(Updated on December 2, 2019)
Without tie rods, you can forget about steering your vehicle. These rods connect the steering and suspension system to the front wheels of the car. Thanks to the tie rods, you’re able to steer the car with minimal effort.
Over time, the rods wear out. They’ll wear out faster if you regularly travel on uneven roads. In most cases, though, they’ll last you a few years.
How a Tie Rod Works
It is made up of an inner tie rod and an outer tie rod. These rods are connected to the steering system, and then to the wheels. When you turn the steering wheel, the rods roll over a slotted rack, which makes the front tires turn.
The rods will either push or pull the tires, depending on which way you’re turning. Both ends have a well-lubricated ball joint attached. The outer ones have rubber around them to protect them, but over time the lubrication can leak out, and the rubber can perish.
When that happens, you must act fast, or you’ll lose steering ability entirely.
Top 6 Bad Tie Rod End Symptoms
Are you wondering how to tell if you have a broken tie rod or loose tie rod? Let’s look at the most common symptoms:
1) The Steering Shakes
The rods keep all the components in the correct position. If something goes wrong, they come loose. When this happens, the components are not held in the right position.
As you drive along, the steering will start to shake noticeably. It’ll worsen when you take a corner or start to speed up.
2) Bad Front-End Alignment
You’ll notice misalignment because the car will keep veering to one side. Test if this is your problem by driving down a straight road. Let the steering wheel go and see what the car does.
If the wheels are still properly aligned, the car should drive straight. If it veers to one side, it means that you likely have a bad alignment and need to have it checked out.
3) The Steering Wheel Moves Freely
It sounds a little odd, but you’ll understand what we mean if it happens to you. If the steering wheel seems to have too much play, and you can move it far more easily than normal, take it in to be checked.
4) Weird Sounds
Bumps in the night are quite a lot of fun when you’re in a “haunted” house. In your car, though, they’re serious. Listen out for squealing or squeaking, especially when rounding corners.
It is a sure sign that the joint is not lubricated as it should be and must be dealt with quickly. Rattling is another bad sign and could be indicative of this issue.
5) Abnormal Tire Wear
If your wheels are properly aligned, your tires should wear the same on all sides. When you have a problem with the tie rods, the tire wears at the edges more than in the center.
If you have a problem with your tires losing pressure, and uneven wear, then visit the mechanic today. There is any number of problems that could account for uneven wear. At a minimum, you need to have the wheels realigned for better fuel economy.
6) Vehicle Vibrates
Everyone loves a bit of shake, rattle, and roll on the dance floor. When your car, though, and it tries to join in on the action, it becomes unnerving. If your car is vibrating violently, then your rods are probably hanging on by a thin and dangerous thread.
If they haven’t failed yet, they will soon.
If this happens to you, park the car on the side of the road and call for help. Driving with broken tie rod ends is extremely hazardous. If one snaps off, you’ll lose control over that side of the car entirely.
Tie Rod End Replacement Cost
Tie road replacement is not a huge repair. You’re looking at about $20 to $100 per tie rod. So, to replace one set on one wheel will cost between $40 and $200 because you need the inner and outer rods.
Labor is pricey, and you’re looking at a minimum of an hour’s charge. If we take the average mechanic’s price as $80 to $120 per hour, you’re looking at a minimum of $80 in labor.
Some people opt to change all four rods at the same time. There are four assemblies in total.
Those on the rear wheel are simpler in design. Changing the rods at the same time does make sense fiscally. They were all installed at the same time, so they’ll also probably fail at about the same time.
If your budget doesn’t stretch that far, you could do either the front or rear sets first.
Can I Drive With a Bad Tie Rod End?
It’s a complicated issue. If the rods are still in reasonable shape, and just a bit loose, it’s still possible to steer your car. We don’t recommend taking the risk, though.
The problem is that you never know when the rods will break. If you’re driving around a corner and one of them breaks off, you’ll lose control of the car. Keep in mind that the pieces could fly off and damage other sections of the vehicle, too.
It’s not worth taking these kinds of chances. Rather park the car and have it seen to when you can.