This Separator Fork Makes Ball Joints a Breeze
Illustration by Brown Bird Design
Ball joints are the bane of my existence. Living in the northeast means dealing with rust, which means any time I have to pop a ball joint from a knuckle there’s often fused metal and a lot of swearing involved. Unless I have one of these old-fashioned ball joint separator forks on hand, that is.
This tool might just look like a big tuning fork (and is sometimes called a pickle fork), but it’s actually one of the most useful items a DIYer can have in their arsenal. As you’ve probably already guessed, ball joint separators like this one work in a very simple way. You jam the fork end of the tool between the joint and where it mounts to your car’s suspension knuckle, then take a hammer to the other end. A few dozen slaps later, and the ball joint comes out. Because the fork end has a sloping wedge profile, it creates a bigger gap every time it’s struck, slowly prying the ball joint away from the knuckle. Eventually, the gap gets so big that the joint pops from its resting place.
Though it seems crude, ball joint separators like this one are extremely effective. I’ve used this tool on a handful of my rusted-out projects to swap out things like tie rods and control arms, and it hasn’t failed me once. Of course, because you’re placing so much force on the ball joint, don’t expect the rubber boot on whatever you’re removing to survive the separation process, especially if it’s old. Only use this tool if you plan to put a new part in. If you want to ensure a rubber boot’s safety, we recommend using a clamp-based popper for the job, like this one. I’ve had mixed results with this type of tool; half the time it doesn’t work and I end up having to use the fork anyway. But it’s an option.
This ball joint separator fork can be used for things other than popping ball joints, too. It makes for a useful pry bar in a pinch, thanks to its sharp leading edges and strong construction. And it can be used as a punch in hard-to-reach places thanks to its hammer-friendly handle end.
The best part? Because this tool is so simple, it’s extremely cheap to own. The 16-inch ball joint separator I use is just $15.32 on Amazon right now. If you’re looking for something a bit more compact, Gearwrench makes a 12-inch separator that’s specially designed for tie rods, priced at $24.61 on Amazon. If you suspect you’ll be using ball joint separator forks often and want several different sizes, Kauplus makes a kit that should cover every reasonable use case. Snag it from Amazon right now for just under $54.
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