Bad Tie Rod Symptoms (with Video)

by Andrea GriffithUpdated July 26, 2023

Looking at a car from the outside, it's easy to take for granted that all four wheels will stay pointed in roughly the same direction. But suspension systems – particularly front end suspension parts – are complex, and have to move in many different directions to do their jobs. Outer and inner tie rods secure the wheel on one side of the car to the one on the other, ensuring that the suspension's job doesn't interfere with the wheels' ability to turn together. If you have bad tie rod ends, you could be in for more trouble than the replacement costs for just the damaged tie rod. Here are symptoms of a bad tie rod to help answer FAQs.

Shaky Steering System

Typically, the first sign that you have faulty tie rods is a shaky or loose steering wheel. The steering control loses communication with the wheels, making the vehicle’s steering rack fight for control, which makes the steering wheel shake. This can be increasingly noticeable on the front wheels when you try to turn the car.

Vibrating Car with Clunking Sounds

The second sign that you have bad inner or outer tie rod ends that are at risk of breaking is a vibrating car. At this stage, the steering knuckle has lost nearly all control over the wheels, and as a result, the back or front tires will start to move involuntarily and shake on their own. There might even be squealing or clunking noises when you drive at low speeds. You will feel these symptoms more as you speed up, slow down or turn corners.

Uneven Tire Wear and Bad Wheel Alignment

If failing tie rod ends have been worn out or damaged long enough, they will affect your vehicle’s alignment because they will cause corrosion and uneven wear on your tires. Worn out tie rod ends will affect your steering gear’s control arm, which will cause your tires to toe out and point away from each other while you are going in a straight line. This will cause excessive tire wear on the inside. If left long enough, this could cause wheel misalignment with the ball joints. Loose tie rods are particularly dangerous if you hit a pothole, as they could cause a dangerous accident and damage other auto parts.

Video: How to Tell if Your Tie Rod is Bad

Helpful comments from the video:

  • Chris Fixx - thanks a ton dude. Bought a 1998 F150 with 160k miles and after getting shammed by local shop decided to take a shot at doing my own work. Your videos have enabled me to replaced tie rods, shocks, brake lines, complete brake jobs (front and back), points, plugs, belts, and rear spring brackets over the past three years. The truck now has 198k and I drive it on weekends to drive around town, haul, help neighbors, and family members that need use of a truck. Thank you for taking the lead in providing the knowledge to do these jobs.
  • This is easily one of the better auto videos I have ever seen on YouTube. Thank you for being so quick and concise with pertinent information. No Fluff.
  • Very concise and clear. I was able to see exactly how to diagnose that my tie rods are what's making the clicking sounds. Thanks, very helpful!

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