The tripartite AcrAB-TolC multidrug efflux pump of Escherichia coli is the central conduit for cell-toxic compounds and contributes to antibiotic resistance. While high-resolution structures of all three proteins have been solved, much remains to be learned as to how the individual components come together to form a functional complex. In this study, we investigated the importance of the AcrB β-hairpins belonging to the DN and DC subdomains, which are presumed to dock with TolC, in complex stability and activity of the complete pump. Our data show that the DN subdomain β-hairpin residues play a more critical role in complex stability and activity than the DC subdomain hairpin residues. The failure of the AcrB DN β-hairpin deletion mutant to engage with TolC leads to the drug hypersensitivity phenotype, which is reversed by compensatory alterations in the lipoyl and β-barrel domains of AcrA. Moreover, AcrA and TolC mutants that induce TolC opening also reverse the drug hypersensitivity phenotype of the AcrB β-hairpin mutants, indicating a failure by the AcrB mutant to interact and thus induce TolC opening on its own. Together, these data suggest that both AcrB β-hairpins and AcrA act to stabilize the tripartite complex and induce TolC opening for drug expulsion.