Blog Car Care Advice 5 Bad Tie Rod Symptoms (+ Causes, Diagnosis & FAQs)
Car Care Advice

5 Bad Tie Rod Symptoms (+ Causes, Diagnosis & FAQs)

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If your steering wheel shakes when you turn your car, or the vehicle veers to one side, even if you’re steering straight, you might have a malfunctioning tie rod. And if that isn’t scary enough, you might hear strange noises too. 

What is a tie rod, and what does it have to do with steering wheel shakes?
How can you tell if you have a bad tie rod?

We’ll answer all these questions in this article. We’ll also list down what causes tie rod failure and how to check the tie rod functionality.

Lastly, we’ll answer some common tie rod questions you may have. 

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Let’s get started!

5 Bad Tie Rod Symptoms

A failing tie rod (steering rod) will exhibit some obvious signs.
Here’s how you know you might need a tie rod replacement:

1. Excessive Vibration

As the tie rods wear down, your vehicle’s steering mechanism becomes shaky or loose. You’ll feel excessive vibration, especially when turning the wheel, accelerating, or slowing down. You’ll also need to adjust the steering wheel while driving forward.

This happens because the bad tie rods cause the steering mechanism to lose control of your vehicle’s wheels, eventually leading to a complete loss of steering.

Do note that other components like a worn wheel bearing, a bad ball joint, or worn pinion bushings can also be the reason behind excessive vehicle vibration. So have them checked by a mechanic. 

2. Unresponsive Steering Wheel

In addition to excessive shaking, you could have an unresponsive steering wheel. You may also experience excessive “play” and a much bigger dead zone where you have to turn the wheel slightly before the car actually begins turning. 

Note: While a worn tie rod is a common reason for unresponsive steering, this issue can also be caused by other steering wheel and suspension issues. 

3. Bad Vehicle Alignment

A properly functioning tie rod helps maintain the vehicle’s front-end alignment. When damaged or worn out, bad tie rods become loose and misaligned. A loose tie rod end could also lead to a shaky car.

This misalignment is most evident while driving, as the vehicle starts veering left or right when driving forward. A properly aligned vehicle will maintain a straight path, even if your hands are off the steering gear.

4. Uneven Tire Wear 

Due to the faulty vehicles alignment, the front tires start to toe out or toe in, causing faster inner and outer side tire wear. That’s why uneven and excessive tire wear is a prominent indicator of misalignment. 

Uneven wear is especially evident in an SUV or RV tire since these vehicles are heavy and prone to tie rod problems. 

Do a visual inspection of each tire. If they display excessive wear on one side but not as much wear on the other, it may be a sign of a worn tie rod. But to be sure, it’s best to have a qualified mechanic verify the cause of tire wear. 

Note: If the tire wear is due to other issues, you can ask your mechanic for tire care tips while availing tire services.

5. Abnormal Sounds

Another sign of a faulty tie rod is a high-pitched squeaking noise while changing steering angles, especially around corners. It indicates a loss of lubrication, which happens when the inner tie rod dust boot has cracked. You may also hear rattling or knocking noises from the car’s front end.

But since these noises aren’t direct indicators of tie rod failure, looking for other symptoms is helpful before seeking a tie rod replacement. 

Note: Sometimes strange sounds from your tires could also indicate a bad wheel bearing. 

If you notice any of the above bad tie rod symptoms, you should have a mechanic check it out to verify if you indeed have a faulty tie rod.

But to give you a better understanding, let’s go through the causes behind a damaged tie rod.

What Causes Tie Rod Failure?

Bad tie rods could result from several issues, including:

So, it could help to have the steering and suspension system checked anytime you have any wheel service, oil change, or overall vehicle maintenance. If you’re curious, we’ll see how it’s done next.

How to Check Tie Rod Functionality?

Here’s what your auto repair expert would do to check for a bad tie rod problem and narrow down the root cause:

Now you know the symptoms and causes of a bad tie rod.
Let’s check out a few tie rods related questions you might have.  

4 Tie Rod End FAQs

Here are answers to some common questions on tie rods: 

1. What Is a Tie Rod?

Your vehicles tie rod is a crucial component in the steering system. It connects the steering gear to the steering knuckle, on which the front wheels pivot when you turn the steering wheel. 

Typically, tie rods consist of an outer tie rod end that connects to the steering knuckle or wheel assembly and an inner tie rod end attached to the steering gear or steering rack. 

Each tie rod end has a ball joint, which is a part of the suspension system — allowing for controlled movement while the wheel turns or moves up and down. The thread that attaches the inner rod to the outer tie rod is used to adjust the car’s front wheel alignment.

Though cars tie rod ends historically required regular lubrication, many modern vehicles’ chassis are now built maintenance-free. But a tie rod in older vehicles or a replacement tie rod end will still require a grease fitting. You can find the grease fitting directly on the head of the outer tie rod, on the steering knuckle.

2. Is it Safe to Drive With a Bad Tie Rod End?

Technically, you can continue driving with a bad tie rod end, but it’s not advised. 

If the vehicles tie rod end fails completely, you’ll lose steering control and potentially risk your safety, as well as the safety of other drivers. You’ll also need to get your vehicle towed to a service center. 

3. How Much Does It Cost to Fix Worn Tie Rods?

Tie rod replacement generally costs anywhere between $200-$500.

A tie rod end costs between between $30-$100. But a pre-lubricated factory-sealed tie rod could cost more. The major chunk of the cost is the labor, as the tie rod replacement requires at least 2-3 hours. 

It’s also advisable to replace tie rods in pairs. If one tie rod end has worn out, the other will likely follow suit. 

4. How Is the Inner Tie Rod Different from the Outer Tie Rod? 

The inner rod comprises an inline ball joint that connects to the steering rack, while the outer tie rod is a right-angled ball joint that connects to the steering knuckle. 

The inner tie rod is located closer to the center line of the vehicle, hence the name “inner tie rod.” It’s the first pivot point that initiates the wheel to turn.

The inner tie rod end is hidden by an accordion boot on the steering rack housing to keep dirt out of the rack. If the boot cracks, it could lead to a bad inner tie rod. The outer tie rod end has a rubber dust boot that prevents dirt and water from entering the ball joint area. The outer tie rod end is more susceptible to wear and failure.

Final Words

Your cars tie rod is an important piece in your steering system. A damaged tie rod can become a safety hazard while driving. So, it’s best to get professional assistance as soon as possible. 

For that, look towards AutoNation Mobile Service.  

We’re an accessible mobile auto repair service available seven days a week. 

With us, you’ll get:

Get in touch with us to get any steering or suspension component fixed, or get a wheel alignment done right in your driveway.