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Alignment becomes Major Repair pitch / What would You do?

Last month I bought a 2001 mustang convertible as is, which is - in very good condition, from a dealer. I did notice a very slight, mild, (almost un-noticable) drift to the left as I test drove the car before my purchase. When I applied brakes, the drift became a very slight pull, less than 5 degrees and easily correctable. Most drivers wouldn’t even have noticed the problem or given it a second thought, but not me. I had to know if it was brakes or something else. A friend of mine told me it was an alignment problem. So I put it on my to-do list for sometime next spring, because after the winter driving I’ll probably need an alignment anyway. For a second opinion, I took the car to a tire shop - the one with “blimps”. What they said has me a little worried.
Here’s Where I Need Your HELP. They said “the alignment is off because the front - right wheel hub and the inner tie-rod assembly need to be replaced, because the wheel bearings are bad and the tie-rod has one inch of play.” …OK, so the previous owner hit something. I can replace the hub myself and save $75.00 labor, I have a wheel puller. The wheel hub, bearings, ABS sensors etc., is all one piece and costs $150.00. The thing is, I don’t hear or feel any grinding from the wheel so I’m prone to let it go for awhile. Yes, I know I might damage the axel with bad bearings but if I can’t tell there’s a problem, how bad could it be??? The tie-rod is another story. How does a tie-rod get one inch of play anyway?? I’m confused, if it’s not bent or broken can’t they just adjust it? They are ment to be shortened or lengthened, right? Help me out here, plz. The tie-rod assembly is another $60.00. And, I thought I’d automatically get an alignment when they replace a tie-rod? They’re trying to bill me $138.00 to replace it and another $70.00 for the alignment.
This whole thing left me thinkin, the mechanic “thought” he heard/felt some grinding in the f-r wheel and seeing the tie-rod with play leads him to the only conclusion that boosts a simple alignment of $75.00, to major repair status and $544.00. I told the salesman I wasn’t prepared to spend that kind of money today and I need to think about it. So, he asks me, “Would you like to open a credit account, if that helps?” My answer, “Nooo…”
So, who can help me out?? Should I just go to sleep till spring on this one, unless I notice the problem worsen myself? What would you do?


I really think this is a repair that “could” be made and not one that “needs” to be made right now. What would you do?

These items, in my opinion, do not amount to “major repairs” on a twelve year old car. You said you already noticed a problem: the vehicle drifts or pulls. For this kind of issue, the next “problem” you will notice is when the steering linkage breaks and you can no longer point the car in the direction you want it to go. When this happens, there may be a crash that could hurt or kill you or other people on the road, and even if that is avoided, there will probably be body damage to your car, other mechanical damage, and you won’t be going anywhere without a wrecker. That being the case, I would not put this off too much longer. Your tie rods, both inner and outer, have ball-in-socket joints that allow them to articulate yet stay together, and these joints can (and will) wear out over time. If they wear too much, they can pull apart, meaning that wheel is no longer being controlled by the steering wheel. The only way to “tighten it up” is to replace it. It is also not unethical for a shop to charge you for an alignment, even if other work is being done that requires an alignment afterwards.

I’d seek a second opinion, your own.

An inch of play in a tie rod seems highly unlikely. Perhaps the mechanic meant it has an inch of play at the wheel. Even that seems excessive given the fact that it only drifts slightly.

There is a simple test that you can do to see how much play there is at the wheel. Jack up the corner of the car that supposedly has the bad tie rod. With the wheel slightly off of the ground, grab the tire at 3:00 and 9:00. Give it a shake, right-left-right-left. ANY play is more than you want. You probably won’t feel or hear any roughness in the bearing since it’s unloaded at this point.

If you can replace the hub yourself, you can replace the tie rod too. It just unscrews from the end of the tie rod. You WILL need to get an IMMEDIATE front end alignment after you screw the new one on the same number of turns you unscrewed the old one. I’d suggest you find an independent alignment shop rather than take it to a “chain store”.

“I took the car to a brake shop - the one with ‘blimps’”

Don’t trust those chain shops.
Get a second opinion from a good independent shop.
You can click on “MECHANICS FILES” at the top of this page to find one.

What is your intention for this car? Do you drive it daily and will expect to put a lot of miles on it? Or, is it more of a toy that will get only a few thousand miles per year? Since it seems safe to drive I’d take it to a good body shop for an evaluation of the entire front end. Are there other signs of repaired collision damage? The comment about the 1" of tie rod play is hard to believe. 1" of play would pretty much disconnect the tie rod.

Get another set of really good eyes on the car. Since it is new to you a good body shop might fill in some gaps in historical knowledge. I don’t think the repair estimate was too bad, the question to me is what is really going on with the front end of this car and why? If there is any kind of structural problem? If so; find it, correct it, and then repair as needed.

No, there was “no reported damage or accidents” via dealers car history report at the time of purchase. I do have minor damage on the drivers runner, (see pic) My best guess is that someone slid into a curb. This could have caused wheel bearing problem. But, I’m not noticing wheel bearing problems and I can’t believe it would have caused tie-rod damage. Remember, I said a very slight drift and braking pull, something most drivers wouldn’t even notice. It drives/feels like it only needs a minor adjustment. Like a “one mississippi two mississippi” drift.

As for intention, I only drive 10-12 miles a day (max), but I have made two road trips 100mls and 180 mls. Drives and feels the same on the freeway, but I guess I’ll be staying close to home untill it’s fixed.

Mustang Runner

Lot’s of collision damage never gets reporting into Carfax and other similar systems. This means the dealer report isn’t all inclusive. What can it hurt to have a good body shop take a good look at the car? The more you know the better decisions you can make. It looks like a real nice car. I have an '04 T’bird and like you enjoy the convertible experience.

No, there was "no reported damage or accidents" via dealers car history report at the time of purchase.

Carfax is nothing buy a selling gimmick. Most accidents/repairs are NEVER reported to Carfax.

Lesson #2 - Stay away from the national chains. The mechanics all work on commission. They get paid on every part/service they sell. Since it’s real close to Christmas…the mechanic probably needs a few extra hundred bucks this month for christmas bills. So the temptation is there to sell parts/services that you don’t need.

Get a second opinion. Find a good independent mechanic. The vehicle is 12 years old and there’s a possibility that your car actually does have a problem.

Lift ur car and see if u feel any play on bearing. If u do than u probably should replace bearing. My caddy had slight play 7 yrs ago. Shop wanted 375 to change bearing and refused to align it unless I did. I still have same bearing today and play is no worse.

I would also get a second opinion from an independent mechanic. I do think, however, that it is likely you do need at least the tie rod end and probably the wheel bearings. I think you understate the seriousness of the drift under driving and braking. A car should not “pull” to one side or the other at all.

Dealers always go over the cars they offer for sale on their lots, there was apparently a good reason why this car was sold “As Is”. Did you have it inspected by an independent mechanic before you purchased it? Or did you rely on your own quick evaluation and test drive without ever having it put up in the air and evaluated?

I agree with most of the comments made here and will only add a couple of things.
One is that you will not damage an axle by running with a faulty hub bearing. Hub bearings, tie rods, etc could be considered normal wear depending on mileage as the car is 13 years old. This kind of problem will also lead to shorter tire life.

Two is that I respectfully disagree that dealers always go over their cars before placing them for sale. A distinct minority might but the vast majority do not.
Most acquired cars be they trade-ins, auction acquisitions, etc. are sent to the detail shop for cleanup and may get a new set of tires if needed before they’re placed on the line for sale.
Even perfectly good used cars are often sold with an “AS IS” disclaimer.

This doesn’t sound like a big mystery with a 12 year old car that’s from an area that needs alignment “after the winter anyway”. Like others have suggested, get the bad parts replaced and align the front end. Grinding is typically a worn bering issue, but to know for sure, I would take it to an indie alignment shop that doesn’t sell mechanical repair, get an assessment of which part(s) on all wheels is out of alignment after a measured inspection, then go replace parts somewhere and bring it back for an alignment. This means two trips to fix the problem, but it’s the best way to ensure it is fixed for years to come.

Thank you for helping me out, I have a couple of comments.

This is a 2001 which means it’s 11 yrs old, not 12 or 13.

Also, I drive a cab which is typically a '95 Crown Vic, many of which are in much worse shape than this.
(see video, you’ll see hands off & on for the “drift”, then for “pull” hands are off from bicycle sign to the stop)
Still, I put an additional 150 to 200 mls on 'em every shift. Our mechanics tell me that the worse case senerio would be to lose control and vear into oncomming traffic, but typically with the lose of a tie rod you are able to brake and pull off the road or into the next drive.

I had this happen 2 yrs ago in a condo complex doing about 3-5mph. The tie rod nut losened up and fell off, then the rod fell out. I didn’t panic or crash into parked cars or anything, but I’m thankful I didn’t have a customer at the time.

Anyway, thank you “MG McAnick”, good advise. Also, I was very surprised to find that auto parts store pricing was 1/2 what the blimp tire shop and the dealer quoted. So I bought the hub ($70) and the tie rod ($40) and contacted one of our garage mechanics to help me with it. He said it’s just a little more complicated than screwing in a light bulb. I’ll pick an independent shop for the alignment. Thankx again, everyone, for your help.

Hub & Parts

If you have an inch of play in your tie rod then you’re going to be all over the road every time you hit a bump and you’ll be tramlining up and down any humps in the road. Your wheel will be straight one minute and then when you hit a bump it’ll go to one side of the play or the other

Did you also buy the outer tie rod?
I only see an inner tie rod and a hub in the picture.
Moog makes good steering/suspension parts, in my opinion.

The reason I said that your car is 12 years old is because it’s a 2001 model and was more than likely built in the year 2000. That could be verified by looking at the door tag.

The odds of an inner tie rod breaking are very, very, very slim. The odds of a tie rod END breaking can be much higher. The part in the pic is the inner tie rod and I would strongly suggest that when the tie rod end is disconnected from the steering knuckle that you physically check the tie rod end by hand to make sure that it’s snug and rotates smoothly in all directions. Odds are you will go back for the end.

Another word of caution. Be careful when removing the rubber boot (or bellows) on the steering rack. This must be done to access the inner tie rod.
The reason for the caution is that the boots are made of hard plastic and can be prone to cracking if mishandled. Last time I checked these boots are not available at the parts houses, are a dealer only item, and pretty pricy to boot. My memory is fuzzy but I’m thinking 40-50 bucks a pop on those boots.

I thought he was talking the outer tie rod too. I guess if it was me, I’d replace both outer tie rods while you are at it. I did have a year old Moog tie rod break on me, Broke right off at the knuckle while I was going about 50 on the freeway, just after the river bridge. No harm no foul and was on my way in an hour or two and $80 later, but its not a fun experience. I’ve also had worn inner ones and the steering was noticeably loose and the car would jump a little. I had the whole rack replaced though for that.

These are the parts the “blimp” tire shop said need to be replaced: F-L inner tie rod, F-L wheel hub assembly. My guess is that the ball/socket joint is bad, hence the “one inch” play and as for the hub, the bearings are worn out. Most likely senerio is that this car has needed an alignment for some time and these problems resulted from a combination of age and inaction.

I have two independent alignment shops to visit today for their opinions,
and I’m done with this thread. Thankx again…

For your information, outer tie-rods also have a ball and socket design, and they can also get sloppy.