Loose, floppy steering is the bane of older Jeeps that are still running the OEM ”Y”-style linkage and pushing 60,000 miles with a decade of driving on- and off-road. Aside from worn-out tie-rod ends, sloppy steering linkage affects a number of things from uneven front tire wear to twitchy steering response under certain driving conditions. The stock steering linkage is also very susceptible to bending from encounters with rocks, high-centering, or making contact with anything else where a little blunt force can easily misshape the small-diameter drag link and tie rod, instantly throwing steering geometry out the window.
Such was the case with a 2006 TJ Unlimited (LJ) that exhibited all the above symptoms of a steering linkage truly in need of an upgrade. Fortunately, Synergy Manufacturing has been all over Jeep steering upgrades since the TJs began coming off the assembly line back in 2005, as well as providing bolt-in replacement kits for late-’80s to 2006 Jeeps including Wranglers, Cherokees, Comanches, and Grand Cherokees.
What makes the Synergy heavy-duty steering special is that it’s robust. The bars are not only 50 percent larger in diameter than OEM (1 3/8-inch verses stock 7/8-inch), but the tie rod is heat-treated 4130 chromoly steel, and the drag link is made from solid 1018 steel that can take a hard hit without fear of bending. In addition, the drag link has double adjusters and the tie-rod ends have opposing threads, so they can be adjusted without removing the tie rod, saving a lot of time doing front-end alignments.
Replacing the OEM “Y”-style steering linkage with Synergy’s heavy-duty version took less than 30 minutes at Dunks Performance, and then we drove it next door to their computerized alignment rack. Synergy’s HD steering kit is one of the best (and easiest) upgrades a Jeep owner can make when it comes to improving overall handling, be it on the street or on the trail.
The company’s newest kit comes complete with a new tie rod, drag link, and new heavy-duty metal-on-metal tie-rod ends with boots made from a stronger material than used on earlier versions. The kit fits Jeeps with up to 6-inch lifts, so we had no problem bolting on the new parts on the Unlimited that already sported a new TeraFlex 4-inch lift. We’ve highlighted the steps in the steering upgrade, along with a couple tips that’ll make your DIY install even easier.
It’s easy to see why the Synergy HD Steering Kit is worthy of consideration when you put the stock OEM Jeep LJ linkage (top) next to the beefy Synergy tie rod and drag link. The replacement rods are 1 3/8-inch in diameter and made of stouter steel to resist damage on the trail.
Freeing the drag link rod ends from the knuckles entailed removing the cotter pin from the castle nut, loosening the nut, then giving the knuckle a couple hard raps with a hammer right where the tie-rod end is press-fit into place. It popped loose the second hit.
Casey Castle, shop manager at Dunks Performance, used the same hard-hammer tap technique removing the tie-rod end from the pitman arm. This LJ just had a 4-inch TeraFlex lift installed, so the tie-rod end popped free easily.
The spindly stock “Y”-style steering linkage is only connected at three points, so it’s a very quick, easy removal even if it is done in the driveway.
Replacing the steering linkage is just as easy as removing the old parts. Synergy’s kit comes with the zerk fittings pre-installed, and the rod ends are noticeably beefier than OE.
In addition to the drag link being a solid chunk of 1018 heat-treated steel, the area around where the tie rod connects is beefed up and recessed to afford more protection to the rod end. Synergy has also upgraded the boot (white) to a harder material that helps minimize flop at the “Y.”
Synergy includes these cool piano-wire–like retainer springs to keep the new boots secured tightly to the tie-rod ends. Synergy recommends torquing the tie rod at the “Y” to 55 lb-ft, and then loosening the castle nut to make sure the end stays firmly in place in the drag link even with the nut loose. If it is, then re-tighten the castle nut until the cotter pin can be put through the slot in the nut.
This LJ needed the steering stabilizer upgraded too, so Castle installed a Fox 2.0 Steering Stabilizer. The Synergy kit includes a special stabilizer bracket to fit the thick drag link, so the fit is an easy bolt-and-go.
Jp Pro Tip: If you have to drive to a local alignment shop, set the toe-in at no more than a 1/4-inch. Castle likes to measure from the same tread blocks front and rear to get the measurement. The front distance should be 1/8- to 1/4-inch less than the measurement taken across the rear of the front tires using the same reference points. This setting is only for a quick trip to the alignment shop.
Dunks’ alignment guru, Richard MacFarland, used a computerized laser-alignment rack to set our LJ’s front-end to perfect numbers so tire wear would be minimized and road manners better than new. It’s amazing how much difference this steering upgrade and alignment made in the Jeep’s overall drivability.