How to Replace an Outer Tie End
The outer tie rod end causes the front wheels to turn back and forth as the steering wheel is turned by the driver. They pivot up, down, left, and right as your vehicle maneuvers, enduring extreme pressure while providing smooth and responsive steering.
The outer tie ends are an integral part of the steering system. With all this movement and stress, they will eventually wear beyond their limit. If an inspection reveals a worn tie rod end, you can replace it yourself. AutoZone has everything you need to do the job right.
HOW TO REPLACE AN OUTER TIE END
Park your vehicle on a flat, dry surface and install wheel chocks. Wear appropriate gloves and safety goggles. Lift the car, place it on jack stands and remove the wheels for easy access.
LOCATE THE OUTER TIE ROD END
Locate the outer tie rod end. The ball with stud and locking nut attaches to the steering knuckle (spindle) next to the tire. If you have penetrating oil, it’s a good practice to spray the jam nut and threads, along with the top castle nut with penetrating oil, as these are often very corroded. The outer tie rod will be connected on one side to the steering knuckle with a what is usually a castle nut and a cotter pin which keeps it from loosening. The other side of the tie rod is threaded, and connects to either an inner tie rod (on rack and pinion systems) or a center link, drag link, or adjusting sleeve, which any of these reside in more traditional steering systems, and some trucks still today.
REMOVE THE TIE ROD’S STUD NUT AND SEPARATE
As stated before, the tie rod connects to the steering knuckle of the car on each side with a tapered stud and nut. This nut is usually a castle-style nut with a cotter pin, but sometimes it is a Nylock nut. For a castle nut, remove the cotter pin. Many times these can be corroded and a pain to remove. Make sure to flood the nut down with penetrating oil. Next, remove the nut. You will now need a tie rod separator, otherwise known as a “pickle-fork” to dislodge the tapered stud from it’s bore. You will insert the fork between the tie rod and knuckle, and hammer until the tie rod drops and separates. Sometimes, this process can take time, as many tie rods are very stubborn.
LOOSEN THE JAM NUT (R&P TYPE) OR ADJUST SLEEVE NUT (CENTER LINK TYPE)
for R&P Type
One nice part with rack and pinion outer tie rods is that they often can be removed from the car without upsetting the alignment specs. The outer tie rod end threads onto the inner tie rod end and is held securely in place with a jam nut. Ensure the threads behind the nut are clean. Using a holding tool in one hand, secure the inner and outer tie rod ends while loosening the jam nut with a wrench in the other hand. Do not allow the ‘loosening pressure’ to put excessive pressure on the rack and pinion’s inner tie rod. This may harm the gear or seal. Keep in mind, jam nuts will often loosen with either left or right hand threads, so sometimes turning the nut to the right will loosen it. Back the nut away and mark the position of the outer tie rod end with a small amount of paint. This will identify how far to thread the new tie rod end onto the inner tie rod. Now, you can unthread the tie rod end. Many times, you’ll need a pair of locking pliers or wrench to turn the tie rod out. Once out, compare the lengths of your new tie rod to the old, and the mark you made showing exactly where the jam nut was threaded. You can then transfer this mark or location over to the new tie rod and check measurements from the mark to the center line of the tapered stud to be sure both marks are exactly the same.
OR for Center Link Type
The outer tie rod end screws into the tie rod adjusting sleeve. Loosen the adjusting sleeve locking clamp and nut that holds the outer tie rod end. Do not loosen the inner tie rod locking nut. You will likely need to apply penetrant to the adjusting sleeve and outer tie rod end threads. Allow to soak while performing the next steps. Mark the tie rod end position with a small amount of paint. This will identify how far to thread the new tie rod end into the adjusting sleeve. Keep in mind that many tie rods have either left-hand or right hand threads, meaning you may be turning the tie rod to the right to loosen it.
INSTALL THE NEW TIE ROD END
Thread the new tie rod end onto the inner tire rod end or into the tie rod adjusting sleeve. Position as close as possible to the original tie rods position. With the new rubber grease boot in place on the tie rod end, insert the threaded ball stud into the steering knuckle mounting hole. Install the locking nut and new cotter pin. Be sure and tighten the to the proper manufactures specification torque. This is important! If the nut loosens or the threads are damaged due to overtightening, the tie rod end could separate and cause an accident! So, be careful.
Note: Some new tie rod ends use self-locking nuts that do not incorporate a cotter pin. Either design will work.
Now, firmly tighten the jam nut or adjusting sleeve nut. Use both tools on the jam nut style just like beforehand to avoid damaging the R&P. If equipped, install the grease fitting. Use a grease lube gun and fill the new tie rod end with chassis lubricant. Do not over do it! Now is a good time to check and lubricate the other suspension and steering components.
INSTALL WHEEL AND LUG NUTS
Install wheel and wheel nuts. Torque wheel nuts to owner manual specifications. Then, remove the tire jacks. Now is a good time to check the tire pressures.
CHECK YOUR STEERING
Check the steering for smooth operation. The steering wheel should turn normally with no binding or catching. The steering wheel may be off – centered. This is due to the wheel alignment changes after the part installation.
GET AN ALIGNMENT
As mentioned before, some tie rod changes can get you close enough to original location that an alignment isn’t needed, but often it is, and regardless, it’s always recommended. Normally, over time your vehicle’s alignment will be out of spec anyways and should be tended to. To seek alignment help, or help with a tie rod change, check out our list of Preferred Shops in your area, and look closely for ones who specialize in alignment work as many shops do not do alignments.
Pro Tip: You have made changes to the steering of your car. This means your wheel alignment is not aligned correctly. Take the vehicle to a front end alignment shop before you drive any distances. If you don’t, your vehicle will not steer correctly.
The outer tie ends are crucial to the steering and handling of your vehicle. If you notice any warning signs, stop by an AutoZone or have a service professional inspect your vehicle.