It probably goes without saying that there are a lot of different parts and components that keep your car running smoothly and functioning as it should. Most drivers are taught to keep a close eye on the condition of their tires, their brake pads, or their fluid levels. However, there are plenty of other parts that aren't as well understood and tend to simply be taken for granted for that reason. A car's steering mechanism is probably a great example of the latter. It's important to realize that your car's steering function and the parts involved — like the inner and outer tie rod ends — can deteriorate and develop issues over time to the same extent your brakes or tires can. Here's a closer look at what you need to know to address potential problems before they turn into huge safety issues.

What Are Tie Rod Ends?

A tie rod is the type of part most drivers don’t really think about until they’ve been given a reason to, but it plays a key role in your ability to steer and control your car nevertheless. What are tie rod ends? They’re the simple but important parts responsible for connecting your vehicle’s steering rack to each of the individual front wheels. Structurally speaking, tie rods have both an inner end and an outer end with an adjusting sleeve situated in between. When you twist your steering wheel either left or right, this structure is responsible for conveying that movement to the wheels and ultimately turning the car in the direction you want it to go.

Tie rod ends also contain several internal parts you may want to be aware of. The long shaft portion of the tie rod end culminates in a rounded head that contains multiple bearings. These bearings are collectively responsible for making sure your steering efforts result in appropriate movement, even if you’re navigating bumps in the road or other unusual conditions. The other end of the head contains a threaded bolt that connects the tie end to the wheel’s steering knuckle. Tie rod ends also come equipped with bushing to keep dust, dirt, and other debris from the road out of the mechanism, as well as a protective rubber coat that further protects the entire structure.

Identifying Potential Tie Rod Issues

As you can see, a car’s tie rod ends have a lot to do with how well you can control your car, so you’ll definitely want to learn the signs of tie rod ends that need to be serviced or replaced sooner. The following are among the most common problems to keep an eye out for.

  • Do you tires appear to be wearing unevenly or excessively? This could indicate a number of problems with your ride, and a tie rod end that’s going kaput could easily be one of them. Faulty tie rod ends can cause unusually heavy wear on either the inner or the outer portion of the tire, so make sure you check for both.
  • Faulty or failing tie rod ends can also cause your steering wheel to feel limp, loose, or shaky when you’re operating your vehicle. Sometimes tie rod ends that aren’t what they used to be can also make you feel as if your steering and the movement that results aren’t quite in synch with one another.
  • If you routinely hear a squealing or grinding noise when steering your car, it’s definitely something to take a closer look at. Sometimes it simply means your steering fluid could use a refill, but it can also indicate a bad ball joint or a tie rod end that’s a little worse for wear. Failing tie rod ends in particular tend to create short, high-pitched shrieking noises.

A bad tie rod structure is really very serious, so it’s important to get yours checked out at the first signs of a possible problem. After all, there’s a reason entire car lines are recalled if there’s even the possibility of an issue like this. If a tie rod actually breaks, you can easily lose control of your car and wind up in an accident, so it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Taking Care of Your Tie Rod Ends

As is the case with the rest of your car, there’s a lot you can do to make sure your tie rod ends stay in good condition over the long haul now that you’re aware of how important they are. Start by adding them to your list of parts you tend to when it’s time for a little DIY maintenance. Are you in the habit of changing your own oil? Right before or after a standard oil change is a great time to lube up your tie rod ends as well, the better to keep them in excellent working condition for as long as possible. You should see a grease fitting near your tie rod end’s bushing. Give it a quick cleaning and then use a grease gun to push new, clean lubrication through the rod. As you push new grease in, you’ll see the old grease come out along with any dirt, debris, or grit that may have become stuck in it over time. It’s just one extra step added to your oil change routine, but it can make a big difference in the lifespan of your tie rod ends.

You should also get into the habit of actively checking on the overall condition of your tie rod ends. Jack up the front of your vehicle and look for the tie rod end behind the brake rotor. How does it look? If the bushing is damaged, the tie end is loose, or the mechanism otherwise shows signs of damage, it’s time to think about a replacement. You can always have your mechanic take a look, but you can also replace your own tie rod ends if you’d rather. Visit your local AutoZone or shop an extensive selection of tie rod ends online instead for everyday low prices that fit easily into any budget.

Advice, how-to guides, and car care information featured on and AutoZone Advice & How-To’s are presented as helpful resources for general maintenance and automotive repairs from a general perspective only and should be used at your own risk. Information is accurate and true to the best of AutoZone’s knowledge, however, there may be omissions, errors or mistakes.

Be sure to consult your owner’s manual, a repair guide, an AutoZoner at a store near you, or a licensed, professional mechanic for vehicle-specific repair information. Refer to the service manual for specific diagnostic, repair and tool information for your particular vehicle. Always chock your wheels prior to lifting a vehicle. Always disconnect the negative battery cable before servicing an electrical application on the vehicle to protect its electrical circuits in the event that a wire is accidentally pierced or grounded. Use caution when working with automotive batteries. Sulfuric acid is caustic and can burn clothing and skin or cause blindness. Always wear gloves and safety glasses and other personal protection equipment, and work in a well-ventilated area. Should electrolyte get on your body or clothing, neutralize it immediately with a solution of baking soda and water. Do not wear ties or loose clothing when working on your vehicle.

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