One day, after getting irritated by highway vibrations, it occurred to me to shake the tire while it was still on the ground. It moved some, a bad sign in itself, and there was a nasty clicking noise that testified to a loose joint. The question was whether the looseness was in the lower ball joint, which attaches the wheel assembly to the lower control arm, or one of the tie rod joints, that tie the steering knuckle to the rack and provide for steering. So I jacked up the front end of the car, and shook the wheel while it was up in the air. There was almost no movement or noise when I shook it with a hand at the top and the bottom on the tire, but plenty of movement and noise when I shook it with my hands to the left and right, just like on the ground. That told me that the looseness was in the tie rod, but not whether it was the inner tie rod joint or the tie rod end, also called the outer tie rod joint. I took the video at the right, because I just couldn’t see what was happening when I had to shake the tire at the same time, plus I though it made for a neat diagnostic aid.
So, unfortunately, the problem turned out to be the inner tie rod ball joint, where the housing for the rusty joint shown is attached to the piston that comes out of the rack and steers the car. I’ve obviously removed the boot for the picture shown to the left, but it’s a good time to point out that there’s a breather tube running from the boot on one side of the rack to the boot on the other side of the rack. It’s important, because it allows the boots to expand and contract (one is always stretching if the other is compressing) without collapsing or needing to suck air from the outside world. The seals on the rack that keep the hydraulic fluid for power steering from squirting out, wouldn’t last long if there was grit getting rubbed against them all the time, or if the car was parked a long period with the wheel cranked over and the piston rusted.
The first step in replacing the inner tie rod is to remove the tie rod end. It’s basically a three step process, where you start by loosening the jam nut that’s used to set the alignment (toe-in or toe-out). That jam nut determines how far up the inner tie rod the tie rod end is fixed. The tie rod end is hollow and threaded, so it can be screwed on or off the inner tie rod. Any procedure for removing a tie rod will start by telling you to count the turns you unscrew the tie rod end, something that I didn’t do, and I’ll save the explanation for the end:-) After you loosen the jam nut, you remove the cotter pin from the post on the outer tie rod ball joint, and unscrew the nut that holds the ball joint into the tapered fitting on the steering knuckle (video to right). After you pop the outer tie end free of the steering knuckle, you can unscrew the tie rod end. from the inner tie rod, but you need to grip it with something. Inner tie rods normally have some flat surfaces or a splined surface for grabbing with pliers. In this case, I needed two pairs of visegrips and a clamp to hold the visegrips on the inner tie rod from moving in order to get the outer tie rod end broken free and turning easy. That video is below.
I happen to own the shop manuals for my Dodge Omni, so I was able to study the procedure for replacing the inner tie rod in detail. I didn’t follow it for a couple reason. First, they show my type of power steering rack (Saginaw vs TRW) needs to be removed from the car to change the inner tie rod. That’s a lot of extra work, not to mention the fact I buried one of the crossmember bolts in my unibody and flooring repair! So I went with an inner tie rod removal kit from Harbor Freight, manufactured by U.S. General (in Taiwan). The tool is very simple, basically a large steel tub with a snap in opening for a large crows foot insert on one end and a 1/2″ socket drive on the other end. The kit is shown in the photo to the lower left (which I need to replace), and a video of the procedure is shown below. The kit wasn’t quite right for my car, I had to use an oversized crows foot and the ball joint housing on the inner tie rod was too long, so the flats on the housing were barely held with the crows foot positioned by hand at the very end of the tool. But I got it out.
I know the details in the videos get lost from time to time, so here’s a snap shop of installing the inner tie rod, screwing it over the end of the shaft by hand. If you look at the hose clamp I put in place to hold the boot, which isn’t shown here, you can see that breather tube I was talking about above below the screw on the clamp and closer to the shaft. You also get a pretty good look at the flat surface that the crows foot Harbor Freight tool will hold onto to tighten it. It needs to get torqued to 70 foot-pounds. I’ll admit I went with loctite on both the shaft and the thread in the housing and over-torqued it a little by feel without a torque wrench. I was fed up with the instructions by this point because they kept on going on about staking the inner tie rod to the rack for the Saginaw. It wouldn’t have been possible with my replacement tie rod unless I drilled a hole!
The inner tie rod I removed wasn’t staked (never would have got it out otherwise), and neither of the replacement inner tie rods sold by NAPA (TRW or Saginaw types) had holes for staking. The TRW one had a set screw, which comes close to staking but was the opposite of what the shop manual reported. It’s easy to tell the Saginaw from the TRW because the Saginaw has a machined cylinder that slides over the piston end coming out of the rack, the TRW doesn’t. In the video to the left, I’m showing how the inner tie rod is installed by hand, just screwing it onto the end. The video below shows the U.S. General inner tie rod tool back in action to tighten up the inner tie rod. All that remains is to reinstall the boot, and the outer tie rod. But what about the alignment? When I started the job, I took a photograph of the tie rod end position on the inner tie rod, because I don’t trust myself counting and writing down the number fast enough not to forget it. That photo is shown at the bottom. I make it 12 threads to the nut. So with the old inner tie rod in hand, I put the nut in the right place and counted threads out to the end, which came to 24, and that’s how far I screwed on the old tie rod end. The threaded length on a replacement inner rod may not be the same as the old rod, so you have to count from the end, not the middle.
If It Jams Home | The Omni Project | The Rusted Unibody | Cutting the Subframe | Cutting Out Rust | Building a Unibody | Bolt Together | Floor Replacement | Replacing Inner Tie Rod | Replacing Emergency Brake Cable | Replacing Battery Ground | Replacing Car Exhaust | Make a Shift Rod Bushing | Bosch Solenoid Rebuild | Contact