Lately I've been noticing a weird "click" sound when I'm turning the wheel from lock to lock, like when you're reverse parking. It's sorta a a click or ka-tack sound, which I have heard before in a higher-mileage GS430 I used to own. It's a sign that the suspension ball joints are on the way out. My car's done only 78k, but maybe thwacking into ripple strips at trackdays isn't too good for ball joints...but whatever the reason, they need to be changed.
There are plenty of aftermarket options if you look them up on eBay, but thankfully the proper oem parts are quite reasonably priced. You'll need all of these; one each of the part numbers on the right and two of each of the part numbers on the left. All up it was $175 delivered from Amayama.com.
A bit of a peek under the car confirmed that I did indeed have an issue with the balljoints, and the telltale sign is that dark, oily looking area around the balljoint. That's a sign that the lubricant has leaked out. Interestingly, the main balljoint (the one that holds up the weight of the car) looks fine, and it was the steering tie rod balljoint that is leaking.
It's not actually that big of a job, and the first step is to remove the two big 19mm bolts that you can see in the pic above. This allows the wishbone upright to be swivelled out of the way. Don't worry, nothing falls down when you remove those bolts, the tension in the suspension bushes keeps everything in place.
The next part is the only part that's a little tricky. Well not really tricky, but it does need some explaining. If you look closely at the pic of the new balljoint assembly below, you'll notice that the bit below the threaded part is like a cone-shape. The suspension and steering arms have a hole with an inverse cone shape, and the idea is that the cone drives deep and gets solidly wedged in there for a super tight fit with no slop. If it was a regular straight-sided bolt, there is the possibility for some side to side play.
But the downside is that over time, the two parts get wedged together so hard, that you'll need a special tool to force them apart. You can whack at the balljoint with a hammer until you go deaf or your arm falls off, and it won't do any good. Instead, you need to prise them apart with a special tool called a balljoint separator.
There are many types and they come in many shapes, but I've found that this type works on Lexus suspension. The silver part hooks underneath the steering or suspension arm, and the bolt at the top pushes down on the balljoint to try to force it out of the hole that it's wedged in.
Now the important tip, is to undo the balljoint nut, but not to remove it altogether.
So what you do, is you put the balljoint separator in place, and start to tighten the bolt at the top. As it starts to press down on the balljoint, everything will start to strain, but you keep tightening it. And just when you think that there's so much force on it that surely something is about to break...nothing happens. So you keep tightening it and its beginning to require quite a lot of strength. And well after the point where you think it must be welded together, it goes...BANG...tools go flying, and you go flying across the garage as all that unholy pent up force suddenly gets released. And as you dust yourself off, you expect the balljoint to have flown off and embedded itself in your other car...but instead it's just hanging limply from the suspension, because you left the nut on.
Okay, now remove the other three balljoints the same way 🙂 The new balljoints are far stiffer than the old ones, which move a lot more freely but don't have any obvious slop. There's a spring loaded cup inside, so I think it's unlikely that you can feel any wear by twiddling it like a joystick, unless it's really, really dead.
Pop the new ones on, torque the big castellated nut to 120ft-lbs the little one to 50fg-lbs, and then install the new safety clips.
Then the big 19mm bolts go back on underneath (they get tightened to 90ft-lbs) and you're done. It was about 2hrs go to whoa for both sides.
And the result is...no more clicking sounds. I'd also noticed recently that over bumps there has been a bit of a rattling noise, which I figured were either the coilovers or the worn brake pads moving around in the calipers. But it must have been the balljpoints, because that noise is gone now too.
Dynamically, I can't say that I'm feeling any difference in steering feel, but I do think that I'm doing less corrections when I'm driving the car straight. And the lack of noise from the front end sure does make it feel subjectively more solid. For the money and time spent, it's a pretty rewarding maintenance item to do.