Replace Tie Rod Dust Boots
The job of a dust boot is to keep dirt, water, and debris off the swiveling joint of a tie rod or ball joint. Over time, the boots crack or rip, and need to be replaced before all the grease under the boot comes out.
Do I Need To Re-Align My Car After I Remove Tie Rods?
If you only need to replace the tie rod dust boot, all you need to do is separate the tie rod from the steering spindle. You don't need to remove it from the center link. So, as long as you're not removing the tie rod (or the sleeve), you're not affecting the alignment.
Most of a car's alignment is front end toe-in and toe-out, which is achieved by turning the outer tie rod into (or out of) the adjusting sleeve. So, if you're not removing the tie rod from the steering spindle, the car's alignment will not change.
Best Way To Remove Tie Rod End From Spindle
Holding the tie rod onto the steering spindle is a cotter pin and a castellated nut. Before trying to remove the nut, take a wire brush and clean off any exposed threads.
One of the most common ways to remove a tie rod is with a Tie Rod Separator, commonly called a pickle fork. The process is simple; place the tool between the two parts and strike with a hammer to separate.
Shown in the picture below is a similar but wider Ball Joint Fork.
Another way is to draw the tie rod off with a two-jaw puller. This tool has other uses as well, such as removing pitman arms.
Before you try removing anything, grab a can of WD-40 or a similar penetrating fluid and generously spray the parts to be removed. Let them soak for a while.
The longer the penetrating fluid soaks, the better it works. If you have a stuck tie rod that doesn't want to move, sometimes a gentle rap with a hammer will help.
Replacement Dust Boots
Companies like Energy Suspension and Dorman make replacement dust boots for tie rods and ball joints.
Shop: Tie Rod Dust Boots
Although these companies offer many types and sizes of replacement boots, you may not find one listed for your vehicle. If that's the case, measure your old one (if there's anything left) and look for one as close as possible.
Here's a link to Energy Suspension's Dust Boot Chart
Stay away from so-called "split boots" that do not require tie rod separation to install. These are a short lived, temporary repair at best.
After the new boot is on and the tie rod re-installed, fill the boot with grease through the zerk fitting with a grease gun. The grease prevents dirt, water and debris from getting into the joint.
Dust boot replacement is much cheaper than replacing the entire tie rod end or ball joint. If you catch a damaged boot early enough, you can simply remove the old boot and install a new one. But if you're not sure of a component's age, replace it for safety's sake.
If you plan on doing front end service work, Orion makes a nice five-piece tool kit. Included is a ball joint separator, ball joint remover, tie rod remover, pitman arm puller, and pitman arm and tie rod puller. Heavy-duty plastic case included.