What are the Symptoms of a Bad Tie Rod?
A bad tie rod actually means that the tie rod ends are damaged or loose and the first symptoms might be a loose steering wheel or a clunking, clicking sound from the front end. The smooth articulating surfaces of the tie rod end’s bearing and stud should be tight, but wear or damage can cause a gap allowing looseness in the steering mechanism and the knocking noise.
This article will identify other signs of a bad tie rod and point out causes, methods of prevention, and solutions for bad tie rod ends.
Table of Contents:
Here are the most common symptoms of bad tie rod ends:
Loose Steering Wheel
The steering wheel has a lot of play when turning or more vibration than normal.
Clunking or Clicking Noise
Coming from the front end, especially when turning.
Steering Wander / Bad Alignment
Vehicle has trouble tracking in a straight line on its own.
Uneven Tire Wear
Wheel alignment can be affected, causing excessive wear on the inside or outside tread.
Loose tie rod ends can cause loose wheel alignment and vibration in the front end.
Reasons Tie Rods Go Bad
- Driving over rough terrain
- Regular and excessive miles
- Lack of grease
- Corrosion or damage
- Looseness or damage in other parts
Tie rod ends are moving every time the steering wheel is moved so even with no other factors in play they receive a lot of abuse during the smoothest commutes. It’s true that some folks keep the original tie rod ends on their vehicle for a good long time but in many cases you will need tie rod end replacements sometime during the life of your vehicle.
Anything that puts more pressure on your front suspension can contribute to tie rod end wear such as driving over rough terrain or just putting a lot of miles on your vehicle. Also, if the dust boot covering the tie rod end is torn or damaged then 1) grease can escape and allow the metal inner workings to grind each other down and 2) debris or moisture can make their way inside the joint and cause corrosion or irritation of the smooth surfaces.
If other front suspension or steering components are worn down this can also accelerate the wear on the tie rod ends. These parts form an interconnected system so when one is not working properly it can put more stress on the rest of the system and cause other parts to wear down faster.
How to Prevent Bad Tie Rod Ends
Taking care of your tie rod ends means making sure the grease seal is intact and lubricating the tie rod ends.
Think of the ball joint of a tie rod end as your shoulder joint and the grease as the cartilage. Making sure your tie rod ends have an adequate amount of grease is important for the health and longevity of the part. Some tie rod ends are sealed and can not be lubricated but many aftermarket options include a greaseable system designed to allow new grease to be pumped and moisture or contaminates to be pushed out. Doing this every other oil change can lengthen the life of your part.
Checking the dust boots on your tie rod ends for wear or damage can be the difference between replacing a cheap rubber dust boot or a whole new tie rod. The dust boot helps keep grease in and debris out of the inner workings of tie rod end so making sure that seal is intact and in place will keep the tie rod working longer.
If you do find yourself in need of a new tie rod end you generally have two options: an OE replacement like the original or a premium aftermarket replacement. As with most things price can reflect quality so a cheaper part can get the job done, but since you’ve already had problems with the original tie rod ends you may want a solution that will last longer.
Polyurethane Dust Boot
One fairly simple and cheap upgrade for longer tie rod end life is a polyurethane dust boot. The dust boot on your tie rod end is like a shield against weather, water, and everything else that gets thrown around under your vehicle. Almost all dust boots on OE tie rods are made of nitrile or rubber which is a good choice since the boot needs to bend and flex, but as that boot is stressed by every movement of the steering wheel the rubber can begin to give out and wear down. Also, rubber is susceptible to weather, age, and motor chemicals which can cause it to become brittle and tear.
Polyurethane dust boots are a more durable longer lasting option that will not impede the tie rod end’s range of motion and stands up to the conditions that can degrade and damage rubber. This is a practical upgrade for any daily driver but is especially helpful for those who travel in wet or icy climates, commute over badly maintained roads, or spend a significant amount of time off-road.
Check out this resource if you need to measure for a dust boot for your tie rod end.
Moog Tie Rod Ends
If you’re already experiencing the symptoms of worn tie rod ends then you’ll need a replacement. If you want a more durable part that is designed for better operation and longevity than the original then Moog is an excellent brand to go with.
Disclaimer: We sell Moog products, but we believe in the brand which is why we sell and promote it.
Benefits of Moog Tie Rod Ends include:
- Full ball metal stud that is heat treated in a way to prevent complete failure in a catastrophe
- Metal gusher bearing that reduces friction and allows grease to fully lubricate the joint
- Belville washer and pressed-in cover plate to eliminate looseness as the part ages
Moog is an exceptional option for the average daily driver, but really shines for vehicles that have rough commutes, average a lot of mileage, or occasionally venture off-road.
Tie rods are part of the steering system of your vehicle, so it’s important to know when they might be going bad. A lot of steering and front suspension parts can have similar symptoms when they start becoming loose so a visual or manual check of all the components is not a bad idea. Most tie rod ends will need to be replaced at some point and catching them early is key if you want to replace just one or two parts instead of rebuilding the entire front suspension and steering. Listen to your vehicle, take care of those tie rod ends and they will take care of you.