Thursday, December 16, 2010

DIY: Replace track rod ends/tie rod ends on a Range Rover Classic or Discovery I [RRC/D1]

Fast Facts
  • Time Involved: about four hours, if you're just replacing the track rod ends. 
  • Required Tools: Jack, two jack stands, vise, ratchet, 19mm, 14mm, and 11mm sockets, Pitman Arm Puller, pipe wrench.
  • Recommended Tools: Torque wrench, breaker bar (the bolts can be very much seized on)
  • Parts Needed: new track rod ends (4). Most RRC's will use three right hand and one left hand threaded track rod end.
  • Shop Supplies: a can of PB Blaster and a generous amount of antiseize compound.

About a week ago, I dropped the Range Rover off at Achbach Auto Industries for a 4-wheel alignment. I've known for a long time that my truck had worn tie rod ends (or, as the Brits call them, track rod ends), but had been pushing the matter to the back of my mind and hoping the problem would somehow go away. (Note to self: this tactic never works)

Well, it turns out that they're finally, officially, completely shot. Dan called me and informed me that I had a half-inch of play in my front suspension, and kindly showed me the problem in person with my truck up on the lift. (If you live in Ohio and wreck your car, Achbach is where you take it. Period.) He also noticed that my right swivel housing was profusely leaking grease, which is a major concern since I just replaced the CV joint on that side. "Looks like I've got a project for Winter break," I thought.

I read the pages in the workshop manual describing the procedures to replace my swivel seals and track rod ends, cried myself to sleep, and then woke up and called DAP Enterprises in Vermont. I've known about DAP for a few years, but never ordered from them because they don't have an online ordering system. Turns out I've been missing out: the friendly staff called me twice to make sure they were sending the right parts, shipped them out the same day (Friday), and they turned up on my doorstep on Monday. Great service, and the price was unbeatable too.

Quick Terminology Note: "Track rod" is the British term for "tie rod." Land Rovers have a track rod, located behind the front axle. This is what the steering damper is mounted to. There is also a drag link, mounted to the drop arm on the steering box and to the passenger side swivel ball housing. If either end has worn out links, you should just replace all four when you're down there.

My box of goodies included a host of oil seals and gaskets for my leaking hub, along with four tie rod ends- three right hand thread and one left hand thread.

One of the reasons why I chose to buy from DAP was because their tie rod ends have a zerk fitting on them, so that they can be re-greased. Some people like this, and some people hate it. I prefer parts that have grease fittings, because I go underneath the truck every time I change the oil and grease anything with a fitting on it. For those people who complain about this: honestly, it literally takes five minutes with a $10 grease gun. You don't even need to jack up the truck. Either stop whining, or sell me your Rover and go buy a Honda Civic.

This job requires basic mechanic's tools: jack, jack stands, metric socket set, a breaker bar (or cheater pipe), and preferably a torque wrench. You'll also need a very sturdy vise and a pipe wrench, to extract the track rod ends from the track rod. In addition, many people need to use a propane torch to heat up the parts to get them to come apart.

One thing that I didn't have laying around the garage already was a pitman arm puller. Land Rover specifies that you need a special Land Rover tool LRT-57-018, but pretty much any puller tool will suffice.  I've heard stories of cheap pitman arm pullers cracking and launching shrapnel into the face of the unfortunate operator, so I sprung for a slightly more substantial Danaher KDS2289. The same tool is also sold by NAPA, relabeled as a NAPA Service Tools item, part number SER 2289- but if you can wait a few days, the Amazon price is cheaper.

I pulled the Rover into the garage (15 degree weather=not ideal for driveway work) and put it on some sturdy jack stands. The Rover workshop manual says "site the vehicle on axle stands" - looks like this:

Fortunately, there's plenty of room to do this job. Nothing's really hard to reach, but to remove the track rod end that is underneath the steering box, the steering wheel will need to be turned all the way to the right. You can do this after the truck is up on jack stands and the wheels are off; this way, you won't have the resistance of the tires scrubbing on the concrete.

The castle bolts on my tie rod ends used a 19mm socket. They came off pretty easily; I had soaked them with PB Blaster the day before. Just pull out the cotter pins and remove the bolts.

Once you've removed the bolts from the tie rod ends, it's time to pull them out. This is the fun part, because you get to use your new Pitman Arm Puller tool. It makes a very loud, satisfying BANG when the tie rod end cracks loose. To use the tool, just slide it over the tie rod end as pictured, then tighten the screw until you hear the end come loose. Trust me, you can't miss the noise.

Yes, I have a power steering fluid leak. It's on my To Do list.
Once you have tightened the pitman arm puller tool, be careful. I tightened the screw, then stepped back to shoot this photo. Just after the camera clicked, I heard a loud, shotgun-like noise and the track rod dropped to the floor along with the puller and the wrench I was using to tighten it.

Pop off the passenger side track rod end, and set the assembly aside in your workshop. The procedure for the rear track rod is largely the same, but you'll need to take off the steering damper. No worries, it's super easy. You don't even need any special tools, and this is the perfect opportunity to replace your damper if it's worn out.

Slide a 14mm wrench over the end of the damper and clamp Vise-Grips over the square end- this keeps the shock from just spinning endlessly while you turn the wrench. Any wrench will do, but this is one instance where a Gearwrench-type ratcheting wrench will make your life a lot easier.

Perfect excuse to use my new X-Beam Gearwrenches that I bought at work the other day...
Once the bolt comes loose, just push the damper out of its seat on the track rod and let it hang freely. From there, pop the track rod ends out just like the two on the front. See, it's really not that bad!

In this photo, you can see that the boot on this track rod end is badly torn- a sure sign that it's about to fail.

At this point, I had spent about 40 minutes on the entire project and everything was just peachy. Because both track rods had been removed, I was then able to remove the swivel housing and replace my leaky seals, an entire job in itself which I have documented here.  

Once I finished the seal job, I grabbed the front track rod (actually called a drag link) and squeezed it tightly into a beefy vise that I bought last year to replace my U-joints with.

With the track rod tube securely in the vise, I tightened a pipe wrench down on the tie rod and twisted. To my amazement, it broke free and came right out. "This is unbelievable!" I thought.  Feeling great about myself and wondering what all the other morons who had stuck track rod ends were talking about, I moved onto the next one..... which wouldn't budge.... at all. 

As it turned out, the first end that I removed from the tube was the one that was underneath the steering box. Because of this, it was constantly soaked in a nice bath of ATF. No wonder it came off so easily. The other ends didn't have such good fortune. They were very, very stuck.

I left the whole thing to soak in PB Blaster for a few hours, which persuaded the second front tie rod end to come off. But both ends of the rear track rod were still stuck. Time to bring out the propane torch. At this point, I was rather frustrated and covered in grease and PB Blaster, so there aren't any pictures. Basically I just heated up the tie rod tube as much as possible, then doused it with PB and ATF, then heated it up, and tried to loosen it. After working at it for about half an hour, both finally cracked loose.

To make maintenance in the future easier, I sprayed PB Blaster down into the tube and cleaned the threads as much as possible with a brush. Then, I coated the threads with copper anti-seize compound. Oddly, it was difficult to twist the new ends in once they got close to the end of the thread. I had to put the track rods in the vise to tighten most of the ends down, but they eventually all went in.

Yeah, it's cliche, but re-assembly truly is a reversal of the teardown steps. Tighten the bolts on the new ends to LR Spec (40Nm). If you have greasable tie rod ends like mine, don't forget to fill them with grease!

Once everything is back together, you'll  probably notice that your truck is woefully out of alignment. You can try to fix this like I did, with an elaborate system of string, boards, levels, and tape measures... but if you're like me, you'll just cock it up even more. Save your time... don't try to do a precision alignment in your garage. Instead, do this:

  • If your steering wheel is turned to the right when your wheels are straight ahead, lengthen the drag link by unscrewing one of the tie rod ends.
  • If it's turned to the left, shorten the drag link by screwing one (or both) of the tie rod ends in further.
Check your toe-out setting. Land Rover spec is 2 millimeters- yes, two millimeters- that's why I said you can't do this at home. Basically, your goal is to put your toe within a few eighths of an inch so you can make it to the alignment shop without destroying something. Here's how:

  • on each wheel, using a level, find a horizontal point on your wheel (as depicted in the photo with the dotted line)
  • mark this horizontal point on the tread surface of the tire, exactly in the center of the tread, on the front and the back of the tire.
  • measure the distance between the two tires at the front. Record the measurement.
  • measure the distance between the two tires at the back. Record the measurement. 
  • The difference between the two measurements is your toe- it should be between zero and 2 millimeters. 
You can adjust the toe by lengthening or shortening the track rod. Just get it close so that you can drive to an alignment shop, where someone can use their $50,000 laser alignment machine to get you all set in 30 minutes or less. It certainly is easier than trying to make single-millimeter adjustments in your garage!

With that, you're finished! Enjoy your precise, crisp steering. I never noticed how badly mine were worn until I replaced them. 

1 comment:

  1. This is beyond hilarious.You make the tie rod DIY such fun even in the middle of a blizzard.Congrats for the pix.


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