From time to time in the maintenance and restoration of our British cars, we all must face the need to remove one or both of the tie rod ends from the steering arms. The occasion may be that the ball joint portions have become severely worn and must be replaced to cure sloppy steering and/or loss of proper wheel alignment. At other times, we may simply need to remove them as a step toward accomplishing some other goal, such as correcting the toe-in, replacing the rubber steering rack boots, or doing other repair to the front suspension or steering.
The tie rod ends consist of a ball joint screwed onto an extension of the rack and-pinion steering unit, and a tapered fitting that mates with a tapered hole in the steering arm. A nut and cotter pin or self lock nut assure the tapered pieces will stay together. The simplicity of design and ease of access to these units do not foretell the difficulty that may be experienced in their removal by the weekend mechanic.
Before you begin the removal process, be sure to clearly mark the position of each tie rod end on its steering unit extension, so that it can be replaced in exactly the same position. If this is not done, you will have to adjust the wheel toe-in at the time of reassembly. Of course, if the tie rod ends or other steering/suspension components are being replaced, you will be wise to check the toe-in in any case.
The first step in removal is deceptively obvious. Simply remove the cotter pin and back off the nut from the bottom of the unit. If you expect something to happen at this point (like the tie rod end coming free) you will probably be very disappointed. In fact, if it does come off easily, you probably have a very worn hole in the steering arm and it will have to be replaced along with a new tie rod end assembly.When the tie rod end is installed, the tapered fitting is drawn very tightly into the tapered hole in the steering arm by the act of tightening the nut that you just removed. It is actually a force fit. This is necessary to ensure that the steering movement occurs in the greased ball joint where it belongs and not at the tapered fitting which would cause rapid wear.
There are several met hods that you can try in order to extract the tapered fitting from the steering arm. Most are aided by a good dose of patience and a cheerful attitude (at least at the start):
1. Many shop manuals instruct you to remove the unit using a “proper ball joint extractor tool”. Most of these resemble a very large fork with two tapered prongs that you are to wedge in between the joint and the arm, in order to pry the unit out of the tapered hole. The trouble is that most of the “proper” tools available at your local auto parts store are probably too wide for the small tie rod ends on your MG TD or other British vehicle. If you’re lucky enough to have a proper tool of the proper size, by all means use it.
2. Another technique that is sometimes recommended is the two-hammer method. One hammer Is placed against one side of the steering arm at the hole and the opposite side is sharply rapped with the second hammer. The theory is that this temporarily distorts the hole, popping the unit out. Although this apparently works at times, or for some people, most of us mortals have a higher probability of winning the state lottery and using part of the winnings to buy a car that doesn’t need the tie rod ends removed.
3. If the lit isn’t too tight, it may be possible to simply tap it out by backing the nut off to the end of the threads (to protect the male threads) and striking the nut from below with a hammer. Normally this isn’t too productive and you are risking damage to the tie rod end unit and possibly bending the steering arm. Application of heat from a torch to the steering arm at the hole may help, but you will probably destroy the rubber seal in the process, possibly set the grease on fire, and will most certainly bum your fingers when you forget that the whole area is now very hot.
4. If you have access to a small wheel or gear puller such as would be used for steering wheel removal, this may be your salvation. Most of us normally think of a’ puller as “pulling” with the outer arms. But by the laws of physics, in order to pull with the arms, it must also push with the screw at the center with the same force and this force just might push the tapered fitting out of the steering arm.
Here’s a technique that worked well for me recently on my MG TD when I had given up all hope, short of purchasing a special tool made to fit my car. Back off the nut at the bottom of the tie rod end, just far enough that about half the thickness of the nut has come off the threaded male part of the tie rod fitting. Place the center part of the puller Into the hole in the nut and against the threaded portion of the fitting. The nut forms a receptacle that will keep the center of the puller from slipping off the male threaded piece when force is applied by tightening the screw. Insert the arms of the puller between the tie rod end and the top of the steering arm on opposite sides of the hole and begin screwing in the center part of the puller. As you tighten,the tapered joint becomes more and more stressed and at some point after sufficient force has been applied, the unit should suddenly break free with a pop. The nut that you left half way on will stop the unit from coming all the way out of the hole when it hits the bottom of the steering arm. All that remains is to simply remove the nut the rest of the way and lift out the tie rod end.
Now that you have the pesky tie rod end removed from the steering arm. It would be a good time to do all the maintenance and restoration work needed in the general area so that it will be a long, long time before you have to face that tapered fitting again.
By Ray Glabach