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Well, I decided to change the ball joints on my ‘82 CJ7 a few weeks ago and am stuck now. I have tried to install the knuckle to the axle, but the top ball joint has a pretty big gap. 

I’ve attached pictures for reference. I initially installed Alloy USA heavy duty ball joints and thought that was the issue, but it wasn’t. I tried a set of Moog ball joints and have the same issue. 

Any thoughts or suggestions?



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jordan89oak...I'm a stickler for using a factory workshop manual for a reference.  From what I see in your photos, comparing that to the FSM for 1981-86 models, the steering knuckle "Upper Ball Stud Split Ring Seat" (component #12 in the illustration below) could be your issue.  If the new upper and lower ball joints are the correct application for an OEM Dana 30 front axle housing and knuckle (verify the part numbers), the Upper Ball Stud Split Ring Seat could be riding too low in the steering knuckle.

There is a specialty tool made specifically for rotating and tightening the split ring seat.  The split ring seat should be removed, cleaned and able to thread readily into the knuckle to get a correct ball-joint preload setting.  I have the OTC 7080 tool in my box:  https://www.amazon.com/OTC-7080-Joint-Spanner-Wrench/dp/B0002SRDEG.

Omix-ADA offers a similar tool at Amazon.  Part is Omix-Ada 18039.01 Spanner Wrench.  There is also a MOOG version at Amazon.  You will often find this split ring "frozen" in the knuckle.  Do not ruin the tool;  soak the ring with a quality rust penetrant (WD-40, Sea Foam Deep-Creep, etc.) before attempting to loosen the ring.  The ring is always readjusted when new ball joints are installed.

I remove the split ring seat before torquing the lower ball-joint stud to specification.  After the lower ball-joint is properly secured to the knuckle, I thread the Upper Ball Stud Split Ring Seat into position with the tool.  The upper ball-joint stud's taper will cinch to the split ring seat's taper as the ring threads into position.  The ring is adjusted/tightened to factory specification to set the correct preload on both ball joints.  Then, after the split ring is adjusted to factory specification and preload, the upper ball-joint's castellated nut is tightened to specification.  This secures the ball stud and locks the split ring into position.  The cotter pin gets installed after the upper nut is tightened to specification. 

1981-86 Jeep CJ Front Steering Knuckle Schematic.jpg

Let us know if this is the issue...




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  • Moses Ludel changed the title to Dana Front Axle Steering Knuckle Install Issues

Hey Moses,

I actually have a copy of the manual and the tool. I followed the directions, minus using the specialty tool to pull the knuckle up. I even tried installing the old split ring to see if that was the issue, but I still got the same result. Somehow, the upper ball joint does not want to budge and go all the way in. 

Honestly, all of the issues that I have been having with this Jeep have made me regret ever getting it. The issues just will not stop. I haven't updated the old thread about the engine, but I haven't even gotten that running because the fuel tank had a crack in the front and a hole on the upper corner of the tank. I think someone drilled a hole straight through the tub and into the tank. Being that this is the 20 gallon plastic tank, I welded the crack and the hole.

After the fuel tank issue, I decided to just go to what I thought was going to be an easy suspension job that has turned out to be a nightmare. There were SO MANY missing bolts throughout the suspension components. I will have to give the ball joints another try to see if I can get this issue resolved.  

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jordan89oak...Pleased that you have the manual, glad we're working from the same book!  Suggestion:  If you have the original ball-joints, compare the standing height of the ball studs with the new ones.  The upper ball joint standing heights or stud lengths could be wrong.  Also, the ball stud tapers or taper diameters may be different.  If the new ball joint taper is incorrectly machined or not a match for your split ring taper(s), the upper ball stud may not be able to reach far enough into the split ring taper.  Compare the taper angles.

Given the vehicle's history and dubious work by the previous owner(s), take the time to verify whether the knuckle casting and front axle housing are OEM CJ-7 for your model year range.  Is this an original Dana 30 front axle?  Or did someone swap a 44 into this Jeep?  Is the axle even Jeep?  It could be from an I-H Scout II or other light truck application.  The axle housing end yoke spread is a concern.

Compare the ball-joint profiles with the joints that came out of the knuckles.  If there is not an obvious ball joint stud problem, it's time to work through the axle housing and knuckle casting numbers.  We can explore OEM and Dana part/casting numbers for Jeep, Scout II and other light truck beam front axles.

I searched eBay for a used CJ knuckle for your vintage Jeep.  If this used knuckle is accurately identified, compare this knuckle with the knuckle you have on hand:


Yep, this is frustrating as hell.  I understand your chagrin at this point, we've all been there with higher mileage vehicles mishandled by previous owners with slipshod work.  However, you're heavily invested at this point and, fortunately, have the acumen and drive to follow through.  Finding time with your school schedule must be challenging, I'm sure.  The Jeep was supposed to be a wholesome, rewarding outlet, not a string of obstacles.

My caveats when buying used vehicles, especially light truck/SUV 4x4s, can be summed up as:  1)  as close to stock as possible, 2)  unmodified and 3)  previous owner history and service information available if possible.  (This is unlikely when a vehicle has changed hands several times.)  I'll perform my own restorative work, upgrades and modifications, thanks!  It's a bit late for your CJ, but you can turn this around.


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