Given the symptoms I'd start by checking for a broken tire belt, especially if they're nearing the end of their tread life. With a new tie rod end the truck would have to be aligned, and no conscientious mechanic can do that with sloppy ball joints. No upper or lower ball joint on any vehicle can have sideways movement between the ball and socket because that's what holds the spindle and wheel in proper alignment. Any visible movement is WAY too much. In addition, there can be no up-and-down movement between the ball and socket on any ball joint on any vehicle, ... Except the lower ball joints on Dakotas. New ones right from the dealer have about 1/8" of movement, which would normally be a real lot, and aftermarket replacements can be allowed to develop that play, and still be acceptable, (only on Dakotas; not on other brands and models). That movement will not cause clunking noises or handling problems. That movement has been mistaken by a lot of mechanics as a need to replace those ball joints. That only applies to the lower "load-carrying" ball joints, not the upper ones.
Sideways play in any ball joint can cause a wobble or shimmy in the steering system but typically clunking and tire wear are the only symptoms. In addition, a small change in the "toe" adjustment after replacing the tie rod end and setting the alignment can show up as a change in the handling and can make that wobble more pronounced to where you first notice it. In those cases, the alignment didn't CAUSE the wobble. The previous misalignment masked it.
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Monday, January 7th, 2013 AT 10:57 PM