What Does a Track Bar Do?- Panhard Rod

jeep track bar

If you drive a classic car, the likelihood of hearing this word is relatively low. However, if you own a truck and have looked beneath it or tinkered around in the rear axle section, you are probably familiar with this automotive component.

In any case, you’re keen to discover its function and purpose in the vehicle’s structure. One thing is sure: the track bar plays a critical role in the suspension system, and I will explain why.

What Is a Track Bar and Where It All Started 

The Track Bar found its origin in France and was introduced by the Panhard automobile company. It revolutionized vehicle suspension by making it more efficient and modern. It was due to this innovation that we were able to see the very first automobile races. 

The track bar was originally named the Panhard Rod and is popularly known by the same name today as well. It not only helped enhance the suspension’s performance but also improved the driving experience. 

Panhard Rod is a simple device that is attached to the chassis on one end and the opposing end to the axle. It serves its primary purpose by preventing lateral movements. 

However, the Panhard rod is ineffective for smaller cars since the axle has to move in an arc relative to the body. The radius for this movement has to be equal to the length of the rod, which, if too short, can cause excessive sideways movements. 

If you own a Jeep, then a jeep track bar is something that can significantly improve your driving experience and jeep’s performance. 

adjustable track bar or panhard rod
The lateral movement of the axle housing is controlled by the front track bar

What Does a Track Bar Do?

Coming to the real question, what does a track bar actually do?

Well, it does a lot by saving your suspension from moving side to side. Instead, the pivots on both ends of the track bar allow it to move up and down. As a result of this prevention, your vehicle is saved from significant damage. 

Vehicles that have live-axle suspension parts with no option for Watt’s Linkage can make good use of a Panhard Rod. It significantly impacts vehicle handling and maneuvering positively.  

track bar or panhard rod
The Panhard rod’s purpose is to allow the wheels to move vertically with regard to the body.

Should You Add a Track Bar With Your Suspension Lift?

A Panhard Bar upgrade is a must when you go for a suspension lift or upgrade. It is vital to ensure that your track bar works with the latest modifications made to the suspension. If your current track bar is not compatible with the suspension upgrades, chances are your driving experience will be negatively affected. 

Especially when you go for a suspension lift, a track bar upgrade becomes a must. This is because a higher lifted suspension requires a longer track bar. As a result, if you don’t have an adjustable track bar, you would have to go for an upgrade. 

It is important to note that track bars are not an expensive upgrade. More importantly, you don’t have to do much to maintain them either. Even if you are a heavy off-roader, the fairly serviceable joints of a track bar can be easily maintained. 

Adjustable track bar upgrade for a suspension lift
Whenever you upgrade your suspension with a lift kit, the extra height throws off the alignment of your panhard rod.

What Happens If The Track Bar Isn’t Set To The Right Lenght?

If your track bar is not set to the right length, it is not only dangerous but also damaging for the vehicle. If you want your vehicle steering to stay in good health and vibration-free, make sure the track bar is set to the right length. 

However, even if you have it set to the right length, a track bar is still prone to wear out. But that is nothing to worry about. You can benefit from the rebuild-able joints, making them easy to renew once the bushings or bearings wear out. 

track bar not set to the right lenght
If a vehicle’s track rod is too short, it will cause side-to-side movement between the axle and the body.

How to Install a Track Bar

Installing a track bar can take anywhere from 20 minutes to 2 hours. The time required depends on the mechanic’s experience and the type and model of the vehicle. A skilled mechanic knows what track bar goes with the vehicle and can do a quick job perfectly. 

The installing mechanism isn’t rocket science either. If you are adding one to a Dodge or a Jeep, you first have to get the steering linkage out of the way. Then you proceed by removing the tie rods alongside the tires. 

You must note that installing a track bar is not a single person’s job. You need a helper to help with alignment while you install the Panhard rod. 

track bar replacement on a truck
For a track bar replacement you would need a set of tools and a friend in order to complete the job DIY.

Symptoms of Bad Track Bar

The major sign of a bad performing or failing track bar is the uncontrollable wobbling of the tires. You can feel the wobbling at all speeds. However, it gets more intense as you speed up the vehicle. Here are some common symptoms of a bad track bar:

  • Play In The Steering Wheel – It is noticeable when you are turning the steering wheel.
  • Non-Uniform Tire Wear – If your tires start to wear out unevenly, it is a symptom of a bad track bar. This happens when the tires are not held in their right position. 
  • Wobbling – As discussed earlier, uncontrollable wobbling is one of the most prominent symptoms of bad track bars.

When looking for issues in the track bar, you must first check the ball joints, tires, and tie rods. Chances are you will find issues in these components if the track bar is in bad condition. 

Important Note: avoid driving when the steering wheel is wobbling. It can be highly dangerous for you as well as the vehicle. It is better and less expensive to get the vehicle towed than continue driving when you face the “Death Wobble.”

bad track bar death wobble
Correcting death wobble is typically a time-consuming and tedious elimination procedure. A faulty track bar(adjustable track bar) is not necessarily the source of the problem.

What Is the Difference Between a Track Bar and a Sway Bar?

While the job of a Panhard Rod is to keep your suspension from wobbling, a sway bar helps the vehicle body stay level when you are making turns. Some other common names for a sway bar are anti-sway bar, stabilizer bar, or anti-roll bar. It significantly improves the road performance of your 4×4, especially when you are towing heavy loads. 

However, a sway bar can negatively affect vehicle performance if you do a lot of off-roading. This is because sway bars are not designed for uneven terrains. Some vehicles do come with an electronic sway bar disconnect option. However, most people still believe getting rid of the bar produces better results instead of just disconnecting. 

difference between track bar and sway bar
While the sway bar is positioned horizontally (front or rear depending on the mode), the track bars position is diagonal connecting the axle to the vehicle’s chassis.

Can You Drive Without a Track Bar?

Well, you can drive without a track bar, but it wouldn’t be a good experience. Jeeps are not designed to handle unwanted lateral movements on their own. As a result, a track bar is necessary to prevent the vehicle body from floating severely to the right or left over the axles. 

FAQ:

Do I need an alignment after replacing the track bar?

Every time you get an upgrade or alteration for the vehicle suspension, alignment becomes necessary. It is vital even if you have only made simple track bar adjustments.

Since all major components are unscrewed and worked around, it is highly unlikely that the suspension will have correct alignment when everything is put back together. As a result, you must get an alignment once you have replaced or installed a new track bar on your vehicle. 

Is the track bar supposed to move?

Yes, the track bar is supposed to move but only with the movement of the axle and the vehicle. If by move you mean it moves with your hands or by any tool, then no, it should definitely not move. It is designed to stay intact in its place and only have simultaneous movements with the rest of the suspension parts. 

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