How to Grease a Tie Rod with or without a Zerk Fitting

How To Grease Tie Rods

With or Without a Zerk Fitting

A question we constantly get at DST is “How do I grease my Tie Rod Ends?” Some tie rod ends come with a grease zerk fitting installed and some are sealed from the factory with no easy avenue for lubrication. Here we will share some detailed instructions about how to grease your tie rod ends with or without a zerk fitting and how to trouble shoot potential problems.

This is a fairly simple maintenance task that can affect how long your tie rod ends last. Grease is cheap compared to your vehicle so extending the life of the parts that make up your car with some routine lubrication is a no brainer. Some garages will service the tie rod ends during your oil change, but this isn’t always the case, and if your tie rod ends do not have a zerk fitting installed then they won’t be serviced. This article will cover how to grease tie rod ends with or without a grease zerk fitting.

tie rod end with zerk fitting
Tie-Rod Ends with Zerk Fittings

tie rod without a zerk fitting
Tie-Rod Ends without Zerk Fittings

How to Grease Tie Rod Ends with Zerk Fittings

tie rod with a zerk fitting

Tie rod ends have an articulating metal stud that needs grease to keep the movement smooth. One way to extend the life of your tie rod end is to make sure they have plenty of fresh grease to soften that metal on metal contact of the ball and the bearing. A zerk fitting makes this process very simple and gives you an easy way to keep those tie rod ends in good shape.

The general consensus is to grease these parts when its time for your oil change, but garages do not always do this. Also if a lot of water and grime are thrown around under your car you might want to lubricate your tie rod ends more often. Now lets take a look at how to grease those tie-rod ends.

Tools:

So, first let’s talk about what you’ll need…

tools for greasing a tie rod with zerk fitting

  • A Grease Gun – A powered grease gun might be a little faster but you have a much better chance of blowing a seal on your tie-rod end with one. We suggest a manually powered gun.

  • Grease – Always use the suggested grease or a Heavy Duty Lithium Synthetic or Marine grease. These types of grease handle the stress of constant use and will repel water.

  • Flexible Hose – Grease zerk fittings on a tie rod end make the lubrication process much easier but the angles of some zerks are almost impossible to reach without a flexible hose attachment.

  • Rag – Don’t laugh. Cleaning the zerk and wiping away excess grease is an important part of the process. This will keep dirt and debris from entering the joint and collecting in excess grease later.

Instructions:

Now, if your vehicle’s tie-rod ends came with a grease zerk fitting installed, the process of greasing is very simple.

First, you should inspect the dust boot. If you find a problem then you should replace the dust boot since a tear means your grease will leak and contaminates could enter the boot and the smooth surface of the ball will begin to wear leading to failure.

torn dust boot leaking grease

Now, use the rag to clean the zerk to avoid any contaminates following the grease inside. If the zerk is rusted or corroded beyond simple rag cleaning you can use something stronger or replace the grease zerk.

clean the tie rods zerk fitting

Next, attach the grease gun to the zerk. Position the nozzle squarely over the zerk and press down until you feel the “snap” of the nozzle grabbing the zerk. If the coupler on your grease gun is adjustable you can unscrew it a small amount to loosen the jaws to make the connection easier, just remember to tighten it back down before pumping.

attaching the grease gun to the tie rods zerk fitting

* If the nozzle hasn’t connected to the zerk then grease will ooze from between the zerk and the grease gun.

loose grease gun coupler spilling grease

Then, watch the dust boot and give the grease gun a few good pumps until you see the boot begin to swell. It is best not to keep greasing once you see the boot swell since the seal that holds that grease in the tie rod end can be compromised if too much pressure is applied. If the seal breaks you will be replacing that part sooner than later.

greasing a tie rod using a zerk fitting

* Some ball joints have a grease relief valve that will allow old grease to safely exit the ball joint without compromising the seal.

old grease oozing from a relief valve

Detach the coupler from the fitting. This can be difficult but you can loosen the jaws again if you have an adjustable coupler.

detaching a grease gun from a tie rod end

Lastly, clean off any excess grease from the zerk and dust boot. Drive the car around the block and check for leakage.

* If you have a rough commute or hit the trails on the weekend then take your vehicle out on some similar terrain before checking the tie rod end.

cleaning grease off of tie rod dust boot

If you notice your steering wheel is loose and shaky, or that your alignment is off, then your tie rod end is likely on its way to failure or has failed already and should be replaced. Moog’s replacement tie rod ends are an industry leader in longevity and most of their articulating parts come with a grease zerk fitting installed.

Trouble Shooting:

Now lets go ahead and cover the biggest problem most folks encounter with greasing zerk fittings.

How to clear a plugged grease zerk fitting

Few things are more frustrating than knowing a job is going to be a piece of cake and then have something go wrong. You expect the lubrication process to be short and sweet but if grease is oozing out of every connection on your gun when you start pumping then something is definitely off.

plugged grease zerk fitting

You can remove the zerk and try to pump grease through it as a first step but if nothing comes out then your zerk is probably plugged with old hardened grease. Here we will show you a simple way to clear that zerk fitting.

First, remove the zerk fitting and attach it to your grease gun.

remove the grease zerk fitting

Try pumping some grease through the zerk and this will sometimes push hardened grease out of the fitting.

clearing the zerk by pumping grease through

If there is still no grease moving you can take a propane torch and heat up the zerk. This will boil out any hardened grease that is plugging the grease fitting.

using heat to remove hard grease from the zerk

Now just reinstall the zerk and you should be able to get some grease into your part.

Now we will look at some other problems that can come up when greasing a zerk fitting.

  • If grease is escaping from around the zerk make sure the coupler is as flush as possible against the zerk.

  • Keep some pressure on the coupler to make sure the seal between the grease gun and the zerk is tight.

  • NO POWERED GREASE GUNS. You want to be able to “feel” whether or not the tie-rod end is resisting the pressure you are applying and a powered grease gun can easily blow a seal.

  • A Mini Grease Gun simplifies the greasing process when there is little room to maneuver.

  • Grease zerk fittings are made at variety of different angles and you can replace that straight fitting with a 45 or 90 degree angle grease zerk, making terminally hard to reach spots a little easier to lubricate the next time.

  • Zerk fittings can corrode and rust especially when exposed to road salts, grime, or coastal climate and you should consider replacing them if they seem too far gone.

  • BE GENTLE with the zerk fitting when attaching, pumping, or removing the adapter. A snapped zerk can require tools not found in every garage and the process is much more involved than simply replacing the zerk.

And that is how you lubricate a tie-rod end. Pretty simple right? If you want to start tackling this maintenance project at home, DST offers a Grease Gun Combo that includes all the tools we used in this article. If you want to take on a similar maintenance project check out our post on how-to grease a ball joint with a zerk fitting.

Does anyone have any advice that we didn’t mention? Have you had any experiences with greasing a tie-rod end that could be helpful to a beginner? Please leave us some comments or questions in the comments section at the bottom of the page. Good luck!

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How to Grease Tie Rod Ends without Zerk Fittings:

tie rod without a grease zerk fitting

The tie-rods connect your steering mechanism to the wheels, and the joints at the end of those tie-rods do a lot of moving while you’re driving. One way to extend the life of your tie-rod ends is to make sure they have plenty of fresh grease, but how do you lubricate them if there is no grease zerk fitting?

Theoretically, sealed tie-rod ends come from the factory with sufficient grease and are buttoned up tight to keep contaminates out, but if you want to refresh the lubricant in your tie-rod ends you can use a grease gun needle attachment to get past the dust boot and pump some grease into that part. A lot of people have different opinions about whether or not this method actually gets any grease where it’s supposed to go, but if your tie-rod ends are making noises like they need some grease you can accomplish this using a grease zerk needle.

Tools:

Let’s go over the tools that this lubrication method requires…

tools for greasing a tie rod without a zerk

  • A grease zerk needle adapter – A needle fitted with a grease zerk can penetrate the dust boot and introduce grease inside the tie rod.

  • A grease gun – A manually powered grease gun will let you decide how much grease goes into the tie rod and let you know when it is getting full.

  • Grease – Use the OEM suggested grease or a Heavy Duty Lithium Synthetic or Marine grease. These will serve you better and many brands will actively repel water.

  • Flexible Hose – Doing delicate work under your vehicle can be a pain, but a hose can give you much more freedom when trying to get the needle into the dust boot.

  • Rag – To clean the zerk and wipe away excess grease. This will A) keep dirt and debris from collecting around the tie rod end and B) allow any leakage to much easier to spot later.

Instructions:

You don’t necessarily need a grease zerk fitting to get lubricant into that sealed tie-rod end…

With any part protected by a dust boot, you should always inspect the boot. If it is torn or possibly even gone then you need to replace the dust boot and you should consider replacing the entire tie-rod end. Contaminates may have already worked their way into the bearing, wearing the smooth part down and setting it up for failure.

torn dust boot leaking grease

Clean off the boot and joint so you can see what is going on with the boot and the seal when you begin pumping grease into it.

cleaning the dust boot of dirt and debris

Attach the grease zerk needle adapter to the grease gun and this can be tricky so we advise caution. If your coupler is adjustable remember to tighten the nozzle once the needle is on or grease will ooze out from between the needle and grease gun.

attaching the zerk needle to the grease gun

* If you are not careful you could easily be using the rag to wipe up blood instead of grease. If you have an adjustable coupler try loosening the clasping mechanism to make the process easier.

how to attach a zerk needle to a grease gun

Insert the needle into the boot close to where the boot meets the housing to make sure more new grease is getting to the bearing and old grease is being pushed away.

using the zerk needle to bypass the dust boot

Watch the dust boot and pump slowly until it begins to swell. There are some different schools of thoughts here; some say to keep pumping until grease oozes out from under the edges of the boot while others believe once the boot starts to swell you should stop pumping. We suggest going with the second opinion since maintaining the integrity of the boot is important.

how to grease a tie rod end without a grease zerk

Remove the needle and clean off any excess grease. There probably won’t be much excess grease but if there is wiping it away will keep dust and debris from collecting on that extra grease and allow a quicker diagnosis of future problems, like a leaky dust boot or failing seal.

taking the zerk needle out of the tie rod

Lastly, drive the vehicle around the block or down a dirt road if that’s your daily commute. Once you’re back in the driveway take a look at those wiped down joints and see if any grease is leaking. This could mean a busted seal, but if everything looks and sounds in order then congratulations, you’ve just greased the un-greasable.

Symptoms of Failure

Noise is one thing, but if you notice a loose/shaking steering wheel or that your alignment is off then a tie-rod end has probably failed and needs to be replaced. We here at DST suggest Moog Tie-Rod Ends because they are some of the most durable suspension parts in the industry and have many advantages over the stock components that came on your vehicle.

Trouble Shooting

Here are some tips and tricks that will keep you sane and your tie-rod end safe.

  • NO POWERED GREASE GUNS. We’re trying for a feather touch and a powered grease gun can bull rush right through that dust boot without a backward glance. Stick with the hand pump and call it exercise.

  • You can use a weather stripping adhesive or another heat resistant, flexible adhesive to cover the hole you make.

  • Most grease guns come with an adjustable coupler these days but if yours does not then getting one will make any grease maintenance much easier, especially trying to take a needle off of your grease gun.

  • Make sure the needle is clean. We’re trying to keep the contaminates out.

  • This method is more of a stop gap measure if you plan on greasing your tie-rod ends regularly. One or two pin sized holes are not too bad but they will begin adding up. Be mindful of the tie-rod ends and if they start giving you constant problems, grease may not be enough. If you have to replace them consider a tie-rod end with a grease zerk fitting like those manufactured by Moog.

So, if you want to try and breath a little bit of life into those sealed tie rod ends we offer a Grease Gun Combo which contains all the tools used in this how-to. To see another suspension maintenance project take a look at our how-to about greasing ball joints without a zerk fitting.

Has anyone tried this method and noticed a difference in the performance of their vehicle? Are there any helpful tips and tricks that you’ve discovered? Please leave any comments or questions in the comments section below and let us hear about it. Good luck!

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8 thoughts on “How to Grease a Tie Rod with or without a Zerk Fitting

  1. Does using the needle take away from the integrity of the boot? And how many times can you grease it that way?

    1. Great questions Greg,

      1) The simple answer is; Yes. Especially with hard use like off-roading or poor road conditions your tie rods will be moving around a lot and this will cause any breech of the boot to grow over time. You can seal the hole with a weather stripping adhesive, which will reseal the boot and keep grease in and debris out. If the part is just groaning and there are no other symptoms and you think you can get some good miles out of the tie rod end you could replace the stock rubber boot with a universal polyurethane dust boot that will definitely out-last the tie rod end.

      2) I would not suggest using this greasing method more than once or twice. The amount of grease that will actually make its way into the ball and bearing of the tie rod end is unknown, but probably not much. It will likely fix any noises coming from your tie rod end but it won’t fix a part that is exhibiting symptoms of failure. In that case you’re going to have to replace the tie rod to fix those problems.

      So, using the weather stripping adhesive will plug the hole and maintain the boot’s integrity, but this isn’t really a routine maintenance method. Just a way to stop a squeaky tie rod end or get a little more life out of a part that is on its way out.

      Is anyone totally opposed to this method? Even with the hole being sealed after greasing?

      Thanks for the question Greg.

  2. I use a grease needle whenever there is no zerk.
    In fact I once had a U-joint that I could not get a grease gun to fit down into the zerk.
    To grease it I had to remove the drive shaft from the rear axle. Remove the two exposed bearing caps. Then with a larger needle I pumped fresh grease into the U-joint.
    I also added a small dab of grease to the caps themselves in hopes that may force a little bit of gresse into the other caps.
    It did seem to work.

    1. Hey Earl,

      Good thinking using the needle to get that hard to reach U joint. Sometimes it takes ingenuity to get maintenance done on some of those parts.

      If your U joint has a straight zerk, and you think it would help, you might replace that zerk fitting with a 45° or 90° angle zerk. That could give you a better angle to attach the grease gun next time.

      Thanks for the information and keep up the good maintenance!

    1. Hey Dan,

      Great question and one that has a lot of misinformation associated with it. The answer to the first part is pretty straight forward since the NLGI (National Lubricating Greases Institute) has a rating system that lets people know what a particular grease can be used for.

      grease rating

      If the grease rating contains the letters “LB” then the grease has been rated for chassis components and parts such as ball joints, tie rod ends, u-joints, etc. Wheel and axle bearing grease will have the “GC” designation and something that contains both “GC-LB” can be used in either situation. The number at the bottom is the consistency rating that ranges from “000” to “6” with the low end being the most liquid-like and the highest being the most solid.

      The boot question is a little more difficult since not all dust boots are the same. Many “rubber” dust boots are not actually natural rubber but a polymer like Nitrile or Neoprene. They’re similar materials but one of the big differences is the resistance to petroleum based products which makes the polymers a more suitable material for a dust boot. That said, without asking the manufacturer what the boot for a specific part number is made of you don’t really know what you’re getting. I just spoke with the Garage Gurus and they assured me that any chassis rated grease is not going to have adverse effects on Moog dust boots, but I can’t vouch for this being an industry standard.

      If you’re worried about the rubber boots breaking down you could try a universal polyurethane dust boot. Polyurethane is much more resistant to wear and other elements, such as heat or road salt that can break down rubber, and will almost certainly last the life of your vehicle.

      Thanks for the question Dan. Hope this was helpful.

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