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One way of checking your tie rods is to jack the front wheels either one at a time or both at once. Once the weight is off the wheel, grab the tire at the 9 and 3 o'clock positions and try to move the wheel left and right, and then at the 12 and 6 o'clock positions and try to move the top and bottom in and out. You should not feel any play, or very, very little if any. If you do, you may have a worn tie rod, or even play in your wheel bearings.
The tie rod end is what attached your steering rack to your front wheel basically. It does wear over time. I have only seen one physically shear and break in my 15 years of working on cars. The ball joint portion came out of the socket. Tire shops are notorious for recommending this stuff because it is an easy repair and quick money. If you have over 50,000 miles on the car and see potholes sometimes it very well may be worn. Check with the tire wiggle test if you like at 3 and 9 or have your mechanic do it.
I just had both of my outer rear tie rod ends replaced. One was worn too much for the car to be aligned, the other was not as bad, but obviously worn.
As for what can happen - 30 years ago I had a 68 Charger. One afternoon I pulled into the parking lot in front of the arcade I hung out at and just as I parked the car there was this big THUMP sound and the left front dropped. I got out and the left front wheel was tucked up into the fender and turned backwards. The lower ball joint had sheared off. Luckily for me it didn't happen 10 minutes earlier when I had been going 110 on the highway.
previous Vettes: 84 CFI auto, 99 Nassau Blue 6-speed
current Vette is a Turquoise Metallic 91 automatic, 3.07's, Fast Burn heads, SD LT-4 cam, Bosch III's, Accel Super Ram & 58MM TB, LT-1 manifolds, Magnflow catted Y, Flowmaster direct replacement mufflers, 1984 Z51 springs, Koni's, C5 brakes, 275's/315's, VB&P 32mm front sway bar
I would think it will probably track straight but you wont be able to turn it and if you do attempt a turn it may do funny things. But it all probably depends on your speed. and the rest of the suspensions condition....
However it would be best to go your local parts store and pick up a new one
I had one break on me in a 73 Chevy van about 30 years ago. I didn't lose control, but it wouldn't turn either. I managed to get it over to the side of the road. It did give me a little of the pucker factor, though.
I will tell you what happen because it just happen to me 3 days ago driving 35 mph and all the sudden my vett starts fish tailing and Im like the hell is going on thank God I know how to handel my car.I get stoped and im like what the heck so I get out and my rear driverside tire is completly sideways. What happen was the stupid Gulf Coast chevy in Angelton Texas did trany work on it and have to take the tie rod off to do the work well they eather put it on to tight after the job or didnt put it back right!!! Needless to say I will never take my Vett back to them and I have sent letters to GM Corp. Had I been going faster on say hwy or something I would have been killed no doubt. I know someone will ask you didnt feel any shaking or anything no othering no warning what so ever.Good luck Hope it never happens to anyone.I have a 2006 Convertable Vett.
I had it happen on a '70 Chevy pickup. I was doing about 60 on a dirt road. It is amazing how quickly you can jump a ditch and take out a LOT of fence posts. There was absolutely no warning. I was VERY happy that it didn't happen on pavement.