A track rod end is a very small part of your car, but it is hugely important to your safety and comfort. In fact, without track rod ends, you would struggle to steer your vehicle at all! That's why you need to look after them just as much as the more obvious important car parts. But how can you do that if you don't know anything about your track rod ends?

By the end of this article, you will understand:

  • What a track rod end is and what it does
  • How it fits into the steering system
  • How much a track rod end replacement costs
  • The symptoms of track rod end failure
  • And more

 

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What is a Track Rod End And What Does it Do?

A track rod end is a small, flexible ball joint in the vehicle's steering system. It sits on the end of the track rods and connects them to the steering rack. Track rod ends swivel and allow the steering rack to move the wheel efficiently by transmitting force from the rack gear to the front wheel steering knuckle. Some are sealed, while others require greasing every 6,000 miles.

As one of the major pivots in the steering system, your car won't turn without track rod ends.

 

What is a Track Rod?

A track rod is a larger part of the steering system and connects your car's front wheels to each other. It is made of two rods - the inner and outer rods. The inner rod is attached to the steering rack, while the outer rod attaches to the steering knuckle.

Alongside the track rod ends, these rods play a crucial role in your car's steering system.

 

brand-new track rod lying on garage floor, black rod with a ball joint at either end

 

How Does a Ball Joint Help Your Car's Steering?

In a rack and pinion system, these track rod end ball joints rotate and allow everything to move flexibly. The track rod is fixed and the wheels swivel thanks to the track rod ends. In short, they are an essential part of any steering system.

Without ball joints, it would be much harder to make your car turn a corner. In fact, the way your steering system is set up makes it 16x easier to manoeuvre your vehicle! Without flexible ball joints and power steering, you'd struggle to turn the car at all.

 

Is a Tie Rod End the Same Thing?

Yes, a tie rod end is another name for a track rod end. Similarly, tie rod and track rod are the same thing.

American English typically uses 'tie rod' and 'tie rod end', while British English uses 'track rod' and 'track rod end'.

 

a track rod end ball joint on white background

A track rod end, or tie rod end in American English.

 

As with any car part, your track rod ends will deteriorate. The outer track rod end is protected by a rubber boot to keep grease in and dirt out, but this cracks with time. When this happens, moisture can get in and cause corrosion. This can cause serious problems including premature tyre wear.

Here's everything you need to know about track rod end replacement.

 

Track Rod End Replacement

Firstly, there's no set time frame for track rod end replacement. While they suffer wear and tear naturally, their lifespan is also affected by your driving style.

The smoother you drive, the longer your track rod ends typically last.

Even though there's no replacement interval, they are checked during your MOT. This annual update on their condition means you have a better idea when they need replacing - but don't ignore any advice. Worn or broken track rod ends count as an MOT failure, which can cause many unnecessary problems.

For older cars, you may be able to adjust these ball joints. However, in modern cars, this is no longer an option. You should always check your vehicle handbook and seek professional advice before attempting any adjustments. Keeping your steering rack in top condition is a must. If you're not in control of where the car is going, you could end up in a very scary situation.

So, only attempt any adjustments or replacements if you're confident in your ability. Else, book a steering repair at a garage near you to complete the work instead.

 

Enter your reg number and postcode to book a steering repair if you're having problems with your track rod ends

 

Symptoms of Track Rod End Failure

Bad track rods or track rod ends are common causes of suspension problems. However, they display many of the common warning signs for steering or suspension faults, so your track rod ends may not be to blame for your problem.

Book a steering repair immediately if you notice any of the following:

 

  • Vibrations in the steering wheel. This is the first and most common symptom of track rod end failure.

 

  • Imprecise or unresponsive steering. Worn track rods can make your steering wheel feel loose. If you notice any excessive play or a bigger 'deadzone', (the amount you can turn the steering wheel before the car begins to turn), your track rods may be to blame.

 

  • Knocking, clunking noises or shaking when you drive over bumps or change direction. This accompanies the vibrations in the steering wheel and is most noticeable at lower speeds. As track rods wear, they can come loose and rattle at the joints. On top of this, if the rubber boot cracks, grit and dirt can get into the joint and make a grinding noise when you steer.

 

  • Uneven or premature tyre wear. Correctly balanced suspension and steering spreads the weight of your car evenly across all four tyres. When something goes wrong, this weight changes and so the wear increases. Your wheel alignment will also suffer as a result of extra tyre wear. Many experts believe that track rod issues are the number one cause of increased tyre wear.

 

You can continue to drive on a worn track rod, but you will lose control of the steering if it fails completely. It's not worth the risk, so check your track rod ends yourself if you have any concerns. To do this, grab one of your front wheels and push with one hand while pulling with the other to see if there is any play in the wheel. You can also grab the track rod and wiggle it to check for excess play. If it moves too much, book a repair as soon as possible.

We recommend booking a wheel alignment appointment at the same time. A faulty track rod end can also affect your wheel alignment and wheel balance, so you should double-check that everything is in good condition.

 

How to Change a Track Rod End

Changing a track rod end yourself is more complicated than it seems. First, you have to identify what steering system your car uses. While most ball joints are just screwed onto the end of the track rods, allowing for easy replacement, some Audis, VWs and Renaults have one-piece track rods with integrated ball joints. This makes the replacement much more difficult.

If you decide to replace a track rod end in a rack and pinion steering system yourself, remember to turn the steering wheel very slowly while the front wheels are raised. Otherwise, you can build hydraulic pressure in the steering rack housing. This can cause one or both of the rubber gaiters which protect the ball joints to burst and increase your repair cost.

 

Change a Track Rod End in a Steering Box System

  1. You will need to work under the car, so jack up the front and support it on axle stands.
  2. Make sure the handbrake is firmly on and put chocks behind the rear wheels.
  3. Remove the front wheels.
  4. When you remove and replace the ball joints, make sure they go on in the same position. This determines the front wheel tracking for your car, which is incredibly important for balance and tyre wear.
  5. Replace the wheels.

Be sure to take your car to a garage for a wheel alignment appointment as soon as possible. Any error fitting the track rod ends will cause rapid tyre wear and affect your handling.

 

steering system of a car diagram explaining how track rod ends fit into the steering components

Track Rod Ends fit into the steering system as shown above. If they break, you'll have no control over one wheel!

 

Change a Track Rod End in a Special Rack and Pinion System

This is fitted to some Audis and VWs and varies from other systems. On one side, the track rod is adjustable and you can replace the ball joint as above. On the other side, the track rod end is integrated and so the entire rod must be replaced.

 

The Renault track rod end is much more complex. It needs to be removed along with the whole rack gaiter because it is a non-adjustable, one-piece track rod. You should only attempt this track rod end replacement if you're an experienced mechanic.

 

How Much Does a Track Rod End Cost?

Different makes and models use different parts so the cost does vary. However, a track rod end usually costs around £30 and, with only 1 or 2 hours of labour needed to install one, it should cost below £100 for a replacement. A track rod costs about the same.

But you should never replace only one of your track rod ends.

If one is worn, the likelihood is that the other one is on its last legs too. It's best to replace both at the same time to promote even wear, avoid more expensive repairs and extend the lifespan of your tyres. It's also much better for the long-term health of your vehicle.

Your replacement should cost around £200 in total, but if you compare and save with BookMyGarage, you can find a much cheaper price. Compare labour costs from garages near you and book a steering repair today if you're suffering from a faulty track rod end.

 

 

Recap

Track rod ends are flexible ball joints that attach to your track rods and allow your front wheels to rotate and steer effectively. They play a major role in making your car easy to steer and you would struggle without them. As they suffer from wear and tear, you should look out for common warning signs to book a replacement. These include a knocking sound, excessive play in the steering wheel or vibrations while driving. We recommend replacing both track rod ends at the same time, which usually costs around £200. However, when you compare and save with BookMyGarage, you can save up to 70% on your track rod end replacement. Enter your reg and postcode to compare labour costs near you today.