A tie rod end under the wheel of a car.

Tie Rod Ends: What Are They and What Do They Do?

Tie rod endsLet’s face it: Your vehicle’s steering isn’t something you think about all the time. While you get in your car and just presume minor components will always be there for you, they can wear out over time and cause a lot of slop or play in your vehicle’s steering – which can, in turn, affect its handling. Let’s take a look at tie rod ends, what they do and why they’re so crucial to a smooth ride.

What Are They?

Tie rod ends are the crucial meeting point between a vehicle’s steering rack and steering knuckle. The rod end not only transmits the force from the steering rack to the wheels, but it also provides a pivot point for the steering to maintain its geometry. The rod end typically features a round end and has a threaded bolt perpendicular to it that is inserted into the knuckle. The rounded end also houses bearings that allow the bolt to pivot freely; this end is covered by a protective boot to keep dirt out. This design may look uncomplicated to the naked eye, but because it’s so crucial to handling, the tolerances involved are very tight.

All Worn Out

Due to the extreme forces put on rod ends, they can wear out and cause your steering to get sloppy. There are a couple telltale signs you should be conscious of that are good indicators that tie rod ends need to be replaced. The first and most obvious is if you can turn the wheel a small amount without any response from the steering system. Another tell is if your vehicle emits a squeaking sound when you turn the wheel. Not to be confused with the sustained squealing noise the steering rack can make when it’s low on fluid, a worn rod end will make a brief, high-pitch squeak.

Inspect It Yourself

If you’re the DIY type, then you’re in luck. You can easily check if your rod ends are bad by lifting the front end of your car up on a jack and trying to move the wheel left and right with your hands. If it moves at all or you hear a clunking sound, then there is a lot of play in the rod ends and they certainly need to be replaced. To investigate further, take the wheel off to get a closer look at the ends. Check whether they’re damaged or broken and try to move them in the knuckle with your hand.

A Lube Job a Day …

They say the best medicine is prevention, and that goes for your vehicle as well. When you change the oil, grease the rod ends to ensure they’re always properly lubricated. Press on the gun until you see the old grease come out through the rubber sleeve to make sure the new grease pushed it all out. If you can make this part of your standard oil change practice, then you can extend the lifespan of the rod ends and prevent your car from needing more repairs down the road.

Checking the rod ends and keeping them maintained is essential to keeping your vehicle’s steering working properly and staying safe while driving. By regularly lubricating the tie rod ends and knowing what to look and listen for when they begin to wear out, you can keep your car out of the junkyard and on the road for a long time.

Check out all the steering and suspension parts available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on tie rod ends, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

Image courtesy of Flickr.

about author

Erich Reichert

Erich Reichert has been an editor and on-air personality in the radio control car hobby for 12 years. A certified car nut since birth, he has written for internationally published titles such as RC Car Action, RC Driver and Xtreme RC Cars, as well as Stuff Magazine, Road and Track and Super Street. He's covered everything from product reviews and tech articles to high-profile lifestyle pieces and celebrity interviews. Erich found his passion for writing after a successful career as an art director, working with brands such as Pepsico, NASCAR, MTV, Nintendo, WWE, Cannondale Bicycles and HBO. He's also a father, an avid hockey fan and an FIA race license holder who enjoys hiking, playing drums and movies.

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