Looks like it's the U-Joint alright. I jacked it up and spun the front tires a bit. The driver's side U-Joint would knock before it started spinning. How expensive and a pain in the *** is it to replace these things??
I had both my front ones replaced at a not-so-cheap 4x4 mechanic for about $230. Not sure what all tools you would need if you wanted to do it yourself. It sounded like a huge pain to do when I looked it up so that's why I had it done for me.
Depends a lot on how badly things are rusted up. There are lots of step-by-step how to on the various Jeep forums on this with useful tips ...do a little searching around and see if it is something you want to tackle. For me, first time, with badly rusted parts...it was an all day thrash on each side.
U joints aren't hard to replace. It will require a vise, 2 sockets, pb blaster and some heat if they are really rusted. If you don't have a vise, you can use a hammer and 2 2x4's. While you have it apart you might as well replace the wheel bearings. Once you remove the tire you will unbolt the caliper, remove the rotor, then unbolt the hub. Pull the hub off then pull the axle out. It took me about 30 minutes each side to get it to where the axle was removed.
If they fail, you will probably break the axle. If you have ABS it can destroy the wiring for the speed sensor. Wheel wont fall off, but it can do some big damage. Get it replaced as soon as you can. If youve never done it before, itd be your best option to have somebody do it or show you how. After you do a couple for yourself, it gets pretty easy. Get an axle from the junkyard to practice if you have to. Im sure theres videos on youtube that go through the process.
1996 Jeep Cherokee- Project-- Rusty's 8in long arm, SYE kit, Teraflex driveshaft, Cragar soft 8's 15x10 with 33x12.5 Firestone Destination MT's, Eaton Tru Trac in the front