How Long Can You Drive On A Bad Tie Rod? (Answered)

Inner and outer tie rods are important parts of your car’s suspension system. This is because it helps control the left and right movement of your wheels. In addition, the inner and outer tie rods play a crucial role in the safety of your vehicle. They are responsible for maintaining your vehicle’s alignment, which means that if they are damaged or faulty, your car may not be safe to drive.

A bad tire rod is either bent or has failed connections. As the tie rods degrade from the constant stress of being driven over rough roads, they begin to break down. Eventually, they need to be replaced. With damaged tie rods, you will feel stray vibrations and hear disquieting clunking noises.

So, how long you can drive on a bad tie rod? How long you can drive safely on a bad tie rod depends on how bad the tie rod is and its joints. You should not drive more than 10 to 20 miles on a bad tie rod. Driving for long distances even on slightly bent tie rods can worsen the tie rod joints. It would have to be severely worn for the tie rod joint to fail completely. However, no one can be sure that the tie rod joint won’t fail. At a minimum, a bad tie rod is going to cause the front wheels of your vehicle to go out of alignment, which will cause excessive tire wear. Bad tie rods can cause damage to the steering system. This usually causes the car to lose power steering, which in turn makes the car feel “sluggish” and difficult to control.

When you drive on a bad tie rod, make sure to mark old tie rod ends with chalk or electrical tape as it can help you keep the vehicle’s alignment close to what it was before the installation of the new tie rod. Also, count the number of turns it takes to unscrew the outer tie rod. Then with the same number of turns, install the new tie rod.

What Are Tie Rods?

Tie rods are mechanical components that connect the steering wheel to the front wheels so that they can be safely turned without losing balance. When the steering wheel is turned, the tie rod rotates along with it. This allows the wheel to be turned.

A tie rod system consists of an inner tie rod and an outer tie rod. The inner tie rod is connected with a steering rack through a rubber boot. One end of an outer tie rod is connected with the inner tie rod and another end is connected with a steering knuckle. On the inner tie rod, there are threads on which the outer tie rod is turned. jam nut is also turned on the inner tie rod to fix the location up to which the outer tie rod is turned over the inner tie rod for the desired alignment.

The steering knuckle is directly connected with a wheel hub. The steering knuckle has several protruded ends. One of them is connected with the end of the outer tie rod to turn the wheels.

Both inner and outer tie rods have ball joints to provide a safe, smooth ride and allow you to precisely control your vehicle.

Parts of a tie rod system

Apart from that, there are also lower and upper ball joints you will on the upper and lower arms of the steering knuckle. I have shown them in the video in the next section.

A tie rod system can fail across all those points which I have labeled in the above picture. So, whenever you feel that your vehicle isn’t controllable, you have to check ball joints, cracks and bents on inner and outer tie rods, cracks in the rubber boots and the grease quality in those rubber boots.

Is It Safe To Drive With a Bad Inner And Outer Tie Rod?

It is not safe to drive with a bad inner and outer tie rod because they are the parts that enable your wheels to turn left and right. Inner and outer roads are responsible for your vehicle’s steering and handling. If tie rods are bad or snap off, the control of steering over the front wheels becomes impossible, your vehicle can start to wander on the road and cause you to lose control at the most inopportune moment.

If the inner and outer tie rods are bent or damaged, your vehicle will be hard to steer and you will not have control over the direction of the wheel. This could result in a loss of stability and possibly a collision. Moreover, when the inner and outer tie rods are out of alignment, you will experience uneven tire wear. This makes your vehicle turn in circles and lose traction.

Can You Still Drive With Bad Tie Rods?

You can drive with bad tie rods. But, you must be careful while driving. The issue is that a bad tie rod can cause the steering wheel to shake or the steering wheel to turn. This can cause accidents.

The worst thing about a tie rod failure is the fact that it might happen at night and you won’t know until you are driving on a highway or on the road. So, you will have to drag your car to bring it to your home. That’s why you need to replace tie rods as soon as possible if they are cracked, bent, or broken.

How To Tell If Tie Rods Have Gone Bad?

When tie rods go bad, the car’s suspension system can become unstable. The most common symptom of tie rod failure is a noticeable dip in the car’s ride height. You may also notice a loud clunking sound when driving over bumps.

Here are some questions you ask yourself to tell if tie rods have gone bad:

1. Do you have a bumpy ride when you are driving on uneven ground?

2. Do you find it difficult to maneuver your vehicle if you are on a slippery surface?

3. Does the steering wheel shake or turn?

Apart from that, you also have to check the rubber boot to which the inner tie rod is attached. The chances are that it might be split and grease is leaking through it. Moreover, if the jam nut and tie rods are so rusted, replacing them is the only option. A rusted tie rod is seized enough that it can’t be moved to align your truck.

Most Common Symptoms Of a Bad Inner and Outer Tie Rod

Tie rod joints are not too hard to tell if they have gone bad. Here are the most common symptoms of bad tie rods.

1. Wheels Move Freely When A Car Is Jacked Up

If you want to know whether your vehicle has bad inner and outer tie rods, you should raise your vehicle using a hydraulic jack and grab the front tire with your hands. Put your hands at 3 O’clock & 9 O’clock points on the wheel and shake the wheel back and forth. If you listen to a clunking sound or feel a looseness in the wheels, it means that the tie rod has gone bad.

shaking the wheel with hands to inspect tie rod joints

Also, go to the back side of the tire and see whether the tie rod end and steering knuckle move back and forth together or not. Ideally, there should be zero deflection between the moving parts of the tie rod end. If not, then the outer tie rod end is bad.

Similarly, place your hands at 6 and 12 o’clock on the wheels and shake the wheel up and down. You have to perform this test on both front wheels. This test is used to check the conditions of upper and lower ball joints. You can check this procedure in the video below:

Moreover, locate the outer tie rod end and grasp the entire joint with your hand while somebody rocks the tire back and forth or turns the steering wheel back and forth quickly. If you feel any looseness in that joint, the tie rod end is bad. If you hear a clunking when the steering wheel is turned back and forth quickly but don’t feel a distinct looseness in the joint, it’s likely the inner tie rod end is bad which is closer to the steering rack.

I found the below video by ChrisFix really helpful in inspecting the bad tie rods.

There can also be a play in the inner tie rod end due to a damaged ball joint, due to which it is causing the wheel to move freely. You can check in the video below (See from 2:11).

2. Clunking Noises And Shaking of Steering Wheel

When a tie rod goes bad, one of the first things people notice is the noise. It’s not hard to diagnose the problem, since this noise is caused by rubbing between the tie rod end and the inner tie rod bearing.

As the bearing starts to wear, it will begin to make a louder and louder “clunk” sound every time it moves up and down. The result is a very loud, clunking, and annoying noise that is easily recognizable to anyone who drives.

The next thing people notice is the shaking of the steering wheel. This is usually the first symptom that people experience.

This is caused by the tie rod bearing rubbing against the top of the inner tie rod. This rubbing will loosen the contact between the bearing and the tie rod, and that causes the tie rod to rotate slightly as it is being pulled up and down.

Moreover, if the rubber boot of the outer tie rod end and inner tie rod end (linked with the steering rack), which protects the tie rod’s lubricated joint, splits away, the sand and dirt will begin to make their way into the joint. This will result in displacing the lubricant and leading to a grinding sensation when you steer.

3. Steering Becomes Unresponsive

Worn tie rods can make your steering wheel feel loose and unresponsive if they are bent or damaged. Tie rods are the arms that connect the steering wheel to the wheel shaft. Tie rods are responsible for transferring the motion of the wheel to the wheel shaft.

If you drive your vehicle on rough roads or drive fast, the bushings of tie rods can wear out and the inner tie rod will become loose. In that case, tires begin to slide to the side when driven straight or when turning sharply.

In addition, it is also possible to damage the wheel bearing and/or hub assembly by driving over potholes, sharp objects, etc.

4. Uneven Tire Wear

Tie rods are used to connect the front wheels of a vehicle together. If they become loose, they affect the alignment of the front wheels. This can cause the tires to wear unevenly. This is known as “tie rod play”. 

Tire tread is designed to wear down at different rates along the circumference of the tire. The main reason for uneven wear is that tie rods cause the wheels to roll at slightly different angles to the center of rotation of the car. Visually inspect the tires for uneven wear.

If there is excessive wear on one side but not as much wear on the other side, it may be a sign of a failing tie rod. Check my guide on humming noise in Ford. I have explained there about it.

Are Tie Rods Expensive To Replace?

Replacement of tie rods is not an expensive repair. Tie rod costs from $20 to $100. The cost of replacing tie rods varies depending on the car. Generally, outer tie rod replacement costs $75 to $100, and inner tie rod replacement can cost upto $300. Also, make sure that the front wheels of your vehicle are properly aligned after replacing the tie rods at the same cost. If the alignment of wheels is not taken into consideration, it will damage the new tie rods.

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