Loose tie rod ends, at ends with mechanics

I’ve had two mechanics agree on what is wrong with my 2001 Honda Accord, and they have given completely different conclusions about what should be done. The first is the dealership, which has convinced me to fix things in the past that I now know didn’t need to be done. The second works in a small independent garage. His response to just about everything is “It’s just a noise, don’t worry about it.”

The problems they agree on: loose tie rod ends and a loose steering column.

The dealership: The steering column must be replaced, the tie rods must be replaced. It’s not dangerous to drive, but it’ll ruin your tires.

The independent guy: Tie rods: It’s just a noise, don’t worry about it. Steering column: Don’t worry about it.


Don’t call the independent guy a mechanic. If he really gave you that advice and the tie rod ends are loose as well as the steering column, he needs to find another line of work. That advice is dangerous in my opinion. I’m not a big fan of dealerships but in this case they are right.

I’m going to take the middle ground, and tell you to ignore the “loose steering column” (whatever that might refer to), but to have the tie rod ends taken care of.

Bad tie rod ends can cause you to lose the ability to steer the car, and–short of brake failure–I don’t think that it gets much more serious than that. Right now, they might just be slightly worn and noisy, but this could quickly progress to outright failure.

I had a tie rod end fail on a city street while I was going slow. Trust me that you absolutely do not want this to happen to you while you’re driving any faster than I was at the time.

Can you better describe what “loose steering column” means? Exactly what’s loose and how is it presenting itself?

Tie rod ends are a crutial element in your steering control. I’m not and advocate of not repairing these. I’, puzzled as to why any mechanic would suggest not reparing them. It’s not a complicated repair, and you won’t have to mortgage the house to pay for it. Tie rod ends can come apart as well as bind, and either will affact your ability to control the vehicle. And, loose ones will be subjact to accelerated wear…they’ll do it inevitably and in your not-too-distant future. If one comes apart your wheel will swing back and fold up into your wheelwell, and the rapairs even if you don’t hot something will get far more expensive. I’ve seen it. It isn’t a pretty sight.

Excatly what are your symptoms, anyway?

Like a lot of wear items, it’s by degree. There are acceptable ranges. After all, there must be a degree of play between surfaces new or they would bind as well. I feel it takes a lot of experience with a particular make or model to tell when to replace tie rod ends after they become a little noisy which your independent may not have. I would tend to err on the side of replacing them now, especially given the age of the car. It’s a no brainer given the safety considerations.

Take your car to a third shop, one that specializes in alignment, suspension and steering and ask THEM to inspect your car for worn steering parts. Ask them to SHOW YOU any problems they find…

I’ve got to agree the tie rod ends need to be replaced if they’re loose enough to be making a noise. I think we all need more information on what’s going on with the steering to make a decision. Are you sure they weren’t referring to a worn steering rack instead of steering column?

It would be nice to know how many miles on this vehicle. Honda uses some pretty good tie rod ends. Our 97 Accord with 180k and no detectable wear on the tie rods. I had them out a little while ago to replace the steering rack boots.

You don’t need to replace the rack for worn tie rod ends in any case, but I suggest you take Caddyman’s advice. The noise and “looseness” could be something else.

I posted the attached link in support of Keith’s post, as an illustration of how the links are typically installed.

However, to be honest I don’t think we have enough information to work with here. I’m still in the dark about what a “loose steering column” might be. Can you answer some of the questions asked?

Replace the tie rod ends. I had one break on the freeway just after going over a bridge. It was a Moog part too and only a year old. Its not a pleasant experience.

The vehicle has 124,000 on it.

The noise from the tie rods is increasing. I’ve put about 2,000 on it since it was first diagnosed.

The steering wheel angles to the left about 5-10 degrees. At that angle, the car goes straight. However, there is also some play in the steering column. I have to move it a little to the right of center for it to start to respond to a right turn.

The left leaning on the steering column has been gradually increasing over a couple of years but was more prominent after I took my vehicle in for a tire rotation and balance at the dealership a couple of months ago. At that time, they also found a torn CV boot that they repaired (on the right, I believe), which I am not sure was genuine. Every time I’ve gone it for simple things, they’ve found hundreds of dollars of work to do.

The dealership did NOT find the loose tie rods when they did the balance, boot, rotation. They came up with that when I took it back and asked why things were looser.

That’s when I took it to the independent guy for a second opinion. I’ve gone with his advice, but my intuition has started to tell me otherwise.

Tie rod ends are not something I take lightly. If one is loose, I replace it. I like to be able to steer my car in the direction I want it to go. I have had steering parts fail (ball joints, tie rod ends, rack and pinion, you name it), and it’s no fun (always on customer cars during an initial test drive. Let’s hear it for waiting till the last minute to try to get your mechanic to wet his pants!). Plus, then you have a tow bill, and probably some other incidental damages to repair, possibly including collision damage if it shoves your wheel into the fender or causes you to crash into something. One time, I had a tie rod end break, and it took out a brake hose too, so I couldn’t stop or steer the car. I also would not take a loose steering column lightly since that has the potential to affect your steering, and may damage other parts of the car if it damages wiring in the column. A good used column can be had pretty cheap, and they only take an hour or two to install, so why not take care of it?

EDIT: If your steering column is as bad as you describe, it needs to be replaced ASAP! This creates a serious safety hazard. If you are hearing noise out of your tie rod end and have gone 2,000 miles on it, you are definitely on borrowed time. If this independent mechanic doesn’t want to work on this stuff, find somebody interested in making your car safe and making a little money at the same time. This stuff is not exactly gravy work (well, a tie rod end is, and sometimes the alignment), so he may be turning you away because he doesn’t want to deal with the repairs you need. Some mechanics are intimidated by the thought of replacing a steering column because it “looks” difficult.

You should also have the inner tie rod ends checked for play. They can cause that type of looseness also. Usually its cheaper to replace the whole rack though if they are bad.

I’d try replacing the tie rod ends and having the front end aligned and steering wheel centered. Worn parts or a bad alignment can cause the steering wheel to be off center a few degrees. If that doesn’t fix then problem the look at having the steering column replaced.

Loose or broken tie rods are NOT typical in a Honda. I am very suspect that there is anything wrong with them, BUT, if a good independent mechanic who knows how to check them does find a problem, then they must be replaced immediately.


The conditions you describe are typical for a Honda though. Honda’s for some reason have trouble holding alignment and everything you describe can be attributed to alignment. Honda’s must be aligned from the rear, that is the rear wheels have to be aligned first, then the front. You will need a 4 wheel alignment, not just a front end alignment.


Honda’s of this era also had a problem with the upper ball joints and that too is critical, dangerous and can be the source of all your issues, including the noise. No one can make an assessment of your problem over the internet, it takes a hands/eyes on inspection by a qualified mechanic.

and last.

For your own safety, I urge you to find a reputable front end mechanic, not just an “alignment technician” or a general purpose mechanic, and have this diagnosed correctly.

This whole steering column thing and the OP’s decription are giving me the willies. The steering column assembly connects to an intermediate shaft with a set of U-joints, arranged out of phase. The only things holding the intermediate shaft in place is the spool valve body at the rack end and the steering column assembly at the top end. If the column assembly is not properly secured to the dash structure and it falls loose, the driver will lose complete and total control of the vehicle. It’ll be a steering wheel wobbling arouond loose on the end of a totally free shaft with two U-joints in it.

The steering column assembly should not move freely left and right. .

I’m with Keith that this vehicle’s safety is highly questionable, not only for the aforementioned reasons but also for the loose steering column. I wouldn’t drive it with its current problems,