Gearheads: Tell Me About Tie Rods

There is some slight play in my front end courtesy of wear n tear on the tie rods (and its ball and socket joints). Two knowledgeable mechanics informed me I didn’t have to replace all the tie rods. One even said he can’t recall changing the inner tie rods unless the car was in an accident.

My car wasn’t in an accident, but I commute long distances racking up mileage. Is it true about the inner tie rods rarely need replacement? It would save me a small fortune if I could get away with replacing the outer tie rods. Also, I should mention we may be trading the car in if it can last the year (having 220,000 miles @ 8 yrs old).

What would you do?

I have had to replace inner tie rods before, but only on one car. Usually the outers wear out first. If the mechanic has inspected them, I’d believe him.

On a typical rack and pinion steering set-up, the tie rod on each side consists of an inner tie rod that attaches directly to the rack and an outer tie rod end that attaches to the steering knuckle. Outer tie rod ends are a more common wear item, but replacement of inner tie rods due to wear is not rare.

Any play at all in the steering linkage (including tie rod parts) means the vehicle cannot be aligned properly. It would fail a Missouri safety inspection. Very small amounts of play, however, do not realistically present a safety concern. Larger amounts of play make for sloppy steering, and can get to the point where something comes apart, which means losing steering control.

Did the mechanics inspect the vehicle or just spit ball the problem based on your description of symptoms? At 200K+ I wouldn’t be surprised if the ball joints are a bit loose too.

First, it was a suspicion that the inner tie rods were ok. Today, the mechanic put the car on the lift to get a good look at what’s going on. He stands by his diagnosis that only the outer tie rods need to be replaced.

IANAM but on my own commuter I changed just the outers and paid close attention to how it drove. For me the ‘play’ in the steering was gone but it still had a clunk over bumps which led me to the ball joints.

Outers are worth a shot. If the ‘play’ isn’t cured then you’ll need to bite the bullet on the inners.