A tie rod end is one of the lesser-known components of a car—but that doesn’t make it any less important. Tie rod ends are essential to the safe operation of your vehicle as they act as an important link between the steering knuckle and the steering gear.
The main purpose of each tie rod end is to transfer motion from the steering gear to the steering knuckle, allowing the front wheels to turn along with the steering wheel. These components also ensure that the wheels are turning within the optimal angle by serving as the steering’s pivot point.
If your tie rod ends are worn out, you may begin to notice some handling and tire problems—both of which can compromise your vehicle’s safety and performance aspects.
Common Signs of Bad Tie Rod Ends
A bad tie rod end can be fairly easy to detect if you know what the signs are. However, in some cases, these symptoms can also be too mild to notice, which can lead some drivers to ignore them.
But since the tie rods are the link between your car’s steering wheel and the front wheels, any issues should be taken very seriously.
Here are some of the most common bad tie rod end symptoms:
Steering Wheel or Vehicle Vibration
The tie rod ends link the rest of the steering system—including the steering wheel—to the front wheels. If one tie rod end fails, it can often result in wheel behavioral changes that can be felt when operating the steering wheel.
A loose tie rod end can make the steering wheel shaky. The vibration typically worsens as you pick up speed or while cornering.
Loose steering is characterized by being able to rotate the steering wheel freely with little response from the wheels. This could be due to a loose tie rod end.
Make sure to address the issue immediately by bringing your car to a certified mechanic or by replacing the failing tie rod end.
Tie rod ends feature a lubricated ball stud and bearing that’s sealed within a rubber boot. The lubricant allows the bearing to move smoothly.
If the boot is damaged or cracked, the lubricant can leak and cause the bearing to grind, since it’s now operating metal-to-metal.
When this happens, you may hear squeaking noises, especially when turning.
Uneven Tire Wear
Normally, well-maintained tires wear evenly. That means you’re in trouble if one in the set wears faster than the others. Uneven tire wear can be caused by numerous failing components, one of which is a bad tie rod that throws off your car’s alignment.
To confirm this, do a visual inspection or bring your car to your trusted mechanic.
Bad or Poor Wheel Alignment
In case one of the tie rod ends goes bad, the affected wheel won’t be able to retain its geometry. As a result, your car’s wheel alignment will be thrown off, and that can lead to issues such as abnormal tire wear and a vehicle that pulls to one side while driving.
What are Inner and Outer Tire Rod Ends?
In a rack and pinion steering system, each side of the vehicle has both an inner and outer tie rod end. These two are crucial in connecting the steering knuckle to the steering rack of the vehicle.
Here’s the difference between the two:
Inner Tie Rod
The inner tie rod is what attaches to the steering rack and is closer to the centerline of a vehicle. You won’t be able to see much of it since one end is covered by a rubber bellow. The inner tie rod directly attaches to the steering rack.
The purpose of the inner tie rod is to allow the force from the steering rack to reach the outer tie rod end, and eventually the wheel. In other words, it is the first turn point with a rotating ball socket on one end. It features an in-line ball joint instead of an angled one such as what’s on an outer tie rod end.
Outer Tie Rod
As mentioned, the outer tie rod features a 90-degree-angled ball joint that attaches to the steering knuckle or the strut assembly, which, in turn, attaches to the knuckle.
It is called the outer tie rod because it is located farther from the centerline of the vehicle. The outer tie rod is the final turn point after which the inner tie rod has done its part. It is the one responsible for directly turning your wheels.
What Causes Tie Rod Ends to go bad?
Most tie rod ends simply wear out over time. There’s an exception to this, however. Older cars and a few modern trucks have tie rod ends with grease fittings that require regular maintenance—failing to regularly grease them can result in serious consequences.
The grease can also leak through a cracked or damaged rubber boot, as a result of impact.
Regardless, if you notice your tie rods are causing your car to underperform, don’t hesitate and bring your car to an experienced mechanic. A damaged tie rod end can cause grave accidents, so have it replaced immediately.