From the average tie rod replacement cost to bad tie rod symptoms, this comprehensive tie rod guide has the answers you’re looking for.
Whenever you get into your car or truck, you expect it to move straight as you hit the accelerator and turn when you rotate the steering wheel. A system of components allows this to happen, and one of the most important is the tie rod.
Many car owners think little about or even know of the existence of this crucial part; however, tie rods are so essential that, without them, you would lose control of your vehicle.
In this detailed guide, we look at everything you need to know about tie rods, including what they are, what causes them to fail, symptoms to look out for when they fail, and how much it costs to replace them. Let’s begin.
What Is A Tie Rod?
The steering is an essential part of any non-autonomous vehicle, and the tie rod plays an integral role in its operation.
The tie rod connects the steering gear mechanism to the spindles on which the front wheels are mounted. Regardless of the steering system your car has (rack and pinion system, steering gearbox, etc.), it’s typically composed of two inner tie rod ends and two outer tie rod ends, all featuring ball joints
The inner tie rod ends are what connects to the steering wheel rack or gearbox assembly, while the outer tie rod ends connect to the spindle on each front wheel.
As you turn the steering wheel, they help the steering system activate movement, pulling or pushing the wheels to make them turn.
So, a tire rod is important because your car or truck can’t steer without it, and you will most likely not pass a vehicle inspection if it’s faulty.
Virtually every type of vehicle with a steering mechanism uses tie rod ends. Although commonly found in the front wheels, they are also utilized in the rear wheels of vehicles with rear-wheel steering.
What Causes Tie Rods Fail?
Tie rods generally have a strong, durable build and can last for many years; however, like any other part of your car, they are susceptible to damage and normal wear.
Normal wear and tear can cause them to deteriorate and gradually become less effective, but it usually takes years of normal wear for them to become unusable.
A lack of lubrication due to poor maintenance can especially be problematic. Not having proper lubrication can cause tie rod ends to loosen and bind up, comprising the safety of your vehicle.
Weight is also another culprit. The tie rod ends on larger and heavier vehicles such as SUVs and pickup trucks wear out more quickly as a result of bearing a greater load.
Finally, driving hazards such as driving into potholes or over bumps at high speed or getting into an accident are a major threat that can cause serious damage and premature failure.
In other words, the more reckless you drive, the more likely your tie rods will fail.
Bad Tie Rod Symptoms
As tie rods wear out or become damaged, they will have some mild or extreme adverse effects on your car or truck, effects you can’t afford to ignore.
If not addressed promptly, the underlying problem can worsen or weaken other parts of the vehicle, resulting in more expensive repairs.
Keep reading for six common symptoms of a bad tie rod.
Shaky Steering Wheel
Because the tie rods link the steering wheel to the front wheels, a shaky or unresponsive steering wheel is usually the first sign that one or more of your tie rods is worn or damaged.
This vibration and unresponsiveness will typically become more pronounced as you accelerate or turn the vehicle and is a serious safety hazard.
If you notice some ‘play’ in the steering wheel, get your vehicle inspected immediately to determine the underlying cause. It may be due to faulty tie rods or something else.
In addition to causing the steering wheel to shake and become less responsive, a faulty tie rod may also cause your entire vehicle to vibrate.
This particular problem is due to the front tires moving around randomly and causing excessive shaking as a result of the steering mechanism losing control over the wheels.
The vibration becomes more noticeable as you accelerate, decelerate, or make a turn.
Uneven Tire Wear
If your tie rods have been worn or loose for a while, you might notice uneven tire wear.
Faulty tie-rods can cause your vehicle to go out of alignment, causing one or more of the wheels to bear a disproportionate amount of the vehicle’s weight.
Misalignment often causes a tire to “toe-out”, with its inside tread wearing out faster than normal.
If your car or truck appears to pull to one side when driving, the wheel might be misaligned, possibly caused by problematic tie rod(s). After all, tie rods play a crucial role in allowing your vehicle to track and steer straight.
Having to constantly correct your steering is not only frustrating and distracting but also potentially dangerous. Driving shouldn’t be strenuous or hazardous.
Worn or damaged tie rods can cause the front of a vehicle to make clunking or knocking sounds when turning at low speeds.
The unusual noise results from the tie rods rattling around the joints and other connection points as they loosen.
If the plastic or rubber boot that protects the tie rod joint and contains the lubricating grease becomes damaged, dirt, debris, and other substances can enter, interfering or drying out the grease and causing grinding sounds as you steer.
This one is not as easy to notice as the rest. If you’ve got a floor jack, use it to raise the front end of your vehicle.
Once raised, grab one of the front tires by the 3 and 9 o’clock positions and shake it from side to side. Then grab the same tire at the 12 and 6 o’clock positions and shake up and down. Repeat this process for the other wheel.
If one or both of the wheels make a clicking noise or shift slightly as they are moved, there is a good chance that the tie rods or another component are failing and need to be replaced.
When Do You Need To Replace The Tie Rod?
Simply put, you should have your tie rods inspected if you notice any of the symptoms associated with a failing tie rod, particularly a shaky steering wheel, rattling and other unusual noises emanating from the front wheels, and wheel misalignment.
If it’s determined that they are the cause of your vehicle’s problems, the mechanic will likely advise you to have them replaced immediately.
As noted earlier, the main reasons why tire rods fail are because of normal wear and tear and damage sustained from collisions. They can become loose or even break, as a result, causing the vehicle to lose steering control and pull to one side while driving.
The outer tie rod ends tend to wear out quicker than the inner tie rods and need to be replaced more often.
Tie Rod Replacement Cost
The cost to replace tie rods mostly depends on the make and model of the vehicle, the quality of the parts used, and the rate your mechanic charges for labor. You will also need to have the wheels aligned after replacing the tie rods, which is a separate cost.
Fortunately, with costs ranging from $100 to $400, tie rod replacement is not overly expensive, at least when compared to many other auto repairs. A wheel alignment will add an additional $80 to $100 for a total cost of around $180 to $500.
In addition to the individual cost components (parts, labor, etc.), the overall cost will also vary depending on if you’re replacing the inner or outer tie rods.
Inner Tie Rod Replacement Cost
The inner tie rods are more expensive to replace than the outer tie rods, with parts costing around $25 to $102 and labor costing $60-$150 labor.
Replacing the inner tie rod ends requires the use of a special tool in many vehicles, and the cost of labor will largely depend on where you live and the shop you work with. Of course, you can save on labor by performing the repair yourself.
Remember, wheel alignment is necessary after the replacement, which is a separate cost.
Outer Tie Rod Replacement Cost
Outer tie rod replacement is easier, quicker, and, therefore, less expensive than inner tie rod replacement. You can expect to pay $20 to $95 for parts and $50 to $110 for labor.
Once again, the overall cost will largely depend on the labor rate charged by your mechanic, and you must incur a separate cost to have the wheels realigned.
Tie Rod Care And Maintenance
Does a tie rod need any maintenance? It depends on the design of your vehicle’s tie rods.
The tie rod ends on many modern cars and trucks come out of the factory filled and sealed with grease, so they don’t need regular maintenance. However, in some vehicles, they have grease fittings that need to be regreased periodically.
If you’re not sure what type of tie rods your vehicle has, your owner’s manual should have it listed. Lost your owner’s manual? Just ask your mechanic during your next scheduled visit.
As with the rest of your car or truck frame, applying quality chassis paint to the tie rods regularly will help prevent the formation of rust and corrosion.
Finally, possibly the best way to maintain the condition of your tie rods is to drive carefully. Severe impacts from accidents and driving over potholes and big bumps at high speeds can severely damage the tie rod ends, greatly shortening their life or causing them to fail completely.
Tie Rod Replacement FAQs
Considering that most people know very little about tie rods and their importance, is it any wonder that there are many questions on the internet about them? Below are answers to some of the most popular ones.
Can You Drive A Car With A Bad Tie Rod?
It’s possible to drive your car or truck if it has a worn tie rod, but you shouldn’t. If the tie rod fails entirely while you’re driving, you will lose steering control and may get into a costly accident.
Even if you don’t get into an accident, your vehicle will likely need to be towed back to your home or a service shop to be repaired, costing you money.
What Happens When A Tie Rod Breaks?
This is the worst that could happen to a tie rod. In the event that a tie rod fails outright, the wheel will lose connection to the steering assembly, causing you to lose the ability to steer the vehicle.
Your car or truck will struggle to drive straight, possibly pulling hard to one side or the other.
The first sign of excessive wear or damage to a tie rod indicates that steering has already been compromised, rendering the vehicle unsafe to drive.
Are Tie Rods Hard To Replace?
No. For such an integral part of a vehicle’s steering, tie rods are fairly straightforward for anyone with a few basic tools and a little bit of know-how to replace on their own.
You don’t need a lot of automotive experience to perform the procedure, nor do you have to pay a professional.
Do You Need An Alignment After Replacing Tie Rods?
Yes, your wheels need to be realigned every time a tie rod is replaced.
The tie rods play a key role in controlling steering angle, so after replacing even just one rod, a wheel alignment will be needed to reacclimate steering and suspension angles back to specifications.
Bear in mind that replacing a tie rod and aligning the wheels are two different jobs that need to be paid separately.
Should You Replace Both Tie Rods At The Same Time?
No. If one tie rod is excessively worn or damaged and the other is fine, you can replace the bad tie rod without having to replace the other.
However, considering that the tie rod ends on both sides of the vehicle typically wear out at the same rate, if one shows signs of failing, chances are that the other isn’t far off.
In this case, replacing both tie rods at the same time will save you time and even money since you don’t have to pay to have the wheel alignment performed twice.
Tie rods are a critical part of every car or truck’s steering system. Connecting the steering wheel to the front wheels, tie rod ends help allow your vehicle to move straight and turn when you want it to.
Tie rods are composed of inner and outer tie rod ends, the former connecting to the steering wheel rack or gearbox assembly and the latter to each of the front wheels.
Each component is typically designed to last for many years; however, poor lubrication and severe impact damage can shorten their lifespan and cause premature failure. Common bad tie rod symptoms include a shaky steering wheel, uneven tire wear, clunking or other unusual noises, and wheel misalignment.
When do you need a tie rod replacement? If you notice any of the aforementioned symptoms, have an experienced mechanic inspect the tie rods for issues immediately.
At an average cost of around $100 to $400, tie rod replacement is not particularly expensive, though inner tie rods cost more to replace than outer tie rods. Wheel alignment is a separate procedure that you must pay for separately.
If you found our tie rod replacement cost guide useful, consider reading some of our other car care articles. Learn the symptoms of bad spark plugs, implications of metals shavings in oil, and causes of white smoke from exhaust.