My esteemed colleague and I spent the weekend overhauling a couple of areas on our friend’s 2000 Toyota 4Runner, a sensible choice for those in the market for a cheap 4×4. Among a laundry list of various odds and ends, we replaced the outer tie rod ends. The challenge was, since we were doing the project at home, reassembling the suspension with enough accuracy so that the old girl could make it across town to an alignment rack without destroying her brand new tires.
If you’re new to the suspension community, a tie rod is what connects the steering knuckle (the assembly containing the brake and wheel bearing) to the steering linkage (rack & pinion or drag link). It is also typically threaded to allow for toe adjustment, which is the angle that the front wheels sit in relation to each other.
Suspension alignment is a precise business so there is no way to get it accurate without the use of some specific (and expensive) equipment. What you can do, however, is take some precautions during disassembly so that once its re-assembled, its alignment is close enough to spec so you can at least move it from your work station to an alignment facility.
For this exercise, I marked the spots where the outer tie rod ends met the inner tie rods before removing them. I then lined up the new tie rod ends with the old ones and spun the new one’s lock nuts to align with the mark I made on the old ones. I finally hit the threaded ends of the new tie rod ends with some spray paint that I found in the garage. I chose florescent pink because it is easy to see.
Once the paint dried, I spun the lock nuts away from the threaded ends and had a clear point of reference for installing the new tie rod ends. The 4Runner still needed a professional alignment to make it perfect but, since the tie rod ends were marked, we were able to safely drive it to the shop without any bizarre handling issues.