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Safe steering at all speed levels with an intact axial ball joint
Learning how to steer a car is not really difficult. Yet, the in essence simple action is connected to a very complex mechanism on the front axle. A front drive makes the driving and steering mechanism additionally complex. The axial (ball) joint is an important component of this group.
Always safe power transmission
A front axle must be able to move in all directions: pitching movements for the shock absorbers and radial movements for the steering of the wheels are very demanding for the mechanism of the steerable and driven front wheels. One thing should always be guaranteed: the power transmission via the drive shafts must always reach the front wheels reliably and safely. The axial joint plays an essential role in this. It can rotate in radial direction and by doing so, correctly transmits the rotational movement of the transmission to the drive shafts. Simultaneously it moves in every cross direction, absorbing the steering movements as well as the movements of the shock absorbers. The component consists of a socket containing a ball joint. They connect via a tong-and-groove joint.
Position of the axial joint
The axial joint sits directly at the transmission shaft coming out of the gearbox. It is hidden under a sleeve filled with permanent grease lubrication, safely protecting the axial joint against penetrating dirt or leaking lubrication. However, here’s where it’s most important weak point is.
Axial joint defects
Defects occur, when the axial joint has become dirty or in case of insufficient lubrication. Its components rub together, causing mutual wear. This can be noticed through a clacking sound when steering. Furthermore, the steering has a slight resistance. If this occurs, finding the cause is of the utmost importance. A damaged axial joint could break. In most cases, steering becomes heavier; the car swerves strongly and pulls to one side. On a parked car, a broken axial joint can be recognised by a wheel standing loosely and wobbling when you manually shake it.
Replacement of the axial joint
Replacement of the axial joint requires complete disassembly of the drive shaft. Special tools are available in the shop, considerably simplifying the work and saving you from frustrations at the attempts of disassembling the joint with help of tube wrenches or other unsuitable tools. The special tools cost ca. 25 euro (c. £22) and considerably speed up the work, making their purchase really worthwhile. To disassemble the drive shaft, the wheel is removed, the ball joint disassembled and the drive shaft removed from the wheel bearing on the side of the wheel. The sleeve on the wheel must be loosened as well. After disassembly, the axial joint is replaced by another one on the work-bench.
When the entire drive train has to be disassembled anyway, at least the inner and outer axle sleeve should be replaced as well. The rubber bellows have a limited life span and you are saving yourself the trouble of their replacement at a later stage. The ball joint should be at least checked. If the rubber bellows are brittle at the creases or leaking grease, replace it as well. On the wishbone arms, wear can develop at the connecting elements. The replacement of the axial joint is an excellent opportunity for making your car as good as new. Ideally, all components are replaced simultaneously on two sides. After replacement of the axial joints, a visit to the garage is necessary to align the track.
Costs for a new axial joint
A new axial joint of a branded manufacturer, like e.g. Monroe or FEBI BILSTEIN costs ca. 18 EUR (c. £16). These cheap prices show that with a single repair and little money an extensive maintenance of the car can be performed. With a new axial joint and potential additional component replacement the full driving safety of the car is re-established.