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#1
Old 07-02-2007, 11:48 AM
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Can I replace my own tie rods?

This morning I bought two new front tires for my truck, and asked the tire store to perform a front end alignment. Then I went to breakfast.

They called me about an hour later, saying they replaced the tires but can't do the alignment, because the tie rods on the right front side* have gone bad. Any corrected alignment would go right out again, so an alignment would be a waste of money.

They offered to replace the tie rods and then do the alignment, for another ~$250 on top of what I paid for the tires. I told them no; I'm in no immediate danger, and I want to research this before doing anything about it.

Can I replace my own tie rods for less than this? I'm a handy girl; I change my own flat tires, have replaced coolant and oil, and in the past have done jobs as complicated as replacing EGR valves and, once, an air-conditioning compressor on my own. And I've replaced the brakes in an air-cooled Volkswagen.

*Is "front" redundant? There aren't any rear tie rods, are there?
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#2
Old 07-02-2007, 12:04 PM
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It's usually a tie rod end which fails, that being the joint connecting one portion of the steering gear to another. You can do them yourself, with a few points to note. You'll need to buy, rent, or borrow a tie rod separator tool, which some folks call a 'pickle fork'. It's a big heavy tool with two tapered points on one end to force the tie rod end free, and a large blunt opposing end to whack on with a BFH (Big F***ing Hammer). Replacement typically involves removing a cotter pin from a castle nut, spin the castle nut loose to the end of the threads, place tie rod tool between the rod end and it's mooring, and commence whacking with the BFH. When the joint comes apart, you finish spinning the nut free, then loosen the thread clamp on the rod socket and unscrew the tie rod end, counting turns. Installation is a reversal of the above steps, except you don't beat it together. Instead, the tapered pin is drawn securely into the mating hole by torque applied to the nut, which is fastened with a cotter pin to preclude loosening.

It would be good to include make, model, and year of vehicle in case there's something unique about your ride that Gary T or Rick would wish to point out.
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#3
Old 07-02-2007, 12:10 PM
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I've replaced the tie-rod ends on my '97 Mazda B-series pickup in my in-laws' driveway. It's well within the capabilities of a DIY'er, in my opinion. I did all four (inner and outer on both sides)* - they weren't loose, but the rubber boots had gotten old and brittle, and a couple had ruptured. This bothered my sense of the aesthetic, and I was itchin' to give this job a shot. Learning experience and all that.

I got a tie rod puller from a local AutoZone under their free loan-a-tool program - this thing looked like a two-pronged fork with tapered tines. (Looked very much like this.) Since I wasn't keeping any of the old tie rods, I didn't need to worry about damaging the boots as I whacked that thing in there to pry them off.

I got Moog replacement tie rods from rockauto.com, and installation was a snap. I torqued them to spec, and installed the cotter pins. Added more grease through the zerk fitting as per the instructions after installation (they came pre-loaded with some).

I reused the alignment adjusting sleeves, since I had no reason to believe they were faulty. On the advice of my Haynes manual, I carefully counted the number of turns needed to remove the sleeves from each of the old rods, and installed them on the new ones with that many. This got the alignment close enough that I could drive to a shop without fear, but it certainly wasn't right - you'll need a proper alignment afterwards no matter how careful you are about this.

On preview, I agree with everything danceswithcats says.

* - terminology related to these things varied wildly as I did my research. Outer/inner tie rods, outer/inner tie rod ends, drag links, and several other terms came up - often more than one referring to the same part. I mention this to forestall nitpicking.
#4
Old 07-02-2007, 12:14 PM
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Thanks for the responses so far! I forgot to mention, this is a 2002 Nissan Frontier crew cab.
#5
Old 07-02-2007, 12:21 PM
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Since you didn't mention make or model I've linked to the most popular truck out there, the Ford F-150, 1996.
Installation steps from Autozone.com

You can obviously search for your particular model.
#6
Old 07-02-2007, 12:22 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Fiver
Thanks for the responses so far! I forgot to mention, this is a 2002 Nissan Frontier crew cab.
Oops, your model is too new, Autozone only goes back to 2000 and older.
#7
Old 07-02-2007, 12:24 PM
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Did they mention if it was the inner or outer tie rod?
While you can do the job it can be a cast iron bitch. The tie rod is cone shaped as is the socket it fits into. When the nut on the top gets tightened, the two pieces lock together. When I say locked, together, I mean LOCKED Separating them requires either a tie rod puller or a pickle fork (pickle fork in action) Even with a pickle fork and a BFH* it can be close to impossible to remove a tie rod. Ask me how I know this.
Tightening the nut on the new tie rod can also be problematic if you don't have an impact wrench.
Once it is all done the car still has to have an alignment.
i know you are handy, but unless you have a impact wrench, jack stands, and a masochistic streak leave this one to the pros.





*Big Fucking Hammer
#8
Old 07-02-2007, 12:26 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by danceswithcats
It's usually a tie rod end which fails, that being the joint connecting one portion of the steering gear to another. You can do them yourself, with a few points to note. You'll need to buy, rent, or borrow a tie rod separator tool, which some folks call a 'pickle fork'. It's a big heavy tool with two tapered points on one end to force the tie rod end free, and a large blunt opposing end to whack on with a BFH (Big F***ing Hammer). Replacement typically involves removing a cotter pin from a castle nut, spin the castle nut loose to the end of the threads, place tie rod tool between the rod end and it's mooring, and commence whacking with the BFH. When the joint comes apart, you finish spinning the nut free, then loosen the thread clamp on the rod socket and unscrew the tie rod end, counting turns. Installation is a reversal of the above steps, except you don't beat it together. Instead, the tapered pin is drawn securely into the mating hole by torque applied to the nut, which is fastened with a cotter pin to preclude loosening.

It would be good to include make, model, and year of vehicle in case there's something unique about your ride that Gary T or Rick would wish to point out.
And don't forget replacing the tie rod boot, which the pickle fork will surely tear. And make sure the hammer is big enough; it won't just be slower with a small hammer, but it won't separate the tie rod end at all.

As far as complexity, replacing tie rods is probably in the medium range of driveway mechanic chores, less involved than swapping a transmission but tougher than changing the oil. You might look at some online instructions to see if you are comfortable with this project:

http://extremehowto.com/xh/artic...ticle_id=60252
http://e30tech.com/articles/steering/tierods/

ETA: yeah, what everybody else said.

Last edited by Schuyler; 07-02-2007 at 12:29 PM.
#9
Old 07-02-2007, 12:34 PM
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A few designs have tie rods in the rear, mostly sporty models with sophisticated suspensions. I don't know of any trucks designed that way.

Exact terminology can be important, as can knowing the tie rod configuration, to determine if you can do this. On vehicles with a steering gearbox, it's common to have a tie rod assembly that consists of a threaded TIE ROD (which seldom needs replacing - only if bent or with damaged threads), an INNER TIE ROD END, and an OUTER TIE ROD END. Alternatively, there may be a TIE ROD WITH INTEGRAL TIE ROD END, plus a second TIE ROD END (inner or outer). Replacement of these parts may be within your capability (see below).

On vehicles with a steering rack (rack and pinion type), there's an (INNER) TIE ROD which articulates into the rack, and an OUTER TIE ROD END. Replacing the tie rod itself usually requires a special tool and is probably beyond the scope of most amateurs. Replacing the tie rod end is the same as with the above design.

The above descriptions are per side. In sum, replacing tie rod ends (or tie rods with integral tie rod ends) that are NOT inside a steering rack is doable, replacing tie rods (sometimes called inner tie rods or inner tie rod ends) that attach inside a rack is not.

There are typically two big challenges with tie rod end replacement. First, the end (a ball and socket joint) has a tapered stud that is well jammed into its receptacle. After taking the nut off said stud, it's necessary to use a puller (specific to the task), a separator called a "pickle fork," or a mighty hammer blow (or three) on the receptacle to jar it loose. The second challenge is that often the threading between the tie rod and the tie rod end is rusty and doesn't want to budge. Some designs have a solid rod, needing an open-end wrench on the end and stout pliers or a pipe wrench on the rod; others have a split hollow rod thats needs pliers, a small prybar, or a special tool to turn, plus little clamps that need conventional wrenches.
#10
Old 07-02-2007, 12:41 PM
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"Tightening the nut on the new tie rod can also be problematic if you don't have an impact wrench."

DO NOT USE AN IMPACT WRENCH FOR THIS. Use a TORQUE WRENCH to achieve the proper tightness, and a new cotter pin if applicable.

2002 Nissan Frontier Crew Cabs come in SC, SE, and XE versions, as well as either 2WD or 4WD. Chances are the design is the same for all. For a 2WD SC, my info shows solid rods with inner and outer ends. These are the easiest types to deal with.
#11
Old 07-02-2007, 12:45 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Gary T
2002 Nissan Frontier Crew Cabs come in SC, SE, and XE versions, as well as either 2WD or 4WD. Chances are the design is the same for all. For a 2WD SC, my info shows solid rods with inner and outer ends. These are the easiest types to deal with.
Mine is an XE, and it's the inner and outer rods on the right-hand side.
#12
Old 07-02-2007, 12:51 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Fiver
Mine is an XE, and it's the inner and outer rods on the right-hand side.
Same design as the SC.

It's the inner and outer tie rod ENDS.
#13
Old 07-02-2007, 12:57 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Gary T
"Tightening the nut on the new tie rod can also be problematic if you don't have an impact wrench."

DO NOT USE AN IMPACT WRENCH FOR THIS. Use a TORQUE WRENCH to achieve the proper tightness, and a new cotter pin if applicable.
Yes you are 100% correct, my bad. That's what happens when I post without enough coffee. In the shop we used a air wrench just to snug the joint so the tie rod would not rotate with the nut, and then do a final torque with a torque wrench. Sorry for the confusion.
#14
Old 07-02-2007, 01:37 PM
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As someone who isn't good at car work, I have replaced tie rods and ends on an old '78 Nova myself. It was easy, but those old cars had a mechanical simplicity below that of an IKEA bookcase...I miss cars like that.
#15
Old 07-02-2007, 02:35 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Rick
Yes you are 100% correct, my bad. That's what happens when I post without enough coffee. In the shop we used a air wrench just to snug the joint so the tie rod would not rotate with the nut, and then do a final torque with a torque wrench. Sorry for the confusion.
Heh! I read your post and said to myself, he didn't really mean what he typed.
#16
Old 07-02-2007, 06:01 PM
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You may do it if you wish, but I don't know if you can.
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#17
Old 07-02-2007, 11:15 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Gary T
Same design as the SC.

It's the inner and outer tie rod ENDS.
So, you think that will be (relatively) simple?
#18
Old 07-03-2007, 12:45 AM
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Personally, having spent a month in traction after a tie rod end blew at 60mph, I would recommend leaving front end work to the pros. You have to have it aligned afterward anyway, and in the final scheme of things even two fifty is a pretty cheap insurance policy--once you get the tie rod ends replaced and the front end aligned you'll most likely never have to worry about it again on that vehicle. I've replaced two inner tie rod ends on my van, but I've driven it almost 150K miles and it was no virgin when I bought it.

You can probably get it done cheaper than that--I had one replaced on my Z-24 at Big O and it only cost about twenty bucks for the part and fifty for labor.

Also, if you don't screw the thing on exactly as many turns as it came off your front end will by wallopy as fuck and it will scare the pants off you just driving it to the shop for the alignment.

Whatever you do, do NOT ignore it and hope it will go away!
#19
Old 07-03-2007, 01:01 AM
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I would suggest you get a puller and not a fork: the puller is more slow, sure and steady where using a fork is a bit hit and miss (literally and metaphorically).

Those little buggers can stick. A friend and I working on an old Mark II Jag had about a tonne on one and couldn't budge it. I can't remember what we did in the end: I think we had to cut them off somehow and replace a whole assembly.
#20
Old 07-03-2007, 07:51 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Fiver
So, you think that will be (relatively) simple?
Simple, yes. Easy? Depends on how hard it fights you.

Take the matter of the tapered tie rod end studs. I've seen them break loose from their receptacles with one good (really hard) whack from a 3-pound hand sledge. I've also seen them resist a hammer, a pickle fork, and a puller. It could take seconds to separate one, or it could take hours.

If you plan to try it, I would suggest having a puller available - if you can find a suitable one. Tool rental places should have them, but...sometimes they're of marginal quality, and bend or break before achieving the goal. And most of the ones available are sized for typical American cars, and don't fit properly on the smaller parts used on most imports. The cost of buying a really good, right-sized one (e.g., from Snap-On tools) would eat up most or all of the savings from doing it yourself.

Still, there's probably no harm in giving it a try. All it will cost is your time and perhaps a modest tool rental fee. Arrange to buy the parts after you've got it apart, or verify you can return them if you don't use them. Be careful not to damage the threaded ends of the tapered studs mentioned above, as that could make reassembly impossible (requiring a tow if you can't get them out) and/or increase the work necessary for a shop to do the job (costing you more).

If you decide to proceed, say so and I'll give some tips.
#21
Old 07-03-2007, 09:39 AM
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I'm going to share a sotry about some front-end work my dad and I did on a Dodge Intrepid once, just for perspective. I needed new front wheel bearings on the car. This is a job I had completed before, and with my dad's assistance (just retired with 40 years as a mechanic at Chrysler), I was pretty sure we could pull it off (so to speak).

Well, we got the point where it was necessary to separate the axle from the hub (I beleive you couldn't just replace the bearings, you had to replace the whole hub). The nut holding the axle on was a cast iron bitch to get off. 350 ft-lbs of torque would not budge it. It is a constant-tension nut, so we knew it wasn't going to be easy. We applied a penetrating lubricant and even got it red-hot with a torch, but it would not move. We ended up cutting it off with a dremel tool (which required about 30 minutes of cutting through the wheel hub first, switching off dremel tools so they don't overheat). Then came the time to seperate the axle from the hub.

We whacked it with a sledge. Then we really hit it hard with the sledge. Then we got out a brass punch and I held it with a LONG set of plies while my dad hit the thing Tiger Woods style. We quit when I realized the end of the brass punch started to look like a mushroom.

Finally we had to do more disassembly, remove the entire axle from the car with it conected to the hub, and my dad took it to work to put on a hydraulic press.

The hydraulic press was not good enough, he needed to go to a hammering hydraulic press, and I beleive it was about 5 tons before the axle popped out.

Wow, that day sucked.

Anyhow, the bottom line is: It can easily waste much more of your time than you expect. If this is your only transportation, the 250 is probably worth it, if you can afford it. Most front-end alignments are around 80 bucks anyhow, so you're only paying someone a couple hours of labor plus a pittance for parts. I'd let the shop do it.
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