Let’s Talk About Bad Tie Rod Ends And How To Replace Them

Steer clear of a failing suspension with this easy DIY job.

A close-up of a tie rod.
Depositphotos

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Depending on who you are, how quickly your car can make it from a standstill to a quarter-mile straight ahead might be all that really matters in this world. But staying in line has never really been our thing, as we’ve always preferred to veer off the path in search of our own ideas of fun. When it comes to cars, that means turning, hard, and a lot on the snakiest roads we can find.

A steering wheel puts the power to turn into the driver’s hands, but it’s a bunch of linkages, gears, and arms that do the work underneath. Tie rods are a crucial component of a vehicle’s steering system, and when they start to go bad, you’ll feel the difference. Bad tie rods should be addressed immediately, and luckily, it’s not a super difficult job!

The apex-loving editors at The Drive have dealt with countless steering jobs, and we’d like to impart that knowledge and experience onto our readers. Learn how to remove and replace your tie rod ends with our guide below.

What Is a Tie Rod?

A tie rod is a mechanical part that connects your steering gear to your steering knuckle. They consist of two parts, inner and outer ends, that are connected and can be adjusted at the middle. Each end has a ball joint, so each tie rod has two ball joints.

What Is a Tie Rod End?

Each tie rod has two ends, one inner and one outer. The inner tie rod end connects to the steering, while the outer tie rod end connects to the steering knuckle.

Symptoms of a Bad Tie Rod End

Here are a few symptoms you may be experiencing.

  • Clunking or knocking sounds
  • Popping or cracking sounds
  • Excessive wheel play
  • Steering feels less smooth and maybe catchy
  • Steering feels more anonymous or less direct
A tie rod end on a white backdrop.
Depositphotos

Some tie rod ends use castle nuts with pins, as seen here.

Inspecting Your Tie Rods

An inspection will be easiest with your wheel still on the car. With the wheel lifted up, use both hands on each side of the wheel to rock it back and forth. If you notice a popping or clunking sound, it might be tie rods. Use a friend and a flashlight to inspect closer and pinpoint the source of the noises, as other failing parts might produce similar noises and symptoms.

Tie Rod Inspection and Replacement Basics

Estimated Time Needed: Hours

Skill Level: Intermediate

Vehicle System: Steering

Tie Rod Safety

Working on your car can be dangerous and messy, so here’s exactly what you’ll need to ensure you don’t die, get maimed, or lose a finger and that you keep your jeans, shirt, and skin spotless—hopefully.

Everything You’ll Need To Remove a Tie Rod End

We’re not psychic, nor are we snooping through your toolbox or garage, so here’s exactly what you’ll need to get the job done.

Tool List 

Parts List

  • New tie rods, if necessary
  • New clamps
  • New dust boot, if needed

Organizing your tools and gear so everything is easily reachable will save precious minutes waiting for your handy-dandy child or four-legged helper to bring you the sandpaper or blowtorch. (You won't need a blowtorch for this job. Please don’t have your kid hand you a blowtorch—Ed.)

You’ll also need a flat workspace, such as a garage floor, driveway, or street parking that’s also well-ventilated. Check your local laws to make sure you’re not violating any codes when using the street because we aren’t getting your ride out of the clink.

An inner tie rod puller tool.
Amazon

This is what an inner tie rod puller tool looks like. 

How To Remove a Tie Rod 

Pretend we’re removing the front driver’s side tie rod. Let’s do this!

Outer Tie Rod End

  1. Park the car on a level surface with room to work around the vehicle.
  2. Make sure the car is in Park or in gear and engage the parking brake.
  3. Place blocks around the ground wheels.
  4. Loosen the wheel lug nuts.
  5. Lift the car and insert your jack stands.
  6. Remove the wheel and place it out of the way.
  7. Spray the tie rod nuts and bolts with PB Blaster or another penetrating oil.
  8. Crack loose the inner/outer tie rod nut.
  9. Loosen and remove the castle nut on the outer tie rod end, including the cotter pin.
  10. Detach the outer tie rod end from the steering knuckle with a tie rod puller tool, a wedge, and/or a hammer. Do not, however, directly hit the tie rod end bolt.
  11. Paying close attention to the positioning, unscrew the tie rod end. Count exactly how many rotations it takes to remove it. You’ll need to remember this for when you screw on the new one.

Inner Tie Rod End

  1. Once the outer tie rod end is off, remove the inner/outer tie rod nut.
  2. Remove the inner tie rod end dust boot clamps.
  3. Detach the breather tube from the dust boot.
  4. Remove the inner tie rod end dust boot.
  5. Use the inner tie rod removal tool, which can be rented from Autozone, Advanced, or O’R, to remove the inner tie rod end. It usually features an adapter and an extension rod that pairs with your ratchet or pry bar.

Replacement

When installing the new parts, there are a few things you should be aware of. 

  • Inspect your new parts to make sure they are the same length. If they aren’t, but they are the correct parts for your vehicle, you might have to adapt the length to fit correctly. You’ll need to compare the rotations and size of the original parts to match them up with the new parts.
  • Did you notice the torque wrench in the parts section? You need this when you’re tightening the connecting nut between the inner and outer tie rods. Check your owner’s manual for specifications.
  • You’ll also need to tighten the castle nut to a manufacturer-specified torque.
  • Apply thread sealer to the new inner tie rod end where it attaches to the steering rack.
  • The clamps on the dust boot might need to be replaced if they are one-time use.
  • It’s a good idea to clean up and inspect the area and surrounding parts while you’re working down there. This is a good time to look at your ball joints and CV axles.

Alignment

  • After you replace your tie rods, you should always take your shop for an alignment.

Sometimes You Need a Certified Mechanic

As much as The Drive loves to put the "you" in do-it-yourself, we know that not everyone has the proper tools, a safe workspace, the spare time, or the confidence to tackle major automotive repairs. Sometimes, you just need quality repair work performed by professionals you can trust like our partners, the certified mechanics at Goodyear Tire & Service.

A tie rod end on a car.
Depositphotos

Knowing the symptoms of a bad tie rod end will help you in the future.

FAQs About Tie Rod Ends

You’ve got questions, The Drive has answers!

Q. So What’s The Main Difference Between Ball Joints and Tie Rods?

A. In this context, ball joints are part of the suspension system, and tie rods are part of the steering system. 

Q. Yeah, But Is It Dangerous To Drive With a Bad Tie Rod?

A. It can be, so we do not recommend driving with a bad tie rod end. 

Q. And Why Do Tie Rods Go Bad?

A. Any components that are attached to a vehicle’s wheels are dealing with a ton of movement, and relentless beatings. Over time, these impacts wear down on the tie rod ends and cause them to go bad. Contamination can further this along.

Q. How Much Does It Cost To Replace a Tie Rod?

A. Tie rod ends vary greatly in price depending on the vehicle. Some singular outer tie rod ends could cost $10-15, while others could cost triple digits. Yours will likely be cheap, though, so even if the tie rods are just old and worn, but not fully bad, it can’t hurt to replace them. 

Q. What Does a Bad Tie Rod End Sound Like?

A. It will typically make a popping, clanking, or knocking sound.

Let’s Talk, Comment Below To Talk With The Drive’s Editors!

We’re here to be expert guides in everything How-To related. Use us, compliment us, yell at us. Comment below and let’s talk! You can also shout at us on Twitter or Instagram, here are our profiles.

Jonathon Klein: Twitter (@jonathon.klein), Instagram (@jonathon_klein)

Tony Markovich: Twitter (@T_Marko), Instagram (@t_marko)

Chris Teague: Twitter (@TeagueDrives), Instagram (@TeagueDrives)

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