When does the tie rod end need to be replaced?
A tie rod is a vital part of the steering system. Large SUVs, pickup trucks and some older cars have a steering system that uses a recirculating ball mechanism. Many modern cars are equipped with rack-and-pinion steering. In both systems tie rods have the same operational function: they connect the steering rack or linkage to the steering knuckles. A tie rod works in the rack and pinion steering system and is attached to the vehicle body, frame or subframe. Steering knuckles function are to hold the front wheels in position. When you turn the steering wheel, the steering rack moves and the tie rods turn the steering knuckles in the turning direction.
The two components that make up a tie rod are the inner and outer tie rod ends. Both tie rod ends have ball joints. The inner tie rod end is greased and protected by the steering rack boot. The outer tie rod end is too filled with grease, but it’s protected by a small boot made of rubber or plastic. A common problem with the tie rod ends is that they wear out and get loose. This typically happens when a rubber boot breaks or cracks and dirt or moisture penetrates the inside of the tie rod end causing wear or corrosion. The outer tie rod ends typically fail more often. With heavier cars and SUVs greater loads tie rod problems are more common. A major safety concern is loose tie rod separation causing the vehicle to lose steering control. Disabled vehicles seen with the front wheels pointing in different directions could be caused by tie rod ends having separated.
What are the symptoms of a loose tie rod end?
Indication of a loose tie rod end includes a clunking, rattling or knocking noise in the front end and looseness felt in the steering. Unfortunately, a loose tie rod end may not produce any symptoms and it is important to have your mechanic annually check the steering system, brakes, suspension and other underneath components. The only way to properly inspect tie rods and other steering and suspension components is having the vehicle is raised on a lift.
Can a bad tie rod cause shaking?
Yes, looseness in the steering is caused by excessively worn tie rod ends. Shaking in the front end may come and go at certain speeds. This problem is especially common with a recirculating ball steering system used in older SUVs and pickup trucks. A weak steering damper makes the problem worse.
Is wheel alignment necessary after replacing a tie rod end?
Yes, steering angles are controlled by the tie rods. To adjust steering angles the thread or clamp connecting inner and outer tie rods is used. After the replacement of any of the tie rod ends, the vehicle will need a wheel alignment to bring the steering and suspension angles back to within specifications. Wheel alignments are an additional cost.
Should tie rod ends be replaced on both sides at the same time?
If a tie rod is in good shape, there is no need to replace it. Often, tie rods on both sides wear out at the same rate and if one tie rod end is bad and the other is starting to go, it is best to replace both. Doing both at the same time only requires one wheel alignment. A damaged protective boot is another good reason to replace a working tie rod end. With a damaged boot the tie rod won’t last long.
Should both inner and outer tie rod ends be replaced together?
If the tie rod end is good there is no need to replace it.
Does a tie rod need any maintenance?
Some tie rod ends have grease fittings and must be greased periodically. With many modern cars, tie rod ends are filled with grease and sealed at the factory and don’t need any maintenance. See your owner’s manual or ask your mechanic to check if tie rods have grease fittings or not, during a regular service.
Should I get an alignment with bad tie rod ends or controls arms?
If any of the steering or suspension components are bad they should be replaced before the wheel alignment. After the alignment, you can get a printout showing the wheel angles before and after the alignment.
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