Bad Tie Rod Symptoms, Causes, and Replacement Cost

The tie rod plays a crucial role in the power steering system by enabling the turning of the vehicle’s wheels. It contains an outer end and an inner end. Learn the tie rod causes, symptoms, and replacement cost.

Bad Tie Rod Symptoms

The tie rod serves as a link for transmitting force from the center shelf or center link to the steering mechanism. This forceful transmission facilitates the rotation of the wheels.

The outer end of the tie rod connects to the adjustment sleeves and offers the flexibility to adjust its length. This adjustment is utilized for fine-tuning the alignment angle of your car. This article explains the causes of bad tie rods. We also discuss the different symptoms of bad tie rods and their replacement costs.

Symptoms Of A Bad Tie Rod

When the tie rod of your car becomes faulty, it may produce different drivability issues, such as uneven tire wear and reduced steering responsiveness. This issue can further result in improper wheel alignment, leading to the car pulling to one side. Worn tie rods can also generate unusual noises and vibrations, particularly when steering.

Let’s discuss the main symptoms of the bad tie rod:

1) Uneven Tire Wear

tire wear, symptoms of bad tie rod

The uneven tire wear is one of the most common signs of a bad tie rod. When the tie rods are in proper condition, the tire tread wears down uniformly, assuming the alignment is also correctly set. When the tie rod becomes faulty, your tires may start to wear out unevenly.

Typically, the wear will be pronounced on one side while the other side remains unaffected. This type of wear is typically triggered because of misaligned toe settings.

But it’s essential to note that tire wear irregularities can stem from various steering or suspension problems, necessitating a comprehensive diagnostic assessment.

Read More: Tire Feathering Symptoms and Causes

2) Bad Wheel Alignment

Wheel Alignment

Wheel alignment pertains to the angles at which the wheels are positioned in relative to the road surface. According to many professionals, aligning the wheels should ideally be conducted every year unless circumstances necessitate more frequent adjustments.

As a tie rod deteriorates, it loses its firmness, potentially causing a misalignment of the front end. In conjunction with replacing the worn tie rod, it’s recommended to carry out a wheel alignment procedure to ensure even tire wear.

3) Steering Responsiveness

Steering Wheel Play

As the steering wheel exhibits a lack of responsiveness, it’s characterized as having excessive play. This phenomenon represents a situation where there’s a “dead zone” while steering the wheel, requiring additional turning before the wheels initiate movement.

The greater the play present in the wheel, the higher the risk of compromised control during acceleration. While a tie rod may contribute to this play in the steering, other factors, particularly within the suspension and steering systems, can also be responsible.

Conducting a visual inspection or seeking the expertise of a professional technician is advisable to ensure an accurate evaluation.

Read More: Reasons Why Your Steering Wheel Is Not Straight

4) Unusual Noises While Steering

Steering noise, signs of bad tie rods

In addition to the issues mentioned earlier, you might notice odd sounds when the steering wheel vibrates. A worn-out or faulty tie rod often leads to noticeable knocking or clunking noises. These noises happen because the tie rod becomes loose, causing the links and joints to rattle.  

If the protective boot surrounding the tie rod joint sustains damage or becomes contaminated by debris, you might also notice a grinding sound while steering.

Read More: Why Steering Wheel Is Hard To Turn?

5) Excessive Vibrations

Steering Wheel Vibration

The tie rod makes a connection between the steering wheel and the front wheels. Hence, any issues with the tie rod can manifest as vibration or shaking in the steering wheel. These sensations might intensify during turns or acceleration.

Recognizing steering anomalies should prompt timely vehicle repair to avert potential loss of control.

However, relying solely on vibrations isn’t sufficient to check the state of the tie rods. Rather, it’s crucial to assess this symptom in conjunction with other concurrent indicators.

6) Vehicle Pulls To One Side

Car Pulls to One Side

If your vehicle’s wheels are not properly aligned, your vehicle might exhibit a tendency to veer in either direction. However, this occurrence isn’t universal and can depend on whether both tie rods are compromised or just one.

This issue may intertwine with others as well. For instance, due to the misaligned wheels causing the vehicle to pull to one side, you might notice irregular tire wear developing. Furthermore, an additional symptom could manifest in the form of vibrations.

Causes of a Bad Tie Rod

Your tie rod may become faulty due to one or more of the following causes:

  • Physical damage
  • Wrong installation
  • Age
  • Corrosion
  • Manufacturing fault
  • Poor maintenance

1) Physical Damage

A substantial impact, like hitting a large pothole or a curb at high speed, has the potential to trigger tie rod failure. This impact could lead to bending or misalignment of the tie rod components.

2) Wrong Installation

An improperly installed tie rod can also result in premature failure. Insufficient tightening or incorrect installation might cause excessive play or stress on the components.

3) Age

Over time, the tie rods in your vehicle experience wear and tear. These rods endure significant pressure and stress as a regular part of their function. Factors such as off-road driving, encountering potholes, or traversing rough roads can accelerate this wear-and-tear process.

4) Corrosion

Tie rods are exposed rods and can be susceptible to corrosion, particularly in areas with elevated exposure to salt or moisture.

5) Manufacturing Fault

Occasionally, tie rods might exhibit manufacturing flaws or errors, contributing to their premature failure. These flaws might encompass problems with the assembly process, choice of materials, or design.

6) Poor Maintenance

Neglecting proper maintenance and lubrication can result in premature tie rod failure. Adequate upkeep, which involves applying grease to the joints, can help ward off potential tie rod issues.

Function of A Tie Rod

A tie rod is a tubular component made of cast iron or threaded steel featuring a small pivoting ball joint at one end. The primary function of the tie rod is to link the steering mechanism (which could be a rack and pinion or a gearbox) outward to the wheels.

Tie Rod

Tie rods are typically categorized into two types: inner tie rods that connect to the rack and pinion and outer tie rods that connect near the wheel on the steering knuckle.

These two types of tie rods are often joined by an adjusting sleeve, where the inner tie rod can serve as the adjustment mechanism. This arrangement helps with the precise alignment of the two wheels or tires.

As you steer the steering wheel, the tie rods have a responsibility to transmit that motion to the wheels, thereby steering the vehicle in the desired direction.

The tie rod ends have important parts inside. There’s a small ball joint at the end, like the one we talked about before, and it has a bearing, kind of like what’s in suspension ball joints. This bearing lets the joints move upward and downward when the suspension moves and also turns when the wheels steer. To protect this joint, there’s a rubber cover that contains grease and stops contaminants from getting inside.

Where Are The Tie Rods Located?

Located at the front of your car, the tie rods link to the steering knuckle on one end and are connected to the steering system on the other. Regardless of whether your vehicle employs a steering gearbox or a rack and pinion steering setup, both incorporate inner and outer tie rods.

Tie Rod Location

When you steer by turning the steering wheel, the connected steering shaft also rotates in sync with the rotation. This steering shaft is linked to the steering gear, which is further connected to the tie rod.

Depending on whether you’re turning right or left, the steering system propels the steering arms and tie rods at the desired angle.

How Much Does It Cost To Replace A Tie Rod?

The replacement cost of a tie rod varies according to the vehicle model, labor cost, and your living area. Replacing a standard tie rod may generally cost from $130 to $580, covering both the parts and the work done.

The labor cost typically constitutes the larger portion of the cost, as most vehicles require about two to four hours for the replacement process.

The actual components should cost somewhere in the range of $20 to $180. If you’re capable of performing the repair on your own, you could potentially save money on labor expenses.

It’s important to note that tie rod replacement should always be done in pairs. If one side shows significant wear, it’s an indicator that the other side might also be in a similar condition.

How To Change Tie Rods?

Tie Rod VS Tie Rod End

The main difference between the tie rod and the tie rod end is given below:

Tie RodTie Rod End
The tie rod makes a connection between the steering rack/gearbox and steering knuckles.Tie rods contain small components connected to the ends that help to connect the tie rod to the steering knuckle.
It transfers the steering force from the steering rack to the steering knuckles, helping to rotate the wheels. The tie rod end permits rotational motion between the steering knuckle and the tie rod and maintains a solid connection.
It is vital for wheel alignment and steering control.Tie rod ends are important for maintaining proper suspension and steering geometry.
It is a solid metal bar that contains threaded ends for adjustments.It has ball joints that permit movement and provide articulation.
It is located between the steering knuckle and the steering gearbox or rack.It is installed at the outer ends of the tie rod.

FAQ Section

Can I drive with a bad tie rod?

Yes, you may continue driving your vehicle with a worn-out tie rod, but it is not recommended. When the tie rod becomes faulty completely, your ability to steer will be lost, and you’ll need to arrange for a tow. To prevent this situation, it’s advisable to replace the tie rod before it fails entirely.

What happens if I don’t fix a broken tie rod?

In the worst situation, your tie rods might come loose from the steering knuckle, making you lose steering control. This may lead to an accident that harms you or others. This is why it’s really important to change a bad tie rod quickly as soon as you notice it.

Can I replace the tie rods myself?

If you possess some technical know-how and basic tools, you could attempt to change the tie rods yourself. Once you take off the wheels, you’ll have access to the tie rod. If you’re uncertain about the replacement process, it’s better to have your car looked at by a reliable repair shop. Keep in mind that a wheel alignment is necessary after tie rod replacement, which requires specialized tools.

Do you need a wheel alignment after the tie rod replacement?

Yes, whenever you replace steering or suspension components, it’s recommended to schedule an alignment. In this scenario, a front-end alignment suffices, usually priced between $40 and $130. Neglecting alignment could result in tire cupping, causing premature wear and tear.

What sound do bad tie rods make?

When the tie rods become faulty, they start to produce clunking or knocking noises coming from the front of your vehicle when making low-speed turns.

Is it safe to drive with loose tie rods?

Running a vehicle with a loose tie rod is a critical safety issue. If it becomes detached, you’ll completely lose control of your car. This separation or breakage of the tie rod can lead to severe safety risks. Additionally, neglecting tie rod maintenance might result in front suspension complications and accelerated tire wear.

Do you need to replace both tie rods?

When it comes to tie rods, like with brakes, it’s wise to change them in pairs. A broken tie rod on one side often indicates a similar condition on the other. Opting to change both sides simultaneously can save you from needing another repair down the line.

How is the inner tie rod different from the outer tie rod? 

The inner tie rod has a straight ball joint that links to the steering rack. On the other hand, the outer tie rod has a bent ball joint connecting to the steering knuckle. The inner tie rod’s end is shielded by a folded boot covering the steering rack casing, preventing contaminants from getting inside. If this boot gets cracked, it might cause issues with the inner tie rod. The outer tie rod end contains a rubber boot too, stopping contaminants from going into the ball joint.

How long can you drive with bad tie rods?

You might be curious about how long you can drive with a bad tie rod before having to change it. Unfortunately, it’s not a simple question to answer because it depends on different things. If the issues with the tie rod are not severe, you could still drive, but remember that tie rods help with steering, and the worse they get, the less control you’ll have over the car. When you begin to notice unresponsive steering and extra play in the wheel, it becomes really important to replace the bad tie rod.

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