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I was inspecting my suspension parts and was looking for any play. I'm not sure if this play I found in the tie rod is normal. Basically I can push it a little and I found that the rod would rotate axially like demonstrated below. If I applied more force I could get it to go the maximal extents I depict below.

The car was jacked up at this point and the control arm elevated a bit more with a bottle jack. tie rod rotation view at inner tie rod boot tie rod rotation view along its length tie rod rotation view at knuckle mount

  • I cannot see the image at work, but know there should be zero deflection between the moving parts of the tie rod end. This means, at the steering arm, you should see absolutely no give on a horizontal axis. If there is deflection, it doesn't mean you are in imminent danger. What it means is, you should look to see about getting it replaced as soon as possible. Obviously if there is a lot of slop between the two, there is some danger there. I'll take a look at your animated gif when I get home and see if I concur with Hari's answer. – Pᴀᴜʟsᴛᴇʀ2 Mar 8 '17 at 22:15
  • Agree from what I can see here, the movement appears normal. Really, what you are looking for is movement on the horizontal axis. The only way you can see it is when the steering wheel is turned left to right. Is there any deflection at the ball joint itself when the steering movement changes directions. You'd see where the tire rod end moves, but the steering arm does not. Any difference in movement is deflection, and deflection is bad. – Pᴀᴜʟsᴛᴇʀ2 Mar 9 '17 at 1:11
  • As per the above comments, you'd want to test this with the tire on the ground, otherwise you might not see the deflection. – Pᴀᴜʟsᴛᴇʀ2 Mar 9 '17 at 1:25
  • Brilliant use of gifs by the way. It illustrated what you were seeing perfectly. – atraudes Mar 11 '17 at 0:07
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This appears to be perfectly reasonable amounts of play. You have ball joints on both ends of the tie rod outer, so you can expect to be able to rotate it as you are. Given the function of a tie rod, this doesn't impact vehicle dynamics much.

Now, what may actually be a problem depends on how easily you could rotate the tie rod outer. If this was very easy (required little torque), then the ball joints are likely worn and in need of replacement. If you really needed to throw some muscle into it, they're probably still in good shape.

  • Interesting, I would say it wasn't much force indeed, almost like pushing a can of soup across a table top or something that had at least some mass to it. It wasn't like pushing paper or something tethered to a rope. It had some resistance present. – jxramos Mar 8 '17 at 22:16
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    I agree, this is normal. – Ben Mar 8 '17 at 23:40
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    @jxramos It's always a judgment call with ball joints. Unless you've felt both new and heavily worn ones, it can be hard to really say whether what you're feeling should indicate replacement. When I last replaced tie rods, the new ones were stiff enough that they didn't rotate on their own, and they took effort to turn. – Hari Ganti Mar 9 '17 at 0:40
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I have always tested my balls joints by jacking up on the suspension lower arm to just get the tyre off the surface, which keeps the suspension roughly in the "normal" position (safety - not getting any human body parts under the car). Then trying to "rattle" or move the tyre / wheel in the horizontal axis (holding it at 9 and 3 as on a clock face) and watching to see if there is any "play" in the ball & socket joint or the threads are loose. This has worked for me on landrovers, Audis, volvos etc

  • He isn't asking about ball joints he is asking about tie rods. That is an appropriate way to check for ball joints. But not tie rods because then you can't tell if it's the ball joint or the tie rod that is causing your slop. With the wheel stationary on the ground it takes the ball joints out of the mix and you're just testing the tie rods. In addition to ball joints using that method you could feel wheel bearings being bad as well. – Rowan Hawkins Mar 14 '17 at 15:15
  • @RowanHawkins : what is the name of the part that the OP is moving in the picture? then the joint on the end is what? especially looking at the third image... – Solar Mike Mar 14 '17 at 15:17
  • You're getting stuck on terminology and functionality. The image shows the outer tie rod, part of steering system. It uses a ball joint but it is not a "ball joint" in the terminology of a vehicle. A ball joint in the terminology of a vehicle is a suspension part not a steering and control part. Ball joints are located on the upper and lower halves of the control arm which are attached to the shocks and hold the tire upright and allow it to pivot when acted on by the control arm that is the tie rod. – Rowan Hawkins Mar 25 '17 at 14:41
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I was originally going to make this a comment, but decided to make it answer because it describes the test in a different way...

The problem with testing ball joints separate from being installed in the vehicle vs after they are installed on the vehicle is that the installed versions have this long type 3 lever attached which makes it easier to move.

A better test, rather than twisting, draw an imaginary line between the two end points then push and pull along that line. There should be no movement.

If it helps tie a string between the two Castle nuts or locking pins. You should do this with the suspension loaded normally and the tires straight. You need to test both sides. if you feel play you need to then watch both the inner and outer tie rod ends to see if one or both are the culprit. You could also do it on ramps, but in that case block the wheels and place jack stands in case there is a ramp problem.

Changing inner tie rod usually doesn't affect alignment unless they are threaded. The threaded outer ones do.

There are two tricks you can use to do an emergency alignment but you should have the alignment checked by a professional sooner rather than later.

The first is mark where the tie rod enters the collar and count the threads which were inside the center rod and then make sure to thread the new outer rod in that Same amount. It will usually get you pretty close. You can dial it down a little bit further if your tires weren't quite an alignment to begin with, by putting one tire at a time on two thin sheets of metal and sighting along the side of the rear tire when adjusting the front tire. The sheets will allow the tire to pivot on the ground with much less force while the suspension is fully loaded.

You might think to use a laser pointer like the pro machines, however you would have to make sure not to attach the laser pointer to either tire directly. That would make your front tires slightly toe in if attached to the rear tire and slightly toe out if attached to the front.

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    Just a quick added note: Professional machines align tires in a fixed rig that's why they are able to use laser devices. The lasers are not attached to the tires they are attached to the rig. Building a rig at home is a pile of extra work for a very limited amount of benefit since you really should have the tires professionally aligned. Those tricks will get you by for a couple of weeks until you can get it professionally done if you did the work yourself. If you have a professional do it then you should just pay the $70 get the alignment done at the same time. – Rowan Hawkins Mar 9 '17 at 8:26
  • Most professional laser rigs I have seen need a part clamped to the wheel so that the angles of the wheels etc can be recorded - but it does depend on which manufacturer's equipment you see / use / are used to. As for my terminology - it is fine - i have completed an apprenticeship and worked with several hundred mechanics and vehicle electricians and they tend to know and use the correct terms. – Solar Mike Mar 25 '17 at 21:06

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