Tie rod ends + wheel alignment
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  1. #1
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    Tie rod ends + wheel alignment

    Hi everyone,

    I've got a question but lets introduce myself first.. The name is Matt and I live in Sydney, Australia. Currently the proud owner of 2 VW Passats, a black metallic 4 cylinder 1996 sedan and a black metallic 2000 V6 Wagon. These are also the only cars I have ever owned. Bought the 96 model passat when I got my licence, has been my daily drive until about 1 month ago. It has had some electrical problems in its lifetime but nothing extreme.

    About 6 months ago a young inexperienced driver in a holden commodore wagon didn't notice that traffic was slowing down on the freeway (I think he was looking over his shoulder a little too long before changing lanes). Anyway, he ended up on my rear bumper, the front of his car was totally gone and the rear of my car had a bit of a dent in it. I was actually quite amazed by how big his damage was compared to the little visible damage on the rear end of my vehicle. The insurance ended up labelling my car as a repairable write off, as it has some structural damage for which the fixing price exceeds the current value of the car. So they paid me the insured value of my car and I had some money to put toward a new car.

    Wanted another passat, preferably a bit newer, quicker and a bit more space. I loved the look of the B5 wagons so I looked around for information on the car, research before buying. Ended up reading quite some threads on passatworld which gave me a good understanding of the car, i think. Anyway, about a month ago I found a wagon I wanted so I went out and bought it. They wanted pretty much exactly the average selling price for it. I went out with the information I got from Passatworld and found out about all the major problems. Before I bought it I had the car inspected, it has done pretty much exactly 100.000km. I got the seller to get a quote for a timing belt replacement + control arms replacement + rear discs replacement, and I got him to take the total off the selling price. So I ended up getting a pretty good deal quite happy with it until now, drives like a dream!

    Ok since I bought the car at the 100.000 km mark i thought i'd better get some stuff fixed straight away. Got in touch with an independent mechanic who has worked for and was trained by a VW dealership, they still hire him to do work for them as well. So he's got to be good Had him look at it and he did a major service (all oil changes + all filter changes) and he replaced the timing belt, water pump, tensioner and rollers. I also had him look at the control arms and he agreed that the tie rod ends needed replacing, but in his opinion that could wait till next service. I trust the guy so I won't get it fixed till then. I don't really notice anything weird when driving except for a light vibration coming from the front wheels when braking while driving at freeway speeds.

    Ok massive introduction, we're getting to the question now Coming weekend is a long weekend here in Australia, Queens birthday, and I'm using the opportunity to drive down to Melbourne, this is about 8 hours of driving each way. So 16 hours all up over the weekend. 1600km. In my old Passat, whenever I used to take it down to Melbourne I'd fill up the tyres a bit too much for that extra mileage, and I'd usually go for a wheel alignment. Because I'm thinking, if they're not properly aligned for a 1600km trip they're gonna wear out unevenly for sure...

    Now the question is, should I get the wheels aligned before this trip, does it make sense? I'm not sure what exactly the tie rod ends do. Is it usefull to get your wheels aligned when the tie rod ends are quite bad, is the wheel alignment place gonna start telling me I need to replace them and they can't do an alignment because of the worn out tie rod ends? Might sound like a silly question but I'm not really that much into cars, all I know is what i've learned from researching cars before buying, and up until now, and hopefully forever, they will only be passats even though I don't like the looks of the newer ones as much as I like the looks of my B5 Wagon. But maybe the newer models grow onto me over time, but what am I talking about anyway.. this B5 is gonna take me at least another 200.000km and we'll see what VW had on offer after that Hope to get some feedback here.

    Just for the record: specs of the car, because I know people are going to ask

    It's a v6 30V, black metallic, year 2000 model wagon. It has the dark cream/tan coloured leather interior, monsoon audio + cd changer, climatronic, sun/moonroof and 16" alloys. Its all stock. I got the windows tinted with the suntek 35 carbon tint. Darkest legal tint here in Sydney..

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  3. #2
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    If I were you I think I would replace the tie rod ends before the trip. Each tie rod end has a shaft with an adjustment nut on one end that connects it to the steering rack. This nut makes its overall length adjustable so that an alignment shop can adjust its length to produce parallel (or almost parallel, depending on manufactureres specification) front tires that handle well and and wear evenly over time. On their opposite ends are ball joints that connect to the control arms that steer the car. If these ball joint are worn out there will be play in the front tires. If badly worn it can be downright dangerous to drive. It does little good to adjust the adjustable end when the opposite end moves around.

    The vibration you feel when braking is most likely brake related (warped rotors). However the flexing in the ball joints of the tie rod ends will make the vibration even more noticeable when it occurs.

    Extra air in your tires makes sense but don't exceed maximum pressures printed on the tire sidewall. Also check the air in your spare tire (something that used car shops often overlook)

    Hope this helps and that you have a safe trip.

  4. #3
    Moderate Moderator Steve in Chicago's Avatar
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    Where I'm from, places like Firestone Service Centers offer "lifetime alignments". It costs more than a one time alignment, but you can take the car back in for re-alignment whenever you feel it needs it (like after you replace a part). Shop around and see if that sort of service is available in your area.

    You could get an alignment for the trip, then when your indi mechanic gets around to changing your tie rod ends, you go get a free re-alignment. In time you're bound to need control arm work and when you do... another free re-alignment.

    A car with excessive play in the steering system can not be properly aligned. If they go to align it and find loose parts they should let you know (because they want to sell you the repair if they can).

  5. #4
    Lefties have rights, too!
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    Tie rod ends (TREs) connect your steering rack to your wheels. They have ball joints and their distance is adjustable. Hence, when you are replacing them you should get an alignment afterwards. Also, make sure the Tech keeps your steering wheel straight while doing the adjustment.

  6. #5
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    OK, thanks a lot for your replies, that gave me a really good idea of what's going on down there at the control arms

    Replacing before the trip isn't really an option as I'd have to check the car in with the indy and he'd have to get the parts and so on, and I'm leaving on friday morning.. besides, when he did the service on my car about 2 weeks ago I told him about this trip coming up, and he reckoned I'd be all right, forgot to ask him about the wheel alignment tho. He's seen the things and I trust his experience so I'll leave them as they are until the next service, they really can't be too bad. Also, with the light vibration, it's not really an issue, I only really started noticing it after the mechanic told me what I should be noticing, after he had a look at the control arms. So I guess it just confirms that he knows what he's talking about. I'm sure he doesn't want his customer crashed/dead or even just stranded along the highway, miles away from home, either way it would obviously cost him a customer

    Here's what I'll do, I'll drop by a local wheel alignment place and see if they got the lifetime option and see if the price is reasonable. I'll get them to try and align it, I'll trust they'll get back to me saying I need to replace the control arms/TREs, but I'll just tell them to do the best they can with these control arms. Go on the trip, and come back (all this obviously without breaking down ).. and then at the next service get the stuff replaced + get a re-alignment. Next service won't be far away anyway. Mechanic recommended an oil change in 10.000km after the last oil change, seeing I average about 1.000km a week + the odd 1.600km on top of that over the weekend, the next service won't be more than about 7 weeks away...

    Thanks a lot again, also for the tip about holding the steering wheel straight, I always wondered in my old Passat why the steering wheel wasn't straight while the car was driving straight. It was turned at least 15 degrees to the right this new one seems to be quite straight tho, maybe a few mm to the right but thats all, I'd like to keep it that way..

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