Tie rods are vital for precise steering in all vehicles. A functional tie rod connects the suspension and steering system to the front wheels on the ground by several joints, so that the wheels turn accurately as the steering wheel is turned. Such a system allows the driver to use minimal force to turn the vehicle.
But like everything in a vehicle, the tie rod ends will age over time. They will also endure faster wear and damage if you regularly drive over bumps or rough roads. Such conditions may cause the tie rod ends to malfunction within a few years, but those on other vehicles may last many years without replacement. Bad tie rod end symptoms can present themselves in various ways.
What is a Tie Rod End?
Tie rods, made up of inner tie rods and outer tie rods, link the front wheels to the steering wheel. Both have greased ball joints at the ends to allow rotational forces to be transmitted through the system.
The outer tie rod end is protected by a rubber boot to keep grease in and dirt out, but this rubber can crack with time and allow moisture to get inside the joint and cause corrosion.
6 Symptoms of a Bad Tie Rod End
You’re probably wondering how do you know if a tie rod end is bad? Well, there are several very noticeable symptoms that you can watch out for. Below are some common symptoms of a faulty tie rod end.
#1 – Steering Wheel Vibrates or Shakes
The tie rod keeps the components of the suspension solid and tight. If the tie rod end goes bad and loosens, the parts of the suspension will also loosen and cause vibrations and shakes which can be felt in the steering wheel while the vehicle is in motion. These steering wheel vibrations worsen as the car accelerates and when turning corners.
#2 – Poor Front End Alignment
The tie rod helps sustain the alignment of your vehicle’s front end, and a damaged or worn tie rod end causes loosening of the parts. This will cause the front end to become misaligned and track poorly.
This misalignment is noticed while driving the vehicle because it will start veering to the left or right as it’s pointed forward. This is easy to see if you briefly remove your hands from the steering wheel after directing it straight while driving. A properly-aligned vehicle should maintain a straight path.
#3 – Steering Wheel Feels Loose
A bad tie rod end can also cause the steering wheel to feel loose or have excessive play. This is a dangerous condition, as it can lead to a complete lack of steering. Take the car to the auto shop at once if you notice a loose steering wheel.
#4 – Abnormal Sounds
Any squeaking or squealing while the vehicle is in motion can indicate undesirable metal-on-metal contact. A high-pitched squeaking sound while driving the vehicle, especially around corners, can indicate a tie rod end rubber boot that has cracked, allowing for a loss of lubrication.
Clunking or rattling can also be heard from the front end of the car. Since strange noises don’t automatically imply a failing tie rod end, you’ll want to see if any other symptoms on this page exist.
#5 – Abnormal Tire Wear
Tire wear is a normal occurrence, and should be even on both sides. Uneven wear on one or more tires can indicate a problem. A bad tie rod will cause the inner or outer edges of a tire to wear faster than the rest of the tire.
You can check for abnormal tire wear by standing in front of the vehicle and looking at the inside and outside edges of the front tires. Uneven tire wear can also have other causes such as a bad alignment, improper tire pressure, or unbalanced tires so it is a good idea to have the car examined by a mechanic.
#6 – Vehicle Vibrates
Once the tires begin to wear unevenly, the entire vehicle can start to vibrate.These vibrations intensify with acceleration, which makes it difficult to drive comfortably. Comfort may be the least of your worries, though.
Vehicle vibration can also be caused by nearly complete failure of the tie rods, which is a very dangerous situation. In this case the tires are loose and shaking on their own, and you may be close to losing steering. Have the vehicle repaired immediately.
Tie Rod End Replacement Cost
On average, the cost to replace a tie rod end ranges from $100 to $400 depending on vehicle, quality of parts used, and how hard it is to get to the tie rod end.
For parts cost, a tie rod end can cost anywhere from $20 to $100, no matter if its the inner or outer tie rod. Outer tie rod ends are fairly simple to replace so expect to pay around $80 to $100 in labor as most mechanics will charge a one hour minimum. Inner tie rod ends take a bit more effort to get to so count on about $150 to $300 in labor.
Since at least 50% off the total cost is labor, it makes sense to buy OEM or high quality parts to get your money’s worth. Don’t forget to include a front-end alignment in the cost estimate as this is necessary after the repair is completed.
Shop around to compare labor rates at all your local auto shops to reduce the total cost as much as possible. Obviously, lowest labor rate is everything but often you can find a trustworthy independent shop that charges half of what a dealership would charge. Taxes and other fees may be added to the final price as well.
Checking the Tie Rod Ends Yourself
It’s a good idea to have the vehicle checked by a mechanic if you notice any of the above symptoms.
However, you can first check to see if your tie rods are loose by grasping a front wheel on the sides and simultaneously pushing with one hand and pulling with the other to see if there is any play in the wheel. The tie rod can also be grasped and wiggled to check for laxity. Excess mobility is abnormal and repairs will be needed immediately.