Over time the track rod ends can wear out due to all the movement and road debris they have to cope with. It’s the ball joint that is particularly prone to wear. It can wear down if it is not properly maintained, many ball joints need regular greasing. Manufacturers will advice in the service guide how often this should happen. Other ball joint types, however, are sealed units and can’t be greased. Those ball joints need replacing if they can’t move smoothly any longer due ingress of debris.
A track rod end is fitted at each end of the steering rack which is why it is so important. They enable you to steer your car smoothly. It incorporates a ball joint that attaches to the steering knuckle. The track rod end’s ball joint enables movement up and down and from left to right. Which helps the steering to move freely.
A sign that a track rod end needs replacing is when your steering feels unstable or if you feel vibrations through the steering wheel. One way of checking whether a replacement is needed is to try and move the rod by hand. If the ball joint is able to move in its socket it means that it needs replacing. There will then be ‘play’ between the ball joint and the socket on the track rod end. If that’s the case it really needs replacing as soon as possible. Remember, a ball joint may pop out of its socket which can mean that you will lose control over the steering.
Usually, problems are also picked up during an MOT test, it will say this on your MOT failure sheet. Often MOT stations will also fail a car if the ball joint’s rubber dust covers have deteriorated. They can dry out or get damaged over time, often that means the whole ball joint needs replacing.
If you’re not quite sure if you need a replacement it’s useful to get it checked by a mechanic. As noted, if your MOT is not due yet it’s advisable to just get an inspection to check its condition.