Could bad tie rods keep a mechanic from being able to align my tires?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Dec 01, 2001

Dear Tom and Ray:

How can you tell if your tie rods are loose and need to be replaced? I got a lifetime alignment, and when I went back to get the car realigned, the mechanic said I needed to replace my tie rods before I did an alignment. Of course, he didn't "show" me anything. He just expects me to believe him. How can I tell for sure, so I know that I'm not being taken for a ride? -- Basir

TOM: Well, he's GOT to take you for a ride, Basir. He's going out of business on all those stupid lifetime alignments he sold.

RAY: Unfortunately, a second opinion is your only real option here, Basir.

TOM: There's no way to tell from how the car rides or handles that the tie rods are bad, because they wear out so slowly and gradually. It's like my brother's face. He doesn't notice how bad it's getting, because he sees it in the mirror every day. But whenever a long-lost relative sees him, she screams.

RAY: The mechanic can tell if your tie rods are bad by jacking up the car and getting an assistant to shake the wheel from side to side. While the wheel is being shaken, he'll watch the tie rod's ball-and-socket joint. If he sees vertical movement in addition to the expected horizontal movement, he knows that the tie rod is worn out. And that's not something you can determine, since you don't know what a good one or a bad one should look like.

TOM: So if you're suspicious of this guy, tell him that you don't have time today and you'll come back in a week or two. Then have another mechanic check the tie rods. And if they're bad, you should replace them right away, because if they break, your heirs could be reading this explanation.

RAY: And, by the way, what he said makes sense. Bad tie rods could prevent him from aligning the car.

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