Rick's Free Auto Repair Advice

Tie rod — What is a tie rod?

Tie rod function and failure

What does a tie rod do and what are the symptoms of a worn tie rod?

Tie rods on a rack and pinion steering system

A tie rod is a metal shaft that connects the steering gear to the steering knuckle. A vehicle with a rack and pinion style steering gear has two tie rods and each tie rod has a

tie rod end

Tie rod end ball and socket design

flexible ball-and-socket joint at each end (called a tie rod end) that allows the tie rod to move up and down as the wheel encounters bumps. The inner tie rod end connects to the rack and pinion steering gear and allows only up and down and some slight side to side movement. The outer tie rod, on the other hand, allows up and down AND left and right rotation so the wheel can make turns. and side-to-side when turning.

tie rod

Location of tie rods and tie rod ends in a rack and pinion steering system

 

 

Tie rods and connecting rods for conventional steering gear

Depending on the configuration, traditional recirculating ball steering gears use many more components between the gear the steering knuckle. Most use a pitman arm to move a drag link, center link, idler arm and tie rods.

tie rod

Location of tie rods and tie rod ends in a conventional steering system

What causes a tie rod to go bad?

The tie rod shaft itself rarely goes bad. So the tie rod end is most common failure point. The single most common cause of tie rod end failure is damage to the protective rubber boot. Once the boot is damaged, water and road salt and grit can enter the ball and socket and corrode and wear out the joint.

Tie rod end boots can be damaged by adding too much grease, which causes the boot to rupture and tear. Using the wrong tool to remove a tie rod end can also damage the boot.

tie rod end

Example of a worn tie rod end that’s rusted and causing sloppy steering

However, the boot can age and crack.

What are the symptoms of a worn tie rod?

• Play in the steering wheel is the most common sign of tie rod wear. You’ll find yourself constantly correcting your steering just to stay within your own land.

• Uneven and excessive tire wear. Since the tie rod is responsible for keeping your tires pointing straight ahead when driving straight, tie rod wear can cause the tires to move left or right when the vehicle is moving straight. That causes tread “feathering”.

• Noise. In extreme wear cases, a worn ball-and-socket can make a creaking sound when turning.

• Catastrophic failure. An extremely worn flexible ball-and-socket joint can separate while driving, preventing you from steering. The lack of input to the wheel can cause the wheel to turn to it’s maximum angle, causing a crash and serious injury.

Tie rod replacement cost

Tie rod replacement cost varies widely depending on the type of steering system (rack and pinion versus traditional recirculating ball). Tie rod ends generally cost about $50 and usually install in less than a half hour. But an inner tie rod for a rack and pinion gear can cost more and take more than an hour to install. Anytime a steering component is replacement, you must perform an alignment, which adds about $100 to the repair.

©, 2018 Rick Muscoplat

Posted on by Rick Muscoplat

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