Tie rod ends are typically the weakest part in the steering system and they're soft enough to bend rather than snap. If one did break it would allow that wheel to turn left or right however it wanted and you'd have no control over it.
Your car has an inner and an outer tie rod end on each side as shown in this photo from rockauto. Com. Typically the inner one will bend in the area shown in blue. The red and green arrows show where the two parts screw together to form the steering link. Those threads are the "toe" adjustment, and each side has that. The final step of an alignment is to lock the steering wheel straight ahead, then adjust toe on each side to bring both wheels straight ahead to match the steering wheel. Turning the inner tie rod 1/60th of a revolution is enough to put that alignment adjustment in or out-of-specs.
In extreme impacts, the stud in the outer tie rod end can bend, (orange arrow). That can be real hard to detect. It will also cause the toe to change but that can be readjusted in the normal manner. A slightly bent stud will usually not cause a noticeable problem. Even if it was found during an inspection, there's no easy way to straighten them. Replacement of the part is the only practical repair.
The ball and socket in the outer tie rod is a common failure item in any car. It often separated on Ford front-wheel-drive cars from the '80s leading to loss of steering control and crashes in as little as 20,000 miles. Other brands of cars, particularly imports, have a much lower failure rate. They usually get sloppy and cause tire wear and steering wander LONG before they separate. I replaced the first one on my '88 Grand Caravan after 214,000 miles. That is at about the other extreme of how long they last.
Inner tie rod ends tend to last longer but when they become sloppy, (or in your case, bent), replacement is much more time-consuming, and special tools are needed. Very often replacements are not available through the dealer, but anyone can get them from aftermarket auto parts stores. Dealers don't usually see worn tie rod ends when the cars are still under warranty. Problems typically involve something wrong with the rack and pinion steering gear which the inner tie rod is attached to, so the manufacturer supplies the steering gear for warranty replacement with the inner tie rods already installed. To replace just the inner tie rod end out-of-warranty, even the dealer often has to buy them from the local auto parts store.
As for cost, you can expect an inner tie rod to cost in the area of $40.00 to $60.00. Installation can take an hour or more. Outer tie rod ends cost about half that much and can be replaced in less than a half hour. An alignment is needed after replacing either one. That takes between another hour and hour and a half, but rather than charging an hourly shop rate, most shops have a set rate for alignments. My best guess is to replace one inner tie rod end and perform the alignment, you can expect to pay around $250.00 to $300.00. Due to the nature of the failure, many shops will also want to replace the outer tie rod because of the stress it incurred on impact. That is cheap insurance to insure the quality of the repair and to uphold their reputation for doing quality work.
Hourly shop rates are approaching $100.00 per hour in many areas of the country, and if you could see a list of all their expenses, taxes, and regulations they have to follow, you'd wonder how they could stay in business by charging so little. When searching for a shop, look for one with a good reputation instead of lowest hourly labor rate. Very often the higher-priced shops invest more in advanced training and special tools and equipment. Those contribute to higher-quality repairs in less time. While their labor rate might be higher, the amount of time needed might be lower. Low-cost shops often hire less-experienced mechanics who haven't learned some of the shortcuts or other ways to speed up the repair process, and sometimes they don't know what's "good enough" so they take extra care which translate into longer repair times.
More-experienced mechanics have likely worked on your car model before and they'll remember which size tool to grab, which bolts don't have to be removed, and other things like that. They won't have to take the time to dig for information in a book or search in a computer. Some shops will put two mechanics on one car. They might pair an experienced one as a mentor to a beginning mechanic, or they might just have one person free because his appointment didn't show up. By adding a second person to your car, it might get done in half the time but the cost to you would be the same.
Most shops use a "flat rate guide". That is book that lists how much time it should take for each repair procedure. That insures each shop charges the same time for the same work, regardless of how long the work actually takes. If the job is listed at one hour and an experienced mechanic gets it done in 50 minutes, you pay for one hour and the mechanic can get to the next job sooner. If an inexperienced mechanic takes 90 minutes, you still pay for one hour. By investing in better tools, more training, or by gaining more experience, the mechanic becomes faster. That's how they earn more dollars per their 8-hour work day. The checks and balances is if they try to work so fast that they do something wrong, they have to do it over for free. They don't get paid to do it a second time, and you don't get charged a second time, but you ARE inconvenienced by having to bring the car back again.
Friday, September 23rd, 2011 AT 6:39 PM