Tie rods connect the rack and pinion to the steering knuckles. They essentially transfer the lateral motion of the steering ram to the tires. They go through a lot of abuse, especially off road. Every bump, steering input, and braking motion put stress on the components.
Tie rods are generally made up of two components. An inner tie-rod, and an outer tie-rod. The inner tie-rod is an in-line ball joint, the outer has another ball joint, but it is a right-angle ball joint. The threads that connect the inner tie rod to the outer are how the toe alignment is adjusted.
There are two different thread sizes available. 14mm and 16mm. To know which you have, fit an open-end 15mm wrench over the threads. If it passes over the threads, you have 14mm, if it doesn’t fit, it’s 16mm.
The biggest wear issue is when the ball joints begin to get loose. This leads to a lot of play in the steering wheel and poor steering input.
Estimated time: 1 hour per side
- Adjustable Wrench (or a very complete wrench set)
- Pittman Arm Puller
- Inner Tie Rod Tool
Soak the accessible threads with PB blaster a couple days ahead of time.
Begin by jacking up the wheel that needs tie-rod replacement. I prefer jacking up the vehicle directly under the lower control arm. This keeps the suspension in a very similar position to the on-road position and makes tie-rod replacement easier. I also put a jack stand under the frame as a safety measure.
Take the wheel off.
Take the outer tie rod nut off. The nut is a 21mm (or 22mm if aftermarket). The top stud crown is a 10mm. It can help keep the stud from rotating… but it probably won’t. If it does rotate, you probably should have replaced the tie rod months ago.
Once the nut is off, loosen the jam-nut towards the inside of the inner tie rod (not pictured).
Next, use a Pittman arm puller to pop the outer tie rod out of the knuckle.
The outer tie rod should now be easy to unthread from the inner tie rod.
Remove the clamps on the inside and outside of the rubber boot that covers the steering ram and inner tie rod. I used a skinny flat-head screwdriver and pried on the ‘mushroom’ portion of the clamp.
Push the white cover sleeve off of the ball joint. Cast it aside once you get the tie rod off – it probably won’t fit the new tie rod, and it doesn’t really serve a purpose.
Below is a video taken by “The Roadie”. This exhibits severe inner ball joint wear.
To remove the inner ball joint, I used a special tool from Harbor Freight.
This will require some modification to fit our over-sized tie rods. Below you can see how much I had to grind away with a die-grinder. I had to grind off maybe 1/8″ from the bore of the inner shoulder and 1/4″ or so from the inside of the C clip (see red arrows). With a little modification, this tool works great.
Use the tool on the tie rod. This will take a lot of torque to break, there is thread locker on the inside threads.
Once the inner tie rod is out, it’s time to put the new one back in. Don’t forget the high-strength thread locker.
Carefully thread it on by hand. You do not want to mess up these threads.
Torque it in with the tool (if this comes out, you lose steering control).
(This picture shows exactly where I used the stock jack to lift the LCA off the ground.)
Place the jam-nut on the new tie rod. If you’re going to compare old jam-nut location to new in order to get your alignment close, measure to the small shoulder-nub with R or L on it. Do not use the threads as your reference, as they can start at different points and be different lengths.
With the jam-nut at the proper location, put the boot over the outer tie rod. Begin threading the outer into the inner. You may want to apply anti-seize to this area. Thread it down to the jam-nut.
Put the outer ball joint into the knuckle and tighten down the castle nut. Don’t forget the cotter pin (if your aftermarket tie-rod has one).
Adjust the alignment, tighten down the jam-nut.
Then move the boot back into place. I used pipe-clamps to secure the boot back in place.
Put the wheel back on, and drive the vehicle around the block to check for any funny steering issues.
You should get a professional alignment done after making a change like this.