system. As the throttle is opened, the role the idle system plays is reduced. At idle vacuum pulls fuel through the metering system, including the idle screw ports, which allow adjustments for the idle fuel mix.
In 4-barrel carburetors, the primary system is used until the throttle opens about 65%, at which point the secondary barrels begin to open. Both systems reach wide open throttle (WOT) at the same point, but carburetors with staggered bore sizes, such as the GM Quadrajet, have an effect called “crashing in”, where the secondaries are so much larger than the primary barrels, there is a point where the air and fuel flow makes a sudden jump. Equal-sized barrels eliminate this problem.
In most case, the stock carburetor is sufficient for the stock engine, but an aftermarket carburetor can help wake up a stock engine, and is usually required for performance applications. The key to choosing a new carburetor is matching the size of the engine to the size of the carburetor. Contrary to popular belief, most small V8s can only utilize about 600-650 CFM (cubic feet per minute) airflow without serious performance mods. Even though many small-block Chevy engines came with 750 or 850 Quadrajet carburetors, switching out to a square bore (equal barrels) of equal size can result in bogging and reduced fuel economy. For street engines, the right sized carburetor is usually a little smaller.
Eventually, all carburetors need rebuilding. Because they are submitted to air & fuel, dirt and varnish builds up inside them. When the metering systems get dirty, the performance of the carburetor is drastically affected. Maintaining clean air and fuel filters will extend the life of your carburetor (and engine). You can extend the life of an older carburetor with fuel treatments that clean the varnish from the inside. Regardless of the maintenance, eventually a rebuild is necessary.
In some cases, rebuilding the carburetor is not possible or economically feasible. Broken parts, hard to find gaskets, and complicated processes make rebuilds a gamble, particularly for less common vehicles. Replacement is the best option here. We recently went through the process with a 1965 Mercury Parklane with a 390 Ford FE engine. The original carburetor was in need of a rebuild, but there were several broken pieces that are very hard to find. We also wanted to wake up the sleepy 390. An Edelbrock 600 CFM Thunder series carburetor was selected and ordered from the local NAPA Auto Parts Store.
Installing a new carburetor requires a little bit of tweaking, but Edelbrock carburetors are very close to being perfect out of the box, that is one of the benefits of going this route. The design is very similar to the original carb, and was a bolt-on swap, no adapters needed (some applications require adapters, double check this with you local store).
After the new carburetor was installed, the 390 started much easier, with a smooth idle, and better off-idle performance. For less than the cost of having the old carburetor rebuilt, we have a new carburetor that functions better than the original and is easier to tune.