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How scared should I be of a loose tie rod?
August 4, 2012 4:41 AM   Subscribe

Safety/severity questions with a bad tie rod.

I drive a 2000 Saturn Sl. When I had it in the shop recently, I was told the right tie rod was loose. If I had the money, I would be fixing it, not asking about it, but unfortunately it will be another week or two before I can get it repaired.

From what I've read this can be a pretty dangerous issue, but I haven't noticed much in the way of actual symptoms. The steering doesn't "pull" at all and feels only very slightly loose. Car handles as well as it ever has. I notice a slight bit of wobble on extreme turns for parking and such (which I've been avoiding), but no other strange behavior or noises.

So, two questions. First, how fantastically terrified should I be as I drive this around for another two weeks so I can pay my bills, and second, assuming I make it that long, is putting off the re-alignment for a while also a safety issue, or is it just going to wear my wheels down a bit?
posted by wanderingchord to Travel & Transportation (11 answers total)
 
If I remember my Car Talk episodes, bad tie rods are one of those things that Click and Clack recommend getting fixed yesterday. I don't think alignment is a major safety issue beyond the car not handling as you might expect. However, it doesn't take long at all to ruin your tires with a bad alignment.
posted by COD at 5:59 AM on August 4, 2012


As I understand it, it is a safety issue when the tie rod breaks, so it sort of depends how loose your tie rod is. What did they tell you about this? Did they say how loose it is? Did they say when you need to have it replaced? Did you ask if it's ok to wait for a couple weeks?
posted by J. Wilson at 6:25 AM on August 4, 2012


As far as I can remember, they didn't stress it as a safety issue so much at the time as they did a tire-wear issue. I had to have one of the front tires replaced not long after (Not related, it was near the end of its life) and the tire guys said basically the same thing. It wasn't "Jesus, don't drive on this" as much as "get this repaired soon or you'll get less mileage out of the tires." But who knows how much that really matters.

Understood on the alignment though. So, if I have the rods fixed and the car's handling feels normal, does that mean the alignment is probably decent?
posted by wanderingchord at 6:52 AM on August 4, 2012


Someone I know waited too long and their wheel separated from the vehicle. He was in a parking lot, fortunately.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 6:53 AM on August 4, 2012


Those are the kind of horror stories I've been reading too. I'm just hoping the fact that the symptoms are so mild means I can squeeze a week out of it.
posted by wanderingchord at 6:56 AM on August 4, 2012


With the alignment thing, according to this you'll probably need one. Maybe not right away, but doing it soon is probably going to be the difference between paying for just an alignment or paying for alignment+new tire.
posted by itheearl at 7:23 AM on August 4, 2012


You really need to ask your mechanic about the severity / urgency of this. Tie rod ends wear out very slowly, so you gradually get accustomed to the symptoms and might not notice how bad it has gotten. It would be very, very bad if it let go while you were driving. The internet can't tell you whether it's likely.

If the tie rod is installed fairly carefully then an alignment shouldn't be a significant safety issue.
posted by jon1270 at 8:07 AM on August 4, 2012


I drove a car until the tie rod came off. If every time ya hit a bump or dip in the road you hear a clunk, get it replaced.

You'll save yourself a potential accident and at the very least towing expenses.
posted by Max Power at 8:12 AM on August 4, 2012


Fortunately, they generally do break in parking lots, because low speed turning puts the most stress on them. But I still get it fixed yesterday.
posted by randomkeystrike at 8:53 AM on August 4, 2012


Get the alignment when you get the tie rod replaced (and get it replaced as soon as you can). Bad alignments usually only affect handling at extremes but guess when you need the car to handle the best and be predictable?-at the limit when braking hard or swerving to miss something. The alignment measurement that gets off for tie rods is the toe setting. This is the angle of the wheels to each other. Wheels are not (usually) perfectly parallel they are either slightly pointed in or out and depending on the car and other suspension settings (the others are not always adjustable, depends on the car) you NEED them to do this to make the car predictable when maneuvering at the limits of traction. With bad toe settings the car will most likely go in unexpected directions when the suspension hits a bump in a turn or when braking (and once again only really bad enough to be a problem when doing it much harder than normal driving). And there is no way 'reset' the toe accurately with new tie rod end. The tie rod ends are HOW you set the toe and its like saying a computer should work just fine without installing the operating system when you put in a new hard drive because the computer worked great before.
the other problem is rapid tire wear. if it is way out your tires will be toast fast and tires are usually more expensive than an alignment.
When parts break after wearing out is somewhat unpredictable. Lets say it is just a little worn out and has some looseness but will probably last for months yet. Then you are driving a friend home and she/he yells "Turn here" and you do going a little faster than normal around a corner and you bottom out in a valley gutter on the new street and BOOM/CRACK your tie road snaps due to that little bit of extra play (it is like how a pop top on a can breaks after moving it back and forth after a while)and the extra hard bump you just drove over. Now you are going a little too fast and you have steering. This is kinda a worst case scenario but still it is a plausible course of events for this to happen.
And lastly, tie rod ends are kinda meant to wear out to prevent damage to the much more expensive steering rack and power steering pump. When the do wear out you are now putting other parts at risk, this is why maintenance is ALWAYS cheaper than repair. Some parts are just made to wear out, when they are replaced as needed it prevents much more expensive parts from wearing out.
posted by bartonlong at 9:19 AM on August 4, 2012


I meant to say you have NO steering
posted by bartonlong at 9:21 AM on August 4, 2012


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