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Tie Rods-how can I tell when they're bad?

I was recently told by someone at a well-known auto repair chain that the Tie-Rods on my 2000 Saturn SW-1 need to be replaced. How might I know if there is a problem with them? Is there something I would notice or hear during driving that would definitely tell me "fix the Tie-Rods!" ? I am suspicious of this diagnosis and am thinking of waiting until I see my regular mechanic is a few days. The car seems to be driving with no detectable problem, but I know that doesn't necessarily mean all is well. Still I don't want to get ripped off.
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Comments

  • edited February 2010
    Stay out of the auto repair chains and stick with your regular mechanic if it is someone that you know and trust.

    The best way to figure out if the tie rods are worn is to get the car up in the air and wiggle the wheel while you look for play. If they were bad enough you might get some vibration or noise on turns and some steering wander. You might also notice nothing, but if you don't notice anything then you're likely good waiting a few days for your mechanic.
  • edited February 2010
    Thanks for the advice! I will pay close attention to what you suggested.
  • edited February 2010
    Two things can go wrong with your tie rods, one the ball joints get worn out from lack of lube. then they must be replaced. It takes about 2 or 3 decades for this kind of wear to show up, except if you are a mud bogger.. the other thing is the rods can get bent from driving over a parking curb when you are drunk. That takes about 3 seconds. It might also be possible but unlikely that one of the adjustment bolts could come loose, but that usually takes some help from someone with a wrench. What kind of terms are you on with your neighbors?
  • edited February 2010
    I once drove an old car 200 miles, stopped in the driveway and one tie rod just fell out of its socket. Didn't feel a thing during the drive. No vibrations and no drivability issues.

    One way to tell is to have someone turn the steering wheel back and forth, about 10? each way, rapidly. Watch the tie rod ends, you will see if there is any play in them.

    It would be real unusual for tie rods to be worn out this early. Look at both rods, they should be symmetrical but mirror images of each other. If there is any accident damage, you should be able to notice it, and your tires would wear out real fast and have an unusual wear pattern.
  • edited February 2010
    Am I stating the obvious when I say "the more worn they are the easier it is to tell if they are bad"?. Its a ball and socket, new part tolerence is in the .0001 range.
  • edited February 2010
    If the steering feels tight, and isn't binding or making weird noises, the odds are you're fine. But the only way to be sure is to put the car on a lift, see how much play there is and inspect them.

    I once had a tie rod break with no warning--was going around a gradual curve and the car started bounding all over the road like an excited puppy... then it was fine again... then freaking out again. One wheel was probably doing what the wheel on a bad shopping cart does. A little weird and scary. On that particular car I think it was a $5 repair that I did myself and just eyeballed the alignment from the old broken part.

    I suppose if there's a point to the story, it is that you should have it inspected and fixed if necessary. Steering is kind of important.
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