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I have a 2012 Mazda 3 with about 77k miles. For the past few months there has been a significant front left clunk when going over bumps at low to moderate speeds.

I removed the sway bar end links and there was no change, so that's eliminated. Motor mount was replaced at about 50k so I am familiar with what that clunk sounds like.

Everything is tight, no torn bushings, and whatever I do with the suspension it doesn't budge and it seems very tight.

Today I noticed one strange thing. My front left (where the clunk is) tie rod does not appear to be centering on the ball. Instead, it is fully rotated to one end, basically sitting at the full rotation of the ball in its normal position. If I recenter it and move the suspension up/down and left/right it seems to go back to that rotated position. The right side (no noise) seems to center just fine. Both of them are not loose, no rattle, and move smoothly when I do move it.

My thought is that somehow the outer tie rod is bent so it's fully rotated to one end. When I go over a bump I think I am hearing the tie rod maxing out it's rotation and the clunk is the tie rod itself.

What do you think? Is this tie rod orientation normal? Could this cause a significant clunk? To me I don't think this would cause that loud of a clunk, but at the same time I know clunks are always a mystery and the smallest things can sound like the car is falling apart.

Right tie rod - no noise. See how it appears to sit in a normal position.


Left tie rod - noise. See how the dust boot is fully compressed.


You can get these images from the car without removing anything - just look in with a flashlight. Does anyone else's tie rod look like either of the pictures above?
 
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