The lower ball joints on my Dakota were bad and I couldn't find much info online about it. I replaced them this past weekend and tried to get some pics as I went, for reference and I thought I would post after it was done so maybe it would help other 2WD Dakota owners replace their own ball joints.
First of all, use a good quality part like TRW or Moog. Stay away from cheap parts like OE brand or Ebay. They are cheap Chinese made junk and you will be re-doing the job again in a year, or worse they can fail on you while driving. I bought a set of OE ball joints and after researching their reputation online I exchanged them and paid the difference for TRW's.
Second of all, be sure to allow time for the job. It's not an easy job and it took me about 8 or 9 hours over the course of a weekend to complete. It takes patience and having the right tools to do it right. Some of the tools I used included:
Safety glasses for eye protection
Mechanic's gloves or leather work gloves
3/8" electric reversible drill (an air drill and compressor would have been much better)
3/8" electric reversible angle drill from Harbor Freight Tools
4 1/2" electric grinder with cut-off and metal grinding wheels
A good set of cobalt drill bits, up to 3/8"
A 7/16" cobalt drill bit, I got mine at Home Depot, cost $15.00 but worth every penny
12" cold chisel (I got a good one at Ace Hardware, $8.99)
4 pound sledge hammer
various size wrenches, sockets, pliers and other basic hand tools
A good quality floor jack
Good set of 3 ton jack stands
I started by jacking the front end of the truck up and setting it down on jack stands on the frame rails and chocking the rear wheels. Then I removed the front wheels and rolled them out of the way. I removed the brake calipers and hung them up from the brake hose bracket on the side of the upper control arm with a piece of stiff electrical wire. Don't let the caliper just hang by the brake hose:
Then I removed the sway bar links from the control arm. The lower stud on the link is in the way of one of the rivets. In my case it helped to just remove the link altogether. Then I removed the nut from the outer tie rod end, used my small hammer and tapped the tie rod end loose from the steering knuckle and zip-tied it to the sway bar to keep it out of the way. Then I loosened but did not remove completely the 2 castle nuts on the ball joints.
Then I used the 4 pound sledge hammer and tapped hard a few times on the steering knuckle around the sides of each ball joint. Then it only took a few good hard whacks with the hammer on the top end of the knuckle to knock it loose. It might help to use a pickle fork to separate the lower ball joints from the knuckle, since it won't matter if you damage them because you are replacing them anyway. Leaving the castle nuts loose on the ball joint studs keeps the knuckle from separating violently from the upper and lower control arms. Once the knuckle is loose then just remove the nuts and set them and the knuckle aside.
Then you will see the 4 rivets holding the lower ball joints in the control arm:
You have to drill the rivets out to separate the ball joint from the control arm. It is best to use cobalt drill bits. The rivets and the control arm are made of very solid steel, and you are drilling through about 2 inches of steel per rivet. What I did first was use the cutting wheel on the grinder and cut under the edge of the head of each rivet, about halfway in. Then I wailed on the cut side of the rivet head with the chisel and 4 pound sledge to remove them. I had to do that because it would have cut into the control arm if I had kept cutting with the cutting wheel. The surface of the control arm is not perfectly flat. After I got the heads cut off, I tried drilling a rivet out through its center with a regular 3/8" bit. It didn't work well, the steel is too thick. So what I did was use my cobalt drill bit set, and started with a 3/16" bit and drilled it all the way through the center of the rivet. Then I kept changing the bit out, and each time enlarging the hole and drilling all the way through each time with the next sized bit, in progression until I got it to the 3/8" size. After drilling the 3/8" hole out, I used the 7/16" cobalt bit and drilled it out and 5 out of the 8 rivets came out in one piece. I found that drilling several larger size holes in progression like that was much easier than trying to drill one big 3/8" or 7/16" hole by itself.
It took me about 20 to 30 minutes to drill out each rivet. The drills I used kept getting hot and I had to alternate between them so they could cool down during the process. And I needed to rest my arms, the steel on the control arms is very thick and solid.
Once the rivets were drilled out I just pulled out the old ball joint and used the grinding wheel to smooth the metal surface of the top side of the control arm. Then I inserted the new TRW ball joint in the control arm and bolted them in place with the nuts and bolts that came with them. I also bought some washers for them at the hardware store. I left the ball joint a little bit loose until I got the control arm mounted back on.
I put the steering knuckle back on the stud of the lower ball joint, loosely threaded the nut on, then I put my floor jack under the lower ball joint and guided the knuckle with one hand back onto the upper ball joint stud and pumped the jack with the other to get the knuckle back in place. Then I tightened both ball joint castle nuts and reinserted new cotter pins in the stud ends, then put the tie rod end back in place on the knuckle and reinstalled the nut for it. Then I tightened the 4 nuts and bolts on the lower ball joints. Then I reinstalled the sway bar links. I had replaced my sway bar links 2 years ago with Napa Chassis Parts with the lifetime warranty. When I started this job I saw one of the links had a ripped boot and Napa exchanged it for me. On the other side, the threads on the stud end stripped out when I removed it (not a valid warranty exchange reason) so I bought a new one and put it in.
After everything was reassembled, I reinstalled the rotors, calipers and wheels. Then I had an alignment done at the tire store, and now my steering is nice and tight and is just as responsive as a new truck.
Dodge does not sell the ball joints separately. They want you to replace the entire control arm as an assembly. Aftermarket control arms cost anywhere from $250 to $350 per side. I would hate to see the price of a new control arm from the Dodge dealer. The TRW ball joints I put in with nuts and bolts cost $53.00 each at Advance Auto Parts. I spent about $75.00 on additional parts and tools. But it would probably have cost $700 to $800 to have a shop do the job.
This was not the easiest repair I have ever done on my Dakota, but if you have the time, patience, the right tools and a good, dry, solid and well-lit place to work, it is not that difficult either. I posted this to help anyone else who might have the same problem on their Dakota. I hope it helps.