Inner Tie Rods are Loose

During an oil change for my 1997 Honda CRV with 138k miles, the mechanic saw that the inner tie rods are loose and that they need to be replaced. He is estimating the work to be around $325 including front end alignment.
Can these just be tightened and not replaced? How long can I wait to repair this or is this a safety issue? If I wait to repair this, what are the risks?
Also, is the price reasonable for this kind of job?

Tie rod ends are a ball-in-socket joint. Once they wear out and become loose, they must be replaced before they pull apart. The estimate you received is very reasonable for this job. I would have expected the cost to be higher. As to waiting around to get this fixed, I wouldn’t wait too long. Your tie rod ends connect your front wheels to the steering system, allowing you to point the car in the direction you want it to go. If one breaks, that wheel will turn in whatever direction it wants to. The best that could happen in that situation is that your car will be disabled and will have incidental damages to the front suspension, brake system, wheel and tire, and possibly the fender. The worst that could happen is that you will be unable to bring the car to a safe stop on the side of the road, will crash and/or roll the car, and people will get hurt or killed and property damage will be done. Criminal charges could also be filed if this happened and the police found out you knew repairs needed to be done to the steering system and that work was neglected. Tie rod ends are part of the second most important system on your car, steering (brakes are number one; what good is a car that starts if it won’t stop?), and in the interest of safety should not be postponed or forgotten about.

I had one break while driving at 30 MPH on a busy street. Trust me that you don’t want this happening to you, especially at a higher speed.

Mark is right, except that the cost looks about right to me, they aren’t that hard to replace. However, they hardly ever wear out. They have very little movement, so very little wear. It is also very difficult do determine if one or both are loose, certainly not something that you casually notice while changing the oil.

What I would suspect is that the bellows that protects the steering rack and the inner tie rod ends have split. This is about the right age. If the inner tie rod ends are in fact worn out, then these bellows should also be replaced whether split or not. Now a split or torn bellows is something the mechanic would have noticed while changing the oil, and if they are, they need to be replaced. If not replaced, dirt will get into the rack. The biggest threat is to the rack itself rather than the tie rod ends, but the rack is a lot more expensive too.

Ask your mechanic again if he really things you need the inner tie rod ends or just the bellows. Ask how he tested the inner tie rod ends. Just because the bellows are damaged, it does not mean that the tie rod ends are.

If the mechanic wiggles the wheel and you see the rod move in and out a little, see if the wheel on the other side is moving too. If the wheel on the other side is moving, then the tie rod end is good. If one wheel is wiggled, the other should wiggle exactly the same amount.

The odds of a tie rod breaking are near zero but the odds of a tie rod END breaking are much higher.
There’s not any misinterpetation over what is needed is there? Some of the auto parts websites often have these parts listed incorrectly. (AutoZone is one of them)
Tie rods are inners attached to the steering rack. Tie rod ends connect the tie rod to the steering knuckle.

No matter which is needed the price quoted is fair and assuming the tie rod diagnosis is correct and the tie rod ends are tight there is something else that should be considered.
Tie rod ends may be tight and still be faulty. Sometimes the only way to determine this is by separating them from the steering knuckle and this will occur when the tie rods are changed. Once disconnected the ball studs in the tie rod ends should be rotated by hand to make sure there are no flat spots in the ball studs. If there are these should be replaced along with the tie rods.

Inner tie rods can be tightened but this is not something that should be done by a professional shop for a customer as it would be considered an improper repair. For a DIYer it can work fine. The tie rod is removed from the steering rack and put into a press and recrimped with a heavy metal sleeve.
Don’t expect a shop to do this though.

On every rack and pinion that I am familiar with the inner tie rod end is the tie rod. There are just two pieces. The outer tie rod end and the tie rod which includes the inner joint.

I know that the inner tie rod end is not the correct term, but every parts catalog (except the ones at the dealers) use this term, as do a lot of mechanics. So for the purposes of clarity with the uninformed, I will call them inner tie rod ends.

Lion9car, rack end (inner tie rod end) break on a rack and pinion system? Seriously? I haven’t even seen a worn out inner tie rod end on a Rack and Pinion. I have seen inner tie rod ends worn out on the old worm and roller steering boxes and had an outer tie rod end break on me in a 77 Olds. Its not fun.

I still think the OP needs a second opinion. What ever you want to call them, I don’t think they are bad. They see very little movement or stress in their normal operation.

I’ve seen bad inner rods on R&P systems - on Youtube videos of people showing how to check them for play and replace them. Its not common - I don’t think I’ve ever needed one. But it is possible.

No matter. The OP needs someone else - preferably a local front end shop - to check things out.

I can’t say as I understand the comments about worn inner tie rods being a rarity. Inner tie rods (the long ball socket attached directly to the rack in the rack housing) are a very common wear item and is the most commonly worn and commonly replaced part of any suspension or steering systems that I’ve ever dealt with.
I couldn’t even begin to guess at the total number.

I was able to borrow(buy and bring back) from Checkers/O’Rielly the tubular "wrench"Though the tierod flats had to be ground down (wouldn’t you know it!) as the slip on adapter “C” shape things (there were 3) didn’t fit the tierod I bought online. As Rosanna Rossanadana said…“it’s always SOMETHIN” It’s best to buy the soft fold over “lock” washers to keep it from unscrewing (and locktight)

one side of my 90 Corolla was very loose…Mike

lesliec2: The price quoted is very reasonable for that vehicle. If you have doubts as to the honesty of the mechanic, have the condition verified by another mechanic by paying for a vehicle inspection focusing on the steering and suspension. If I checked out all conditions for free, I would be unemployed because every woodchuck in the world would get free diagnostics and bad part lists, and have his second cousin in law buy the part and do the work.

At 138K, it’s entirely possible they both have developed some looseness in the ball/socket joint. Since you’re doing both sides, I would also look at the outer tie rod ends as well. If they look anything other than fairly new, even without having looseness, I would consider replacing those as well. There won’t be any extra labor time for doing so, as the outer end has to be disconnected and reconnected from the the inner in order to perform the inner replacement. You would only be looking at the additional cost of parts, and because the outer ends do not last as long as the inner tie rod ends, you may end up saving a bit of money over the next year or two because replacing the worn outer ends will require another alignment.