Tie Rod Ends
What is a tie rod end?
Sometimes just called tie rods, a tie rod end is part of your vehicle’s steering linkage – the mechanism that connects your steering wheel to the vehicle’s wheels.
Because your wheels must be able to turn side to side, and move up and down over bumps, your tie rods include a ball stud that moves similar to a ball joint. This provides a solid connection that is also flexible, similar to a trailer hitch and ball.
Most vehicles’ steering linkage incorporates two inner tie rod ends, and two outer tie rod ends. Some larger trucks or Jeeps with solid axle suspensions use a slightly different set-up that incorporates four different tie rods.
When do tie rod ends need to be replaced?
Tie rod ends contain a ball stud that is trapped in a socket; part of the body of the joint. This allows the ball stud to rotate (allowing the wheels to steer), and pivot (allowing the suspension to move up and down). The whole joint is protected by a rubber boot, which keeps out dirt and water, and seals in lubricant or grease.
The ball stud inside the tie rod is constantly moving as you drive. Because of the tremendous forces being applied to the joint, eventually all this movement wears down the ball stud and the bearings inside the joint. At this point, the ball stud is no longer a tight fit; it has freedom to move around inside the socket. We often refer to this movement as play in the tie rod end. The more worn a tie rod is, the more play there will be.
Once a tie rod end develops excessive play (or becomes “loose”), it’s time to replace it.
Why do worn tie rod ends need to be replaced?
The main reason to replace worn-out tie rods is safety. A tie rod end that has too much internal wear can eventually come apart, with the ball stud pulling out of its socket. This can lead to an extremely dangerous situation where you loose steering control of one wheel. Along with being unsafe, this kind of failure is usually expensive as well, because many other parts are often damaged in the process.
The excess play in a loose tie rod end also allows the wheel’s toe angle to change, which causes unpredictable handling and accelerated tire wear. (See our wheel alignment page for more details.) When a vehicle comes to us with an uneven tire wear problem, the tie rod ends are one of the first components we check.
Symptoms of a worn-out tie rod end:
How do you tell if your vehicle needs new tie rod ends? Here are some warning signs that may indicate one of your tie rods is worn out:
- You hear a knocking or clunking noise when driving over bumps or uneven pavement. (Possible loose tie rod.)
- There is a “sloppy” feel in the steering; you can move the steering wheel a little without a reaction from the vehicle. (Possible loose tie rod.)
- You hear a metallic creaking or squeaking noise when turning the steering from side to side. (Possible seized tie rod.)
- One or more of your tires is wearing unevenly.
A worn-out tie rod end can sometimes be detected by lifting the vehicle; grabbing each wheel at the 9:00 and 3:00 positions; and shaking the wheel from side to side. If the wheel has some side-to-side movement, the tie rods should be inspected. If you suspect there might be a problem with your tie rod ends, we’d be happy to provide an expert opinion! An inspection of your steering and suspension components is fairly quick, and doesn’t cost much.
Choosing a quality tie rod end:
Most of us understand the phrase “You get what you pay for”, and this definitely applies in the automotive world; especially with respect to steering & suspension parts like tie rod ends or ball joints. Many auto parts stores and online parts retailers sell budget parts that just aren’t worth the money you “save” when buying them. These may be referred to as economy, second line, or house brand parts. Our experience is that many of these cheap steering parts don’t even last for one year!
For most vehicles, the best quality replacement tie rod is the same one that your vehicle came with originally: an OEM part. (There are some exceptions to this, such as the poor quality factory tie rods found on some Fiat Chrysler products.) Your next best option is a premium aftermarket product, such as those offered by companies like Federal Mogul (maker of brands like Moog, TRW, etc).
When replacing tie rod ends in our shop, we use about 50% OEM parts, and 50% premium aftermarket. These parts are carefully chosen as we strive to always strike the perfect balance between quality and cost.
Replacing tie rod ends in Airdrie:
Your vehicle’s steering linkage is one of its most critical parts. While replacement of steering parts like tie rod ends is usually fairly simple, there are some “little things” that must be done correctly in order to ensure a safe and lasting repair. This includes torquing all fasteners correctly, because the torque on a tie rod end ball stud is critical. If it’s not tight enough, the tie rod may come loose. Too tight, and the ball stud will be over-stressed, which can lead to it breaking off.
After replacing a tie rod end, your vehicle will require a wheel alignment in order to reset each wheel’s toe angle, which changes after installing the new parts.
If you suspect your vehicle may require a tie rod end replacement, or even if you have a general question about your vehicle’s steering, we’d be happy to help! We’ll provide honest and practical solutions to your vehicle concerns, and if needed, we’ll perform a quality repair that’s backed by the best workmanship warranty in Airdrie.