Everything You Need to Know About Tie Rod Ends

tie rod end of a vehicle

Source | Craig Howell/Flickr

You might be thinking it’s time to replace your tie rod ends, or maybe your mechanic laid down the law. Either way, it’s time to first understand the basics, like what is a tie rod end, as well as the symptoms of a failing tie rod end. While failing tie rods can be a serious issue, there are some easy solutions to the troubles you may have with them. Here’s a complete look at everything you need to know about tie rod ends.

What is a tie rod end, and what does it do

Tie rod ends are simple parts that connect the steering rack to the steering knuckle on each front wheel. An adjusting sleeve sits between the inner and outer tire rod ends. When you turn the steering wheel, it transmits that movement through various steering components until the tie rod ends push or pull the wheel and make the wheels turn. Having the ability to turn corners is pretty important, so tie rod ends play a large role in any vehicle’s safety.

Deceptively simple looking, the outer tie rod end hides some internal parts. Here’s a breakdown of the different pieces:

  • The long shaft body passes steering movement to the ball stud
  • The rounded part houses several bearings that give you proper steering movement even while compensating for bumpy roads
  • There’s usually a grease fitting on the back allowing the bearings to spin freely inside the housing
  • The bushing is there to keep road grit out of sensitive internal parts
  • The threaded bolt end goes into the steering knuckle
  • The inner tie rod end straight body connects to a bearing housing. It’s all covered by a rubber protective dust boot
Outer_tie_rod_end

Outer tie rod end, Source | MOOG

 

Inner_tie_rod_end

Inner tie rod end, Source | MOOG

 

Symptoms of failing tie rod ends

  • Uneven tire wear. If the inside or outside tread of your front tires are wearing early compared to the rest of the tread, it can be a sign that the wheel camber is incorrect.
  • Squealing sound from the front when turning. This sounds different from the squeal/groan the power steering makes when low on fluid. A failing tie rod end has more of a brief, high-pitched shriek. This could just be a bad ball joint, so take a look to be sure.
  • Loose steering feel. Also described as clunky or shaky steering, this will feel like a slight disconnect between steering movement and the associated movement in the wheel/tire.
  • Tie rod failure. This is the most severe sign. A broken tie rod causes steering loss, which could lead to an accident. This is why manufacturers take these components seriously and recall a vehicle if there’s a chance they were misassembled at the factory.

How to tell if tie rods are bad

Fortunately, it’s simple to check if the tie rods are bad. Jack up the front of vehicle, using an appropriate weight jack and rated jack stands. Once the wheel is entirely off the ground, check for play by placing your hands at nine o’clock and three o’clock positions (the midpoint of the left and right sides of the tire). Press with left, then right, alternating a push/pull movement on each side. If there is play or slop, it’s worth investigating further. The front is already jacked up, so take off the wheel and have a look underneath.

Right behind the brake rotor and hub, you should be able to see the tie rod end. Inspect it for any damage. If the bushing is torn, odds are road grit has accumulated inside and destroyed it, so you will need to replace the tie rod. If the bushing is solid, reach up and grasp the outer tie rod firmly, and give it a good shake. If it easily moves from side to side, it’s time for replacement.

Preventative maintenance is key

At every oil change, grease the tie rod ends. Look for a grease fitting on the outer edge by the bushing. Clean it off, and use a grease gun filled with the proper grease. The new grease pushes out the old, as well as any collected contaminants and road grit. Sure, it’s an extra step when changing the oil, but tie rod maintenance will delay the need for a tie rod replacement.

If it’s time to replace your tie rods, there is some good news. Since they are wear items that are meant to be replaced, they are easy to find online or in your local Advance Auto Parts store, and they’re affordable and easy to replace. You’d probably want adjustable tie rod ends in your souped-up classic, but the standard replacement parts are rock solid for daily driver duty.

Have any additional tips on tie rod ends? Drop a comment below.

5 Things You Need to Do Before Modifying Your Ride

Did you pick up a classic project car? Or did you simply decide that it’s time to start modifying your current vehicle? Before you kick off the projects, there are a few things you should take care of—especially if you’re planning on adding extra power. Whether you’re working on a 1965 Falcon or 2015 F-150, here’s what to do before modifying your ride.

Don’t be Fred Flintstone

You can’t go if you can’t stop. Adding more power for a faster ride is a wonderful thing, but having the power to stop all that power is even more important. Most factory braking systems are acceptable with factory power levels but become inadequate after modifications.

Look into pad and rotor upgrades at a minimum. Ceramic pads are a great all-around street option, and certainly better than those asbestos pads on your ’50s Plymouth. Modern vehicles mostly come with organic pads offering less health hazards and a cheap price, but opt for composite pads for the best braking possible on the street. While swapping pads, be sure to flush your brake fluid for easy and cheap insurance. If you want to go the extra mile, drilled and slotted rotors look awesome and provide extra cooling for repeated stops.

Stay cool

Speaking of cooling, don’t forget that more horsepower almost always means more heat. On a classic, you’ll want to upgrade the cooling system. An upgraded radiator isn’t cheap, but the price includes peace of mind. Another way to look at it: a better radiator is cheaper than a new engine block.

If you have a heavy belt-driven engine fan, look into upgrading to electric fans. They’re lighter, reducing parasitic power loss, and can increase power and gas mileage. Don’t forget to keep the rest of the vehicle cool. If you’re working with an automatic transmission, you’ll want to look at a transmission cooler. It’s cheap and helps prevent the number one cause of early transmission failure: heat. You can even run a differential cooler, if you like overkill. If your ride is newer, its cooling capacity is probably improved over a classic, but it may be time to flush the radiator with some fresh coolant.

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Get charged up

Electrical systems from back in the day just aren’t up for modern performance. While performing repairs on a classic, go for upgrades in the electrical system. Swap out the old school points distributor for a higher performance and more reliable HEI unit. It’s the same price, easier to find in stores, and will support your higher horsepower goals. For a classic or modern ride, pick up some thicker spark plug wires with low internal resistance. They’ll deliver more bang to the spark plug. Also, just about every electrical part can be affordably upgraded here, so go for the best spark plugs, coil, cap, and rotor that your budget allows.

Tackle those corners

Ignore the suspension, and your street warrior might be a sudden and unfortunate off-roader. Adding power without suspension improvements makes a 1966 GTO just spin the tires and a 2006 GTO have excessive wheel hop. Either way, you aren’t going anywhere quickly.

Controlling all those forces on curvy roads and under hard throttle takes a good suspension. Upgrade your shocks, struts, and springs with more sport-oriented options. Add sway bars for better cornering, or upsize with thicker diameter bars if your current bars are lacking. If your classic is over 25 years old, look underneath at the suspension bushings—you’ll want to replace those crumbling rubber things right away. Performance versions are cheap, but even new factory equipment rubber bushings will be a dramatic improvement.

Under pressure

Tires have improved more in the last 50 years than perhaps any other area of the automobile. If your Packard project came with tubes and re-treads, or your Mustang is running Gatorbacks, it’s time to get some new tires. You can go for a period-correct look, while still increasing grip and hydroplane resistance and decreasing stopping distance. Hagerty recommends new tires if yours reach eight years old, regardless of mileage or tread life. It seems obvious, but these are the only four contact points your vehicle has with the road. Inspect them carefully and budget for a good set of tires.

While this seems like a large checklist, remember that this isn’t a side track distracting from your performance goals. This is about making your ride a better, safer, more reliable, and faster vehicle.

Anything we missed here? Let us know in the comments.

Forefixers: Innovations in Suspension

On the list of things we take for granted, automobile suspension is definitely up there near the top. Without it, every seemingly harmless car ride down an uneven street would have the potential to knock out your fillings. Thankfully, from the earliest coil springs to a height-adjustable air ride, we’ve come a long way. Here are three big milestones in suspension history.

Coil springs

Springs have been around for some time — we’re talking as far back as ancient Egypt, when a form of “leaf ” springs were used on chariots to increase durability and provide a more comfortable ride. But in 1763, a British patent was issued to R. Tredwell for the first coil spring. Also known as a spiral spring, it works by resisting compression and absorbing mechanical energy, like from running over a pothole or bump in the road.

The advantage over the leaf system is that it doesn’t require routine lubricating and other maintenance. Since then, coil springs have been used for everything from furniture to many types of machinery.

Shock absorbers

You might think that shock absorbers absorb, well, shock, but not really. They actually dampen the oscillation of the surrounding springs. Translated into English: After coil springs compress, they would continue to sway for a long time were it not for the shock absorbers that convert that kinetic movement into heat, which is then dissipated by hydraulic fluid inside the unit.

An inventor from France, Maurice Houdaille, is responsible for creating the first examples in the early 1900s. He started receiving requests from across the pond to use his innovation in American-made cars, including the Ford Model A in 1929. He marketed his products under the name Houdaille Shock Absorbers.

Air suspension

Go to any auto show, and you’ll see souped-up cars and trucks looking like they’re literally sitting with the frame on the ground. These hot rods are probably running an air ride suspension. Before tuners were using this type of setup, Mercedes-Benz was already implementing the technology in the 1960s.

The 300SE built on the W112 chassis used an independent cone-shaped air spring on each wheel axle, instead of the traditional coil spring. Valves feed air pressure to inflate the springs, keeping the ride height constant. Later models, such as the W109 300SEL, introduced ride-height adjustability.

The future Forefixers of suspension

Although suspension design has certainly “sprung” forward by leaps and bounds from ancient times, the fundamentals are still the same. The future brings next-level innovation such as adaptive dampening, which was once reserved for exotic sports cars and is beginning to trickle down into passenger vehicles. The Lincoln MKC Crossover, for example, offers continuously controlled damping. Utilizing a series of sensors, driver inputs and road conditions are measured up to 20 times per second, and the shock absorbers are automatically stiffened or softened depending on the setting.

Shocked by how far suspension has come? Leave us a comment.

What to Know Before Replacing Your Own Shocks or Struts

 

Wheel, shocks and struts

Source I Mason Jones

It can be intimidating to think about taking your vehicle’s suspension apart. When you get right down to it, however, it’s probably less complicated than assembling an Ikea bookcase. Doing your own suspension work can also save you many hundreds of dollars. But it’s important to understand a few things before you dive into this project.

Here’s what to know next time your suspension needs a shot in the arm.

Note: This project isn’t intended for the newbie DIYer. Try starting with a few basics like these or changing your own oil to get comfortable under the hood before tackling suspension jobs.

Why replace shocks and struts?

Struts are an integral component of your vehicle’s suspension system, and kind of important if things like handling, stopping, and riding in comfort matter to you. A way to visualize struts is simply to picture a shock absorber and coil spring combination, workingtogether to smooth out bumps in the road. Improved handling, shorter stopping distances, and a smoother ride are the benefits you realize from changing struts.

Air shock absorbers improve ride quality by limiting suspension movement. They also have a direct effect on handling and braking. Worn shocks can make for an uncomfortable ride, but, more importantly, they can compromise your ability to control the vehicle. So, it’s important to keep shocks ship-shape.

How often should I change my shocks?

In general, you should inspect your air shock absorbers every 12,000 miles. Signs that your shocks may need attention include:

  • Diving during heavy braking
  • Wandering on the highway
  • Hitting bumps hard
  • Leaking shock fluid

Struts are wear items that absorb countless bumps in the road, which is why replacing struts on a car is recommended every 50,000 miles.

What’s the difference between shocks and struts?

shocks

Vehicle shocks

The words “shocks” and “struts” are often used interchangeably, but they aren’t the same thing. Each wheel on your car has either a shock or a strut, never both; although, a vehicle may have struts in the front and shocks in the rear. Consult your owner’s manual or speak to an Advance Team Member to be sure.

 

How to replace shocks and struts

We’ll take you through the basics below. If you want a full parts list and more detailed steps, check out these how-to’s on replacing shocks and replacing struts.

1. Check whether you need a spring compressor

On many cars, the struts/shocks and springs are interrelated or integrated, which means you may need a spring compressor to remove the springs. This is serious business: if you don’t remove the springs properly, they can pop off and damage anything in their path, including yourself. You can rent a spring compressor, but make sure you understand how to use it before you do. If there’s one part of the job that could come back to bite you, this is it.

 

2. Securely raise one side of the car

If you’ve got access to an actual lift, great. Driveway DIYers everywhere are jealous! Otherwise, you’ll want to jack up one side of the car at a time, just high enough to get a jackstand under the jack point behind the front wheel.

 

3. Remove the wheel and extract the old shock/strut

The wheel is easy, of course, but getting the absorber out of there may take some elbow grease. If a spring compressor is required for your job, this is where you’d use it. There should be three bolts holding the bottom of the strut in place, which you can loosen with a socket wrench. Up top, the strut extends inside a strut tower with a serious bolt inside the engine compartment. You may need to use an impact wrench with a socket extension to get it loose.

Pro Tip: You may have to hold up the lower control arm if it starts to drop once you undo the lower bolts. Keep an eye on it as you go, and be ready to slide your jack underneath for support.

 

4. Install the new shock/strut

With any luck, this will be as simple as reversing what you’ve done so far. You can use a torque wrench to tighten all bolts to OEM specifications or take the “good and tight” approach. DIYers swear by both methods, so we leave it to your judgment. Once the new absorber is mounted and tightened, put the wheel back on, lower the car, and simply repeat steps 2-4 for the other side.

 

5. Don’t forget the test drive!

When you do work on a vital suspension system, you’ll definitely want to take the car for a slow diagnostic drive afterward. Don’t go careening along a winding road just yet. Take a nice slow spin through the neighborhood, perhaps wiggling the steering wheel now and then to test transient response. If everything seems good to go, consider the procedure a success!

Remember that this article is intended as a very broad project overview. Our how-to’s on replacing shocks and replacing struts go into more detail.

Did you complete this project? Share your tips in the comments.

The Art of the Lifted Truck

Why do we have a love affair with lifted trucks, and why do we raise them up in the first place? For some insight, we turned to an expert in the field of lifting trucks–Chris Dye. Chris is the store manager at Super Trucks Plus LLC in North Carolina. He describes it as “probably Raleigh’s only full custom shop.” Chris and his crew specialize in transforming ordinary vehicles into amazing lifted trucks.

STP lifted truck

Source | Super Trucks Plus

Looks and function… or just looks

“Most people lift trucks to achieve a higher ground clearance,” Chris explains. They do this to avoid bottoming out or getting stuck when driving off-road, and to allow for the fitment of larger tires.

But Chris also confesses, “A lot of people lift ‘em just for looks these days. They’ll take a brand-new truck, lift it, and it’ll never go off-road.”

One of the more popular requests Chris gets is for a six-inch lift with 35’s, with “35” referring to the tire size. These suspension lift kits can start out at four inches of lift and go all the way to 12 inches, or higher. Lifting a truck is more involved than it first appears. Other vehicle parts that get involved with suspension lift kits include independent front suspension, shocks versus struts, drop cradles, larger knuckles and steering geometry.

Going (even) higher

Chris went on to explain that once you maxed out your lift with suspension lift kits, you can still go higher by choosing a body lift. With a body lift, the vehicle body has to be disconnected from every spot it’s mounted to, new spacers inserted, and then the body bolted back down to all its connecting points.

As for height, it seems like that’s more a matter of personal choice. Chris said the highest he’s ever lifted was 26 inches, and that was enough to clear a set of 54’s. In his opinion, the maximum comfortable lift he’d recommend for someone’s daily driver, as opposed to a show truck, is a 12-inch lift with 40’s.

“It’s all about personal preference. If you’re building a show truck, the sky’s the limit,” Chris adds.

Lifted truck from STP

Source | Super Trucks Plus

Get started

“[A leveling kit] is your most basic kind of lift,” Chris explains. “That’s going to take most trucks and lift the front up about two inches, so that the front height equals the height of the rear. This will allow you to go up one tire size from factory specs and gives you essentially two inches of lift.”

Cost is another consideration when deciding how high to lift because the two seem to rise in unison. Chris said that a ballpark cost for a six-inch lift on 35’s is about $5,000 to $6,000. But, he adds, he’s done lift jobs that total over $20,000.

If you’re looking for ideas on what others have done with their lifts, Chris recommends Mud Life and Four Wheel & Off-Road, as well as the online forum at Lifted Trucks USA. And, of course, you can always check out some projects that he and Super Trucks Plus have performed.

What do you think? Have you gotten your truck lifted? Leave us a comment.