Broken steering rod - can it be because of a bad repair?

Hello all! I hope you can help me with my question. Last week I took my car to a repair shop to change the front strut mounts as I was told by VW they were worn out. The shop told me that the CV boots were also torn, so I asked to change those as well. Three days later (and no driving in between) I was driving on a completely smooth road at 25 miles/hour and my front wheel started making a noise, and then I lost control of the steering wheel. When I parked and got out of the car, I saw that the front left wheel was falling out. The car was towed, and I am told that the steering rod broke. I am inclined to think that the last week’s repair on the front wheels was not done properly and that’s why this issue occurred. The repair shop tells me that it had nothing to do with it (and is going to charge me for the repair).

Please let me know what you think, I need some advice as I feel they are taking advantage of me.

Many thanks!

If the steering rod (not really sure what part is really broken) broke before the wheel came off, then the repair shop may not be at fault.

More likely I think is the wheel was not torqued on properly and came off and it then that broke the “steering rod”. In this case the wheel was not installed properly and that is the shops fault.

You may need an insurance adjuster or another “front end” specialty mechanic look at the car for evidence of what really happened.

Thank you so much! I myself am not sure which part exactly broke - I am told “a rod”. Good idea about the insurance adjuster…I will need to figure how I get one there. Thank you again!

You need to get details on exactly what part broke and exactly in what manner it broke.

It seems likely that you are talking about tie rod. The tie rod has two basic parts - an inner that connects to the steering gear itself, and an outer that connects to the “steering knuckle.” The inner & outer are obviously both connected to each other.

It is possible that it is just one of those things. It is also possible that it is related to what the shop did. Without details its not easy to answer you.

That’s probably why UncleTurbo suggested you need a third party front end specialist to look at it.

I’d wonder about the CV boots. Do you live where there is winter ice that could break (tear) a boot? How many miles are on the car? If not very many, it seems somewhat unlikely that two boots would be found broken. Is it possible that someone else worked on your driveshafts previously? Incorrect installation can cause a CV boot to break.

I bring this up because it’s been many years and many miles since my VW broke a couple of driveshaft boots after I learned how to install them correctly.

Torn boots can permit debris and water to get into the CV joints as well as letting the grease out. Did your mechanic not caution you about this or try to sell you new CV joints or even complete half shaft assemblies? Something does not seem right here with the broken rod story to add to my suspicions.

Strut mounts should also last a long time. I have driven various cars to ripe old ages and have never replaced a strut mount not to say that they are never needed.

Theorizing for a bit, I might say that someone did not retighten a tie rod lock nut while doing the strut and CV work.
Doing this kind of work generally involves disconnecting things like tie rod ends, lower ball joints, etc.

If a nut was left loose it’s quite possible for the end to come loose from the steering knuckle/wheel assembly and steering will be lost instantly.

A tie rod is near impossible to break and the only ones that I’ve ever seen broken were ones that were subjected to major crashes with other vehicles, bridge abutments, etc.

You might take a few pics of this damage and post them if possible. My gut feeling is that you’re being led astray a bit by someone going into the CYA (cover your axx) mode.
And DEMAND all old parts back.

Yes, I live in Arlington, VA, so when they told me that the CV were torn, I asked them to change them…now I am not sure I can trust that this shop told me the truth about the car needing new CV boots.

Thank you very much! This confirms my suspicions…I am asking for the old parts and am taking the car to the VW dealership (the shop that did the original work is not affiliated with VW). I should have taken the pictures when this happened…I expected the shop to admit they had something to do with it through, so did not think I would be needing any evidence later…Now the car is back in the same shop for repair.

Thank you all very much.

It is somewhat certain that the shop either caused or overlooked the problem which resulted in a catastrophic failure. Either way it would seem inexcusable for a shop to make such a mistake. If the shop insists it is totally free of any guilt in the problem get the car to another shop for repair. I would make a serious wager that no one has ever seen a tie rod end suddenly and inexplicably totally separate.

Thank you all! This is super helpful! I am attaching the picture of the parts that broke and had to be exchanged - the inner tie rod on the driver side. The shop still maintains that “it is mechanically impossible” that whatever happened to the tie rod had anything to do with the prior repair of the strut mounts and CV boots. They allowed me to get a second opinion saying that with their 30 years of experience they were positive no one would put them at fault in this case. So, now I have a bit of time to come back to them with my findings before they charge me for the repair.

I took the car straight to VW and an adviser there told me he could not say for sure if the shop was at fault (VW would not look at the car though because I need to schedule a “diagnostic appointment” with them). The adviser actually made it clear that he would not say anything to implicate anyone as “anything is possible”. He did however say two things: 1. the prior work on the struts mounts definitely occurred in the same area where the breakage occurred during the incident and 2. if the shop saw the car three days before the incident, they might have or should have seen if there was something off with the tie rod (just like Rod said above).

I also called my insurance. Unfortunately, because my car is now 8 years old, I just recently stopped the comprehensive insurance (great timing!). So they would not be able to send an adjuster, but told me if they did work on the case, it is most probably that they would hold the shop responsible.

So, at this point, I think I have more information that would put the shop at fault versus information that would support their innocence. If you have any more insights, I will truly appreciate them. Thank you all very much!

So I’m confused. The two lower parts are outer tie rod ends. The part on top is an inner tie rod.

The two things that are confusing:

  • one: nothing appears to be “broken”. The inner end looks to be bent, but that wouldn’t cause what happened (and probably was caused by what happened).
  • two: there is only one outer tie rod end per side. So did the shop go ahead and replace both sides?

One other thing is that there is supposed to be a “jam nut” - the jam nut threads on to the inner tie rod, then the outer goes on, then the jam nut gets tightened back against the out end so it can’t go anywhere. That’s probably not of consequence.

So the pictures, unfortunately, aren’t worth 1000 words in this case. Your tie rod didn’t “break.” Something came undone. Either the outer end game off from the inner (not likely) or the outer end separated from the steering knuckle (very possible).

Personally - my WAG is that the nut for the outer end was not secured after it went back in the knuckle. Eventually the nut worked its way off. The right bump or turn then send the tie rod out of the knuckle. I think it is all on the shop.

However, you have to keep in perspective that all I can give is a WAG b/c I wasn’t there, never saw the results of what happened and didn’t inspect anything.

Rest assured though, that the tie rod was separated from the knuckle to do the work you described.

If you want to be able to think it through yourself go to Autozone’s website, register your email address, plug in the car’s info, find the Repair Info section and go to the Suspension and Steering part. Check out the diagrams of the front end and the procedures for working on tie rods.

None of those parts are obviously broken. The one thing I cannot determine from the pics is the condition of the threads on the tie rod (the long part) or the 2 tie rod ends.

There are several ways this have happened and it would all be due to someone screwing up. To work on the struts or halfshafts often requires separating the tie rod end from the steering knuckle. If someone did not properly tighten the nut on the tie rod end when reassembling this, reused an old Cotter pin, overtightened and pulled the threads, etc. this could allow the tie rod to separate under use. In turn, this could allow the tie rod end to drop to the pavement where it will dig into the asphalt and then, voila!
The long tie rod will bend as you see it in the pic.

Look at the threads on the the tapered shafts protruding from those 2 tie rod ends and see if the threads on one of them appear to be far worse than the other. If so, this is the one that was likely attached to the tie rod.
Also look for any apparent scrape marks on the tie rod end.

Another way this could occur (and I’ve seen it a few times) is where someone has loosened the lock nut on the tie rod end that fixes it in place on the tie rod.
If this nut is loosened for any reason and not propery tightened what will happen over time is that the tie rod will rotate in place; essentially unscrewing itself. At some point there will be few threads holding it in place that the tie rod will break loose while driving by tearing those few threads out.

That’s about the best I can do without some real good pics of the threads (both the tapered shaft and the internal threads where the tie rod attaches).
Bottom line. There is nothing “broken” here that would cause an instant loss of steering unless it is related to thread damage.

Thank you very much again cigroller and ok4450!! I am posting three more (not very good) pics: the way the threads look on the tie rods, the scrape off marks in the middle of the tie rod, and a somewhat flattened side of a thread on a tie rod (the bottom side). Maybe these are helpful. THANK YOU!

The pics are still a bit fuzzy and dark to me so I’ll still have to say that I’m theorizing here.

As I mentioned, service work like you had performed often involves disconnecting the tie rod ends. (the tapered shaft)
At this point my guess is that whoever reinstalled the tie rod end did one (or more) of several things and I will drop the previous comment about a Cotter pin being reused. These tie rod ends use self locking nuts as evidenced by no holes in the end of the threaded shaft. Self locking nuts should NOT be reused for the simple reason they may not lock themselves the second time around.

At this point I would theorize they either overtightened or did not tighten the nut enough or they reused the self locking nut. Reuse of these nuts is a coin flip as to whether they will remain tight or not.
The thread damage could likely be due to the tapered shaft being loose in the hole. Eventually the nut is so loose that high pressure power steering will bang it loose suddenly.

Once it pops loose it can catch on anything; asphalt on the roadway, halfshaft, even the inside of the wheel rim. (Might be a good idea to check for scrapes on the wheel rim too.)
A tie rod end nut properly tightened should never come loose.

As to the VW dealer, they’re actually doing the right thing at this by not committing to anything since they have not performed a thorough and unbiased inspection.
There’s a good chance they feel the same way about this that I do but they will just play politics at this point.

You write that the wheel was falling out, does that mean that the wheel was leaning out at the bottom or was it just pointing in a total different direction than the other. That’s quite important to know. Leaning out at the bottom means a separated lower ball joint and that could severely damage various steering components (and many other things incl. peoples health) which the shop could use to cover their own negligence, and the bent steering rod fits perfect in that scenario as the suspension would have to be dismantled at the lower ball joint point for doing the boots. IF the wheel was leaning out at the bottom, You need to get car checked for other damage asap - and not at the same shop.
Did it look anything like this:

Thank you ok4450 and asterix! Asterix, my wheel was looking just like that but bent (falling out) from the top, not bottom. And the tie rod end was sticking out at the 3 PM position.

Something else that is done and quite common when servicing struts and CV joints is to separate the lower ball joint from the steering knuckle. (in conjunction with the separation of the tie rod end from the knuckle.
If one left the lower ball joint nut loose, etc. the joint could separate but at this point they’re apparently only charging you for a tie rod and 2 tie rod ends.

A separated ball joint generally causes the bottom of the wheel to slough out as in the pic provided.
If the tie rod end separated due to negligence what would happen is that the wheel (since it’s not connected to the steering rack) may have a tendency to turn in due to the slight amount of toe-in that existed when the separation happened.

This means the front wheel would have a tendency to turn sideways and start scrubbing on the pavement and this would be the reason for the tire/wheel tilting out at the top.
Just my opinion but they screwed up and are in their CYA mode. Thankfully you were not injured or killed because what happened is very very dangerous.

That could make sense as the suspension can be separated between the hub (the part that the wheel is bolted on to)and the strut. If that clamping bolt is not tightened, then the strut and the hub could separate and cause a “leaning” wheel and that also explains why the rod was not broken, but “just” bent. It would be advisable to get the strut checked at the very bottom for bitemarks, if it turns out to be brand new You know why - the old one was not reusable. That means taking the hub and the strut apart again. If there is, then You would also have proof that the shop screwed it up. Also checking the brake hose would be a good thing as it could have been damaged in the incident

Thank you so much, everyone! I now have enough information to face the mechanic:) Truly, greatly appreciate it!