Bad Tie Rod Symptoms – And How Much a Replacement Costs

Bad tie rod symptoms are easy to identify if you pay attention to your vehicle’s general well-being. For example, uneven wear on your tires indicates a misaligned vehicle’s front end, which can happen when the rods get damaged.

Bad Tie Rod Symptoms

See more details below, including other notorious tell-tale signs that your tie rod ends need replacement. We will also tell you how much you can expect to pay for tie rod repairs and why an alignment is recommended after that.

What Are the Notorious Symptoms of a Failing Tie Rod?

The notorious symptoms of a failing tie rod include the vehicle’s front-end misalignment, which causes tires to wear unevenly. You may also notice excessive play and a shaking sensation on the steering or clunking noises from the tie rod assembly. Have the vehicle checked if you recently hit an obstacle.

A vehicle’s front end comprises different steering components, each critical in ensuring maximum maneuverability. The matching pair of rods are the most important of the various components. They connect the steering rack to the steering knuckle. As such, they help move your wheels when you steer and make turning your vehicle possible.

In other words, without them, it would be impossible to steer your car. The rods are constantly used (every time you steer), making them prone to damage. Normal wear and tear due to road hazards like accidents and driving over potholes can cause the rods to fail. If that happens, the effect can range from premature tire wear (mild) to loss of vehicle control (extreme).

You can recognize this wear by observing the tell-tale symptoms of bad tie rods discussed below. Recognizing the tie wear symptoms early enough can allow you to remedy the problem before it gets out of hand.

Steering Wheel Gets Loose

One of the common symptoms of a failing tie rod is loose and excessive play on the steering wheel. When the wheel feels loose, it causes degraded vehicle handling. The loose feeling may result from increased free-play between the articulating tie rod’s outer end and the steering knuckle where it’s attached. The issue usually gets more noticeable as you accelerate or turn.

Loose Steering Wheel

In the worst-case scenario, you could experience unresponsive steering. It would help if you didn’t wait for a loose steering wheel to reach this stage. Note that this problem can result from other steering or suspension problems. Therefore, get in touch with a mechanic as soon as possible to have the issue properly diagnosed and fixed.

You Hit an Obstacle Recently

A strike on a curb or pothole could prematurely damage your vehicle’s tie rod ends. Those frequently driving on pothole-ridden or generally bad roads are at a higher risk of tie wear. If you’ve recently hit an obstacle, having your vehicle checked as soon as possible is essential. If you are wondering whether you can continue to drive your vehicle on a worn-out tie road, the answer is yes.

But how long can you drive with bad tie rods? You can only drive over short distances and at low speeds. The rod can collapse anytime without warning, leading to losing steering control. That can be catastrophic if it happens while driving.

It’s essential to point out that many people confuse between tie rod and tie rod end. These are two parts, and the terms shouldn’t be used interchangeably. The tie rod end (outer tie rod) is the assembly section that encompasses the ball joint attached to the steering knuckle. This part threads to the inner tie rod at its other end.

The other segment of the car’s tie rod assembly is the inner tie rod. It has female threads at its outward-facing end, where the outer tie rod gets threaded. The other inner tie rod’s end attaches to the steering rack.

Tires Wear Unevenly

When your vehicle’s suspension and the entire steering system are set up correctly, the weight is spread across the contact surface of all four tires. That means the wear is spread evenly so that your tires last longer. However, the wheels go out of alignment when you have bad car tie rods.

Faulty Tires Wear

As a result, your tires experience irregular wear, requiring tire replacement sooner than expected. The inner and outer edges of the tires are usually the most affected. So, inspect your tires, checking for any abnormal tire wear. To do that, stand in front of the vehicle and look at the inside and outside edges of the front tires.

If you spot excessive tire wear on one side, it may be a sign that your tie rod is failing. But if the tire wear is even, the rods work as they should. Please immediately book an appointment with a qualified professional if you’re concerned about unbalanced tire wear.

The Front End Is Misaligned

A damaged tie rod can cause your vehicle’s front end to come out of alignment. Remember that the rods help the vehicle steer and track straight. That means they sustain the wheel alignment on your vehicle. Thus, when they get wrong, the front end becomes misaligned.

You’re most likely to notice this misalignment while driving because, without proper alignment, your car handles poorly. It can veer to the left or right instead of moving straight. It’s easy to recognize these alignment issues if you briefly remove your hands from the steering wheel. A correctly-aligned vehicle should maintain a straight path.

Continuing to drive a car with bad alignment can be costly and dangerous. It can lead to increased fuel consumption, abnormal tire wear, premature damage of other essential components, and an increased risk of crashing. If you realize your vehicle is handling poorly, consult a reliable technician for a proper diagnosis and repair.

Clunking Noises & Shaking

Can bad tie rods cause wobble? Yes, the rods should keep the suspension parts solid and tight. But if the rod end gets damaged and loose, the parts of the suspension also loosen, leading to vibration or a shaking sensation. You can feel the vibrations while driving.

In some cases, worn tie rod ends can produce a clunking or rattling noise, particularly when turning the steering wheel at low speed. The bad tie rod noise is probably caused by the heavy wear in the ball joints and linkages on the outer end of the rod.

Worn Tie Rod Ends

Also, if the rubber boot used to protect the lubrication on the rod joint gets torn, dirt and debris make their way into the joint. That contamination displaces the lubricant, leading to a grinding sensation during steering.

In other words, any squeaking or high-pitched noise while the vehicle is in motion can indicate undesirable metal-to-metal contact. If you need to be sure about the signs of bad tie rod or ball joint, you can perform an easy and quick test of your car’s rods. You only need a jack. Lift the vehicle’s front end in the air and grab the front tire with your hands.

Position your hands at 9 and 3 o’clock, then try to shake the wheel side to side. After that, shift your hands to positions 12 and 6 o’clock and shake the wheel up and down. Carry out this test on both the front wheels. If everything is good, you shouldn’t move the wheels in any way apart from rotating them.

But if the wheels feel loose or shift slightly, you’ll know that your rod or other parts are worn out. As you shake the wheel, you may also hear the inner tie rod clicking, a sign that the rod has an issue and needs replacement. Some have asked how to tell if inner or outer tie rod is bad.

The wheel-shaking experiment typically tests the outer rod. To know whether the inner rod is failing, remove the tire first, then closely examine the rod. You’ll know the rod needs replacement if there are visible cracks or leaks. You can always get more details on the car’s factory service manual.

What Is the Average Cost of Replacing Tie Rods?

The average cost of replacing tie rods is about $230. Expect to pay a minimum of $130 and $420 maximum, parts (regardless if it’s the inner or outer rod), and labor inclusive. The exact price will depend mainly on the parts’ quality and your car model.

Most rods usually cost between $40 and $120. The price is usually higher for luxury and performance cars or pre-lubricated, factory-sealed rod ends. On the other hand, labor charges hardly exceed $150 for ordinary cars, but you can expect to pay up to $300 for a high-end vehicle. The average labor cost is roughly $90.

Cost of Replacing Tie Rods

That brings the tie rod replacement cost to $130 to $420 (averaging at $225) for parts and labor, as stated above. The outer rod ends are typically more straightforward to replace, meaning that most mechanics will likely charge a one-hour labor. But the inner rod requires more work; hence you can expect the labor cost to be on the higher end of the spectrum. The cost may also vary, depending on which part of the rod is damaged.

Note that the labor comprises over 50 percent of the total cost to replace tie rods. Therefore, buy high-quality or OEM parts to get your money’s worth. You’ll also want to include an alignment service in the cost estimate, which is highly recommended after the repairs. If your vehicle is relatively new and still under the factory’s warranty, you should check in with the dealer for a free repair.

Also, aligning your wheels prevents common problems after tie rod replacement. Relative adjustment of a car’s tie rod ends directly affects the front end’s toe setting. Forgoing alignment after the rod repair can cause your vehicle to exhibit various wheel misalignments symptoms like irregular tire wear and poor handling.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can You Repair Failed Tie Rods Yourself?

Yes, you can repair failed tie rods yourself if you have the right tools.

Repairing Failed Tie Rods

However, the task might require advanced technical skills, which ordinary DIYers may lack. Unless you’re a professional, you’ll be better off sparing about $90 to pay a qualified technician for a well-done job.

Is It Necessary To Replace Your Tie Rods in Pairs?

No, it’s not necessary to replace your tie rods in pairs, but it’s highly recommended. The presence of wear on one rod could predict near-identical wear on the opposing rod, especially if both are of the same vintage. Replacing both rods saves money in the long run.

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After going through our article above, identifying bad tie rod symptoms on a car is now easy for you.

But it’s fair we do a quick summary:

  • Your car’s tie rod undergoes a lot of wear and tear due to constant use and will get damaged over time.
  • However, a severe strike on a pothole or any other obstacle can cause premature damage.
  • When you have bad ball joints and tie rod ends, your vehicle’s front end will become misaligned, causing you to experience alignment problems, such as uneven tire wear.
  • Other common tell-tale signs of a failing tie rod include excessive play and vibration on the steering and unusual noise coming from the wheel and suspension.

Now examine your vehicle and determine whether you have a tie rod issue so you can act quickly. Remember to do a tire alignment after tie rod repair for an efficient and safe ride and always use the service of reputable mechanics.


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