What Are Tie Rods And What Do They Do?
Tie rods are an essential part of your vehicle's steering system. Tie rods connect the steering gear (or rack and pinion gear) to the wheel using a length of rod with a ball-in-socket on one end. The ball-in-socket mechanism allows the wheels to move up and down and side to side in a controlled movement. This enables a smooth ride as the vehicle navigates different types of road surfaces, bumps, potholes, etc. The most common steering designs use an inner tie rod attached to the steering gear and an outer tie rod that connects the inner tie rod to the wheel assembly. The length of thread that attaches the inner and outer tie rods is adjustable and is used to set a car's front wheel alignment.
Top Warning Signs Your Tie Rods Are Bad
There are a few warning signs that your tie rod(s) may need to be replaced. If you experience any of the following symptoms, it's a good idea to have your vehicle checked out
Shaky Steering Wheel
In many cases, the first sign that a tie rod is bad is simply a shaky steering wheel. This happens because the steering wheel is beginning to lose control of the wheels. The steering may have slack or is not responsive. This can be more noticeable when trying to turn the wheel.
Another sign that a tie rod is bad or failing is a vibrating vehicle. As the steering wheel loses control over the wheels, the tires will start to move randomly and cause excessive shaking. You notice the vibrations more as you speed up, slow down or turn corners.
If your tie rods have been loose or worn for an extended period of time, they can impact the wear patterns on your tires. Worn, loose or failing tie-rods will cause your vehicle to go out of alignment by causing your tires to "toe out". If you drive your vehicle with tires that are "toed out", over time this will cause the inside of the tire treads to wear down faster. Tie rods themselves do not directly cause the tire wear but have a huge impact on your vehicle's alignment.
Car Pulls or Bad Alignment
If your vehicle seems to pull or drift to one side, you may have an issue with your tie rod(s). If the tie rods are not in good working condition, they may fail to keep the vehicle properly aligned. Alignments cannot be correctly performed with worn, loose or failing tie-rods.
What causes a tie rod to break or go bad?
Tie rods can go bad due to normal wear and tear and harsh road conditions. Often times the cause of tie rod failure is the lack of lubrication. Road hazards like potholes, bumps in the road or hitting the curb too hard can shorten the life of tie rod ends. These road hazards can damage the tie rods and cause the lubrication to leak out. Once this occurs, the tie rod end can loosen and bind up, which makes it unsafe to drive the vehicle.
What's the proper way to check a tie rod end?
Unless you are very knowledgeable about vehicles, it's usually a wise idea to have a qualified mechanic inspect your tie rods for safe use. Tie rods can show signs of slack or "free play" when pushing up/down on the tie rod. This is a sign that the tie rod is worn and should be replaced.
Another way to check the tie rods is to raise the vehicle and remove the front wheels. The wheels will need to be turned to the right in order to inspect the passenger-side inner tie rod end and to the left to inspect the driver's-side inner tie rod end. If any of the tie rod seals show tears, leaks or excessive wear – they should be replaced.
What do tie rods cost to replace?
As with many other vehicle repair questions, the answer is – it depends. The price of tie rods, parts and labor can vary from vehicle to vehicle. The average car can probably get a tie rod replaced in about an hour labor plus about $80 for the part, so about $170. Add an alignment and the total price may be closer to $260.
Should I replace both tie rods at the same time?
While it may not be absolutely necessary to replace both tie rods at the same time, many mechanics may recommend a varying combination of replacement parts. If you are changing an inner tie-rod, and the outer tie-rod is an original part, it is recommended to change both. This is simply due to the fact to change an inner tie-rod, the outer tie-rod must be removed to do so. Having both your inner and outer tie-rods replaced at the same time will save you money on labor charges and aid in preventing future issues. If an outer tie-rod is bad, but an inner tie-rod is still in good condition, it will not be recommended that both need replacement. If both outer, or inner, tie rods have more or less the same mileage, they probably have a similar amount of wear and tear. If the visual condition of the tie rod(s) show corrosion or other signs of excessive wear, it's probably a good idea to replace them together. Since you'll need an alignment to properly configure the tie rod, and an alignment cannot be correctly performed with a failing tie-rod, replacing all failing tie-rods before a proper alignment is necessary. Again saving time and money in the long run.
As always, if you have questions or concerns about tie rods, we encourage you to stop into any Dunn Tire store for honest advice.