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How to Spot a Failing Tie Rod End

When you turn the steering wheel of your car, the vehicle turns, correct? Well, sure — thanks in part to its tie rod ends.

Tie rod ends, sometimes just called “tie rods,” are part of the steering linkage. They connect the steering system to the steering knuckles. The wheels and tires are mounted to these knuckles, so when the steering wheel is turned, the tie rods move back and forth, turning the wheels.

Tie rod ends eventually wear out and should be replaced. Here’s how to tell if your tie rods are on their last legs.

 

Symptoms of a Bad or Failing Tie Rod End

A bad tie rod end can show itself in several ways:

  • Tire wear: The tie rods are key in adjusting a vehicle’s alignment. A worn tie rod can affect an alignment angle called toe. When this happens, the tires will begin to wear unevenly on the edges.
  • Front-end shimmy: Tie rod ends that are extremely worn can cause front-end shimmy. The tie rod ends have a ball and socket that attaches to the knuckle. When this socket gets worn out, the tie rods won’t fit as snugly, causing a shimmy.
  • Grease loss: The tie rod ball-and-socket setup has grease to keep it lubricated. A rubber boot is used to contain this grease. If the boot tears, you may notice the grease dripping out.

 

Get it diagnosed by a professional

 

Fixing a Bad Tie Rod End

The only way to fix a tie rod end is to have it replaced. It’s a good idea to make sure the tie rod has failed before doing so. You can confirm a worn tie rod by performing a visual inspection and checking it for excessive play. Once a tie rod end has been replaced, you should get an alignment to ensure everything is back to normal.

 

More About Tie Rod Ends

To understand what a tie rod end does, it’s important to understand the entire steering system. There are two basic types of steering systems: conventional steering gear (also called a steering box) and rack-and-pinion. Both the steering gear and rack-and-pinion unit serve the same purpose — to transfer steering wheel motion to the steering linkage. Most modern vehicles have rack-and-pinion steering. 

Many different components make up a steering system. Conventional steering gear components include:

  • Steering gear: The steering gear connects between the steering column and pitman arm. When the steering wheel is turned, the steering column shaft turns. This causes the gears inside the steering gear to transfer motion to the pitman arm.
  • Pitman arm: The pitman arm connects the steering gear to the steering linkage.
  • Center link: The center link is connected between the pitman arm and tie rod end. It continues the transfer of motion from the steering gear to the tie rod end.
  • Idler arm: The idler arm is designed to hold the right end or the center link even with the left end.
  • Tie rod end: The tie rod end is the final part of the steering linkage. It connects the center link to the steering knuckle. The tie rod end transfers the motion of the steering gear to the knuckle and thus to the wheel and tire. There is one outer tie rod end for each side of the vehicle.

Rack-and-pinion steering components include:

  • Rack-and-pinion assembly: There are fewer components in a rack-and-pinion system, compared to that of a conventional steering gear. The rack-and-pinion gear connects between the steering column and the inner tie rod ends. When the steering wheel is turned, the steering column shaft turns. This causes the gears inside the rack and pinion assembly to transfer motion to the inner tie rod.
  • Tie rod ends: In a rack-and-pinion system, there are always inner and outer tie rod ends. The inner tie rod ends connect the rack-and-pinion assembly to the outer tie rod ends. The outer tie rod end transfers the motion to the knuckle. This causes the vehicle’s wheels and tires to move. There is one outer tie rod end for each side of the vehicle.

 


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