The tie rods, along with the ball joints, are an integral part of the steering system for motor vehicles. Located near the front wheels, the tie rods and ball joints work together to ensure the wheels follow the motion of the steering wheel.
Tie rods come in many different styles. Some are self lubricating while others need maintenance. Most vehicles have two tie rods on each side of the vehicle, connected in various engineering means. Eventually tie rods and ball joints will fail on any vehicle.
A bad tie rod shows up in loose steering. As you turn the steering wheel, the tires fail to turn with it. The tires may also drift left or right without you turning the steering wheel. Various clunking noises from that part of the engine are also symptomatic.
Tire wear is also an indicator of a bad tie rod. Heavy wear and scalloping -- or wear similar to a sea shell edge -- are common signs. Keeping a close eye on tread wear is an important part of preventative maintenance.
Do It Yourself
Because the ball joint is so closely associated with the tie rod, the same problems could indicate a broken ball joint. The only way to know for sure is to have the car's front end serviced. The tie rod/ball joint system can be replaced by a knowledgeable backyard mechanic.
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