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Replacing A4 Tie Rod Ends
 
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Pelican Technical Article:

Replacing A4 Tie Rod Ends

Peter Bodensteiner

Time:

3 hours3 hrs

Tab:

$200 to $300

Talent:

***

Tools:

Jack and jack stands, 13mm, 16mm,19mm and 22mm open-end metric wrenches, sockets and ratchet handle, torque wrench, penetrating lubricant

Applicable Models:

Audi A4 (1997-01)
Audi A4 Quattro (1997-01)

Parts Required:

New tie rod ends and replacement nuts and bolts

Hot Tip:

You can avoid needing to reset your car's front end alignment if you're careful

Performance Gain:

Remove slop from steering

Complementary Modification:

Replace brake pads, replace upper control arms, spring and shock replacement

By my count are at least five different ball-type joints in the somewhat complex B5 A4 front suspension. They are all subject to wear and tear over time, but the ones that seem to give the most trouble (by failing the earliest) are the joints that connect the upper control arms to the suspension knuckle or upright (see upper control arm article) and the joint that is part of the outer tie rod.

The ball joint at the end of the tie rod connects the steering rack to the front suspension knuckle, a.k.a., upright, and thus transmits steering input to the wheel assembly. The steering rack in the B5 A4 is mounted high, above the transmission and below the cowl--unlike many cars that have the rack mounted low--so the tie rod joint is at the top of the front suspension knuckle.

Now, a bad ball joint is not always easy to diagnose. The usual symptoms are clunks or other unusual sounds that accompany suspension movement, or sloppy steering feel. If you have those symptoms you have a problem, but figuring out which ball joint is to blame can be more difficult.

Audi owners know from experience that the upper three ball joints are the most likely culprits. Unless you can easily see excessive movement in the joints when you manipulate the various links, the best way to get a real sense of the condition of any of these joints is to disconnect them and then compare their movement to that of a new joint. A new ball joint should have a little initial resistance to movement but then should move freely throughout its entire range of motion with moderate pressure. A bad joint will either be seized and nearly impossible to move, or it will flop around with little resistance.

This is the right-front suspension, with a focus on the area of the tie rod.
Figure 1

This is the right-front suspension, with a focus on the area of the tie rod. The steering rack emerges from the oblong hole in the center of the photo, and the rubber bellows covers the area where the tie rod (which consists of two parts, inner and outer) connects to the steering rack. In the foreground you can see the outer end of the tie rod where it connects to the upright.

A closer look at the middle of the tie rod shows the area where the outer tie rod, a.
Figure 2

A closer look at the middle of the tie rod shows the area where the outer tie rod, a.k.a., tie rod end, threads into the inner tie rod. This photo is taken from above, looking down. The visible threads are part of the tie rod end. The toe alignment of this corner of the suspension is adjusted by threading the outer tie rod less or more into the inner tie rod. The red arrow indicates the end of the inner tie rod, while the blue arrow is pointing to the jam nut that runs on the threaded portion of the outer tie rod.

It's hard to get a good visual measurement of the length of the exposed thread of the tie rod end because of its location near the top of the wheel well.
Figure 3

It's hard to get a good visual measurement of the length of the exposed thread of the tie rod end because of its location near the top of the wheel well. But this measurement is a good thing to have, as it will allow you to set the new tie rod to roughly the same spot and avoid the need to have your car re-aligned. I used some clay to get a physical representation of this measurement.

Then I used the clay to thread the jam nut in the proper location so that the front-end alignment would change as little as possible.
Figure 4

Then I used the clay to thread the jam nut in the proper location so that the front-end alignment would change as little as possible.

Hold the inner tie rod with a 19mm open-end wrench (red arrow) and loosen the jam nut with a 22mm wrench (blue arrow).
Figure 5

Hold the inner tie rod with a 19mm open-end wrench (red arrow) and loosen the jam nut with a 22mm wrench (blue arrow). You don't need to thread the nut too far, just enough to allow the tie rod end to move when it's time to remove it.

Here's a close-up view of the two fasteners that connect the tie rod end to the upright.
Figure 6

Here's a close-up view of the two fasteners that connect the tie rod end to the upright. The top fastener (red circle) is a 13mm bolt threads into the end of the portion of the ball joint, which inserts into the upright from below. The 16mm nut in (blue circle) is a self-locking nut that should be replaced and torqued to 37 ft-lbs. As you can see, these fasteners can get rusty, so some penetrating lubricant may be needed.

Remove the top bolt.
Figure 7

Remove the top bolt. It shouldn't be too tight--the replacement tightening torque is only 62 in-lbs.

As you remove the bolt, you can just see the end of the ball joint below the washer (darker metal indicated by red arrow).
Figure 8

As you remove the bolt, you can just see the end of the ball joint below the washer (darker metal indicated by red arrow).

This nut is at the end of a bolt that pinches the end of the upright to hold the ball joint in place.
Figure 9

This nut is at the end of a bolt that pinches the end of the upright to hold the ball joint in place. The bolt itself has a D-shaped head, and a portion of it interferes with the ball joint in order to keep it from rotating within its bore at the end of the upright.

In theory, once you remove the nut you should be able to remove the bolt from the upright and then push the ball joint down and out of its bore.
Figure 10

In theory, once you remove the nut you should be able to remove the bolt from the upright and then push the ball joint down and out of its bore. In my case the components were just too rusty and frozen in place.

I resorted to a pickle fork, a simple ball-joint removal tool, to attempt to get the joint loose.
Figure 11

I resorted to a pickle fork, a simple ball-joint removal tool, to attempt to get the joint loose. In retrospect, I think the pinch bolt needed to be removed before I could push the ball joint all the way down and out of the upright because of the way the pinch bolt interfaces with the joint. Unfortunately, I was unable to remove the pinch bolt because it was so rusty. In any case, if you remove the pinch bolt and the ball joint is still stubborn, you can use a pickle fork like this to remove it--it will probably damage the ball joint, but if you're doing this project, you're already replacing it, right?

This photograph of the new tie rod end shows the recessed portion of the joint (red arrow) where the pinch bolt passes alongside, holding this end of the ball joint in place while the joint inside the rubber boot does the work of moving around with suspension and steering movement.
Figure 12

This photograph of the new tie rod end shows the recessed portion of the joint (red arrow) where the pinch bolt passes alongside, holding this end of the ball joint in place while the joint inside the rubber boot does the work of moving around with suspension and steering movement. Installation is the reverse of removal






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