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Tie Rod Ends

There's one advertiser - I can't think of who they are - but their slogan is "Power is nothing without control," and when we talk about control, steering control in a vehicle is of the utmost importance. And the part I want to show you this week on Motoring is called the tie rod end. Most vehicles have at least four of them in the front end.

We're going to turn the steering on this Grand Prix. My assistant's sitting inside and he's going to straighten out the steering wheel and I'll take off the front wheel so that we can see the steering linkage a little bit better. Most vehicles have at least four tie rod ends in the front suspension. Some vehicles even have a couple in the rear suspension. As we turn the steering linkage, you can see this outer tie rod end becoming more and more visible. That's the outer tie rod end right there. Goes up and threads onto the inner tie rod and there's a lock nut here - this is where we set the tow when we're adjusting wheel alignment.

Down here, there's a castle nut that locks the ball stud into the steering knuckle and a cotter pin to prevent the castle nut from backing off. This one happens to have a grease fitting; it was replaced. The original tie rod ends on this vehicle were non-greasable. The replacement ones have a fitting. That's something you want to watch for on a front-wheel-drive car. Most front-wheel-drive cars, light-duty cars, don't have grease fittings unless they've been replaced. You can see a little bit of grease that's oozed out of this joint, too, over the years as it was being greased.

Here's a tie rod end that we replaced the other day and it's a ball and socket-type joint. When the steering wheel is being turned, the ball stud rotates in this fashion right here. And as the suspension goes up and down, this action here takes place at the tie rod as well as the turning action. So there's quite a bit of motion there. And there's the boot that protects it. And you can see this one has no grease fitting; this is an original style tie rod end.

Here's an outer tie rod that we had to replace the other day off a Quest minivan and you can see how worn it is and how rusty it is inside and the ball stud is no longer captured in the socket down here. As soon as we cut the grease boot around here, the two just separated, just completely fell apart - the only thing holding it together was that grease boot. I road-tested the thing before and, as you did a gradual right turn and then came back to the left to turn the other way, the thing did a real stagger step. It actually jumped across the lane about half the vehicle width every time you did that. It was kind of scary.

In may cases, we have vehicles coming in with looser worn tie rod ends that exhibit no symptoms at all. So it's important that these things get checked on a regular basis. Probably once a year is not a bad idea.

On some vehicles, the tie rod ends have grease fittings. This particular vehicle has had its outer tie rod ends replaced and it's got a grease fitting there. So it's important that, at least once every three to four months, you get a little bit of grease going through that tie rod end. It flushes the dirt and water out of it and provides a better seal and provides it with lubrication.

In this particular car, I had to replace one of the inner tie rod ends a few months ago and the symptom that I had on this front-wheel-drive car - and this is common to a lot of front-wheel-drive cars - if you have a loose inner tie rod end, you'll get vibration at high speed that seems just like a wheel that's out of balance. Put brand new tires on the vehicle and balance the wheels, you've still got a vibration, you might want to be looking at the inner tie rod ends.

And one interesting thing about inner tie rod ends, when the weight is on the tires of the vehicle, they're kind of in-line like this, and, in many cases, they've got looseness or play. That was the case with this vehicle. When you jack it up on the hoist and the suspension hangs down, it kind of goes down like this and it actually tightens itself up so it seems like there isn't a problem. So the way to check these things is with the weight on the tires. It means that you've got to check it with the vehicle on the ground or have it on a type of a hoist where the tires are on ramps. In other words, loaded. The suspension is in its normal working height. That's when you're going to see the looseness or play in these tie rod ends.

'Til next week, I'm Bill Gardiner for Motoring 2002.


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