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

You should not drive your car with a bad tie rod for more than 10 to 20 miles before repair. Severely worn tie rods risk complete failure of the tie rod joint while driving, causing loss of steering control. Even slightly bent tie rods will worsen over time, rapidly wearing tires and damaging steering. Don’t wait for complete failure; have any bad tie rod repaired immediately for safety.

A knocking or clunking noise when turning the wheel, the car pulling to one side while driving straight, and excessive vibration through the steering wheel are all signs of a failing tie rod, that connects the steering to the wheels.

Driving too long with a damaged tie rod can lead to complete loss of control and a very unsafe vehicle. But how long is too long before it becomes an imminent hazard?

In this guide, we’ll discuss diagnosing bad tie rods and help you understand just how long you can safely operate your car when this crucial steering component starts to fail.

marking the ends of a tie rod for alignment

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?

Not al all. Without working tie rods, you lose control of turning your front wheels.

If a tie rod snaps while driving, it becomes impossible to steer. The vehicle could start wandering on the road and you might lose control when you least expect it.

Bent or damaged tie rods make the steering wheel hard to turn. This takes away your control of wheel direction. You could lose stability and crash if tie rods fail.

Misaligned inner and outer tie rods also cause uneven tire wear. The vehicle turns in circles and loses grip on the road without proper alignment.

Replacing bad tie rods is important for steering control and driving safety. The parts let you point the wheels where you want to go.

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 causes the wheel to move freely.

2. Clunking Noises And Shaking of Steering Wheel

When a tie rod starts wearing out, one of the first hints is a clicking sound when you drive. The noise comes from the tie rod end rubbing on the inner tie rod bearing.

As the bearing gets more worn, it makes a loud “clunk” each time it moves. The result is an annoying clunking noise that all drivers quickly recognize.

The next sign of a failing tie rod is that your steering wheel may start to shake. This happens because the worn bearing rubs on the inner tie rod. The rubbing loosens the fit between the parts, letting the tie rod turn slightly when you steer.

The outer and inner tie rod ends are linked by a rubber boot. If the boot splits, dirt sneaks inside the joint. Without lubricant, steering starts to grind. Time for repair!

3. Steering Becomes Unresponsive

The tie rods are the critical connectors between your steering wheel and the wheels. They transfer your steering wheel movements directly to the tires.

Over time, hitting potholes or driving on gravel can bend or wear out those tie rod ends. When the tie rod bushings wear down, you’ll notice the steering feels loose or sloppy. Turning the wheel doesn’t make the tires respond like they should.

Driving over bumps can also damage the wheel bearings or hub assembly. Like the knee bone connected to the thigh bone, all these steering components need to stay connected and in good repair for your vehicle’s handling.

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?

Tie rods don’t cost much to replace. As key components connecting your steering wheel to the tires, worn tie rods can make handling unpredictable. But fixing them won’t break the bank.

Outer tie rods run between $20 and $100 each. Inner tie rods cost more, around $300 for the pair.

One key step after new tie rods are installed: a front wheels alignment. Without proper adjustment, those new parts will wear out fast from unnecessary stress. So plan for that alignment at the same time.

Some First Hand Experiences Shared By People In Different Communities

Our team conducted research across various online communities, forums, and subreddits to gather user comments and opinions on “bad tie rods”.

User 1:

My 1967 Mustang’s steering recently felt loose, so I had it towed to my mechanic right away. Classic cars like my Mustang need extra care. Driving for too long with a bad tie rod can badly damage them. I suspected the loose steering feeling meant a bad tie rod. With older classic cars, it’s risky to keep driving if you notice issues like that. So I didn’t take any chances and had my Mustang taken straight to the shop.

User 2:

As a mechanic, I’d strongly advise against driving on a bad tie rod. I’ve seen cases where people did, and it led to bigger issues like uneven tire wear and poor alignment. In my experience, it’s a safety hazard that can compromise steering control. If you notice symptoms, get it checked out ASAP.

User 3:

I’ve been through this with my BMW. Drove for about a week after I first felt the steering wheel vibrate and heard a clunking noise. Turns out, it was a bad tie rod. My mechanic was pretty clear that driving on a bad tie rod is risky, and it can seriously mess up your tires. Fixed it immediately.

What was the symptom of a bad tie rod in your car? Please vote.

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