If your car's steering feels a bit sloppier than usual or if your tires are wearing out faster than normal, then there's a good chance your outer tie rods are to blame. The tie rod ends connect your car's front wheels to the steering rack, making them a very important part of its steering control. Tie rods do wear down with age and use, so it's important to have these steering components replaced as soon as possible.
Trust, but Verify
Keep in mind that bad wheel bearings can have the same symptoms as a worn tie rod end. As soon as you have your vehicle's front end off the ground, you'll want to make sure it's your tie rod that needs attention.
Once the vehicle is off the ground, simply place your hands at the 3-o'clock and 9-o'clock positions on the tire and attempt to wiggle the tire from side to side. If you're able to wiggle the tire, then your tie rod end may be worn out. If you can wiggle the tire up and down instead, that means you'll have to replace the bearings on that particular wheel.
Removing the Old Tie Rod End
Once you've loosened the lug nuts and raised the vehicle's front end off the ground, completely remove the lug nuts and the wheel and set them aside in a safe location. Once the wheel is off, you should be able to see the tie rod end connected to the wheel's lower control arm. Next, look for the nut on the threaded portion of the tie rod end. This connects the tie rod end to the inner tie rod that connects to the steering gear. Mark the current position of the nut with a piece of tape or a white paint marker.
Next, you'll want to locate the castle nut holding the tie rod end onto the lower control arm. The castle nut rests on top of a pin that's inserted through the threaded end of the tie rod to prevent the nut from moving. Use a pair of pliers to remove the pin and then remove the nut with the appropriate-sized socket wrench.
Carefully wiggle and pull the tie rod end until it comes free of the control arm. If it doesn't want to budge, spray a little penetrating lubricant on the threaded end of the tie rod end and let it soak for a few minutes before pulling it again. As a last resort, you can use a ball joint puller to help remove the tie rod end.
Once the tie rod end is free, carefully unscrew the other end of the tie rod and completely remove it from the vehicle. You may also want to note the number of complete turns it took to remove the tie rod end. When installing the new end, you'll want to use the same number of turns.
Installing the New Tie Rod End
Start by threading the new tie rod end into the adjustment sleeve on the inner tie rod, noting the number of turns during the removal process. You can also install the tie rod end up to the marked portion on the threaded adjustment area.
Afterwards, insert the other end of the tie rod end into the lower control arm, making sure the new part's fit comes as close as possible to the original. Torque the castle nut to the vehicle manufacturer's specifications. Use a brand-new pin to secure the castle nut, as the old one may have weakened with time and age.
Reattach the wheels and make sure there's no side-to-side movement and then carefully lower the front of the vehicle to the ground. After the replacement, you'll need to have your vehicle's alignment recalibrated and adjusted by a reputable auto repair shop, such as Jensen Tire & Auto.