If you’re tired of replacing bent tie rods or tie rod ends on your JK Wrangler off-road rig, it’s time for a Jeep JK tie rod upgrade.
Overlanding is fun, but it puts your Jeep’s suspension directly in harm’s way. Crashing over a rock or stump can easily leave your tie rod bent and deformed, ruining your alignment even to the point of making your JK virtually undrivable on the road. Thankfully, over the years, the Jeep Wrangler has amassed a huge number of aftermarket parts providers, many of whom design and manufacture beefed-up, heavy-duty components to remove some of the Wrangler’s biggest weak points.
Below, we’ve compiled a list of the best Jeep JK tie rod options on the market, from affordable cold-rolled steel units to hardened, heat-treated chromoly units that can take an insane level of abuse before failing, at a variety of price points to suit any budget.
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1. Editor's Choice: Doetsch Off-Road Heavy-Duty Jeep JK Tie Rod Kit
While chromoly steel tends to be the material of choice for the Jeep JK tie rod upgrade, aluminum alloy has its own unique set of virtues that make it a compelling alternative. This Doetsch Off-Road Jeep JK tie rod upgrade is made from 1.5”-thick 7075 aluminum alloy – a material that Doetsch calls a “memory metal” in the sense that even after being bent, it will automatically return to its original shape. That makes it just about perfect for off-roading, where even a slight miscalculation can result in a bent or deformed tie rod. The tie rod is fitted with greaseable 1-ton heavy-duty ends, and the best part of all is the price; this tie rod sits more than $100 below the likes of other chromoly tie rod kits found in this list, and even offer a limited lifetime warranty.
2. Runner Up: Synergy Heat-Treated Jeep JK Tie Rod Kit
A Jeep JK tie rod upgrade that can really take a beating, this heat-treated Synergy rod is a fantastic choice. It’s made from 1-3/8” 4130 chromoly steel, which is supremely strong, resistant to deformation, and exhibits great corrosion resistance, as well. The rod is heat-treated as part of its production routine, rendering it a staggering 200% stronger than the factory unit and making it, according to the manufacturer, the strongest Jeep JK tie rod on the market. No more bent tie rods resulting from unfortunate brushes with rocks off-road. Neither the cheapest nor the most expensive tie rod upgrade on this list, the Synergy unit is one of the most celebrated, with scores of glowing customer reviews.
3. TeraFlex Jeep JK Tie Rod Kit
When it comes to tie rods for the Jeep JK Wrangler, strength is the name of the game, and the TeraFlex Jeep JK Tie Rod Kit has it in spades with heat-treated 4140 chromoly steel construction and a seriously beefy 1.6” outer diameter. Compared to 4130 chromoly, 4140 has a higher carbon content and, as a result, even more strength and hardenability, so while everyone claims to have the “strongest” Jeep JK tie rod upgrade on the market, TeraFlex might actually be right about theirs. Of course, with the extra strength comes extra cost; this Jeep JK tie rod upgrade is among the most expensive we’ve ever seen, reserving it for only the most serious, hardcore off-roaders.
4. Rugged Ridge Heavy-Duty Jeep JK Steering Kit
Even if you’re on a budget, beefed-up Jeep JK tie rod upgrades are within reach thanks to offerings like this one from Rugged Ridge. Rugged Ridge is a well-known and respected brand in the off-roading community, and this combination tie-rod/drag link kit is a perfect example of why. Coming in at less than any other tie-rod upgrade kit on this list, the kit includes a heavy-duty one-ton tie rod and drag link that are formed from 1-1/4” inner-diameter DOM steel tubing – tough as nails, and not as costly to produce as heat-treated chromoly tubing – with no seams or weld lines to fail. It’s easily the best value on this list, saving you hundreds vs. a chromoly Jeep JK tie rod upgrade and shipping with a five-year manufacturer warranty.
How Do You Adjust A Jeep JK Tie Rod?
After you’ve upgraded your Jeep JK tie rod, precise adjustment is necessary to ensure that your front wheels have the proper toe setting, where “toe” refers to how far inward or outward the wheels are pointed. The JK Wrangler requires a certain amount of toe-in, where the wheels are both aimed slightly inward from back to front, in order to deliver adequate on-road driving stability and even tire wear. (Front wheel toe-in is common to most RWD vehicles.)
The good news is that adjusting Jeep JK tie rod ends is relatively easy; you should defer to the seasoned professionals at an alignment shop if you’re not 100% confident in your own abilities, but so long as you have a keen attention to detail and you know how to swing a wrench, Jeep JK tie rod adjustment is something you can do at home.
Adjusting your Jeep JK tie rod involves three major steps: unlocking the tie rod end so that it’s free to be adjusted, turning it either by wrench or by hand to adjust its length relative to the tie rod, and locking the end into its new position. But depending on which Jeep JK tie rod you have, the means of locking and unlocking the tie rod end can vary. Some tie rod designs have a split where the end threads into, with a fastener above the split that draws both sides together, pinching the rod end and locking it into place. Others are a bit simpler, with a jam nut threaded onto the tie rod end that must be loosened from against the tie rod. In that case, you must take care to apply counter-torque to the tie rod as you pop the nut loose.
Once the tie rod ends are loose, they are adjusted by turning into or out of the tie rod. Fine-pitch threads on the tie rod and the ends mean that as the rod end is spun, either by hand or by wrench, it extends or retracts to adjust the total length of the tie rod.
While we recommend taking your Jeep in to a shop for final alignment after installing new Jeep JK tie rod ends or an all-new tie rod, you can get it in the ballpark yourself by measuring the distance between the front tires, both at the front of the tires and at the rear. Get a friend or family member to help and, using a tape measure, measure the distance from the mold seam on the rear of the passenger’s side tire to that on the driver’s side, and then take the same distance on the front of each tire. Ideally, the tires should be just slightly further apart at the rear – 1/16 of an inch, and certainly no more than 1/8”. With the steering wheel set to dead center, adjust each tie rod end equally until this is achieved.
A word of caution: an improperly adjusted Jeep JK tie rod can have a drastic impact on your vehicle’s drivability. An off-center steering wheel, for instance, can confuse your Wrangler’s traction control system, prompting it to activate seemingly at random in a vain attempt to bring the wheel speed in-line with where the steering wheel is pointed. But even if your steering wheel is nice and straight relative to the front wheels, too much toe-in or toe-out can cause excessive tire wear, and toe-out can even make your Wrangler darty and unstable at speed. If your Wrangler ever feels unsafe to drive after installing a new tie rod, seek assistance from a professional.
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