I hate it when this happens. Somebody gets excited about the idea of owning a Jeep and buys one only to discover he just inherited someone else's mistakes. Jeeps are engineered. There's all kinds of geometry figured into the suspension. You can't just change things to make it "cool". This isn't checkers, it's closer to chess; you have to think three or four moves down the board. If you don't you can hurt someone.
It might take some $$$ to straighten this out. Be patient and don't give up. Don't be surprised if you have to "undo" some things. And don't be afraid to ask questions.
Jeeps are worth it.
I'd rather be lost on the trails than found at home!
it is amazing what a set of new shocks will do for your steering, I removed my old ones and the had none- zero- rebound in them either way. installed the new ones, got in and was ready to take for a test. prayed that I would not die. and off I went. wow wow wow what a difference , took darn near all the wabble or play out. I can drive it now and not feel like im about to wreck.....still need to change the steering stabilizer and maybe add a sway bar but much better.there maybe a 1/4 inch play in the wheel I can deal with that for now but will try to improve it.
A common test for shocks is to bounce the front or rear up and down. Once you stop, it should bounce less than three times if the shocks are good.
The steering dampener is basically a shock. You should feel some resistance as you pull it in and out. If there is no resistance, or it feels "notchy" change it out.
Do you have a sway bar?
Also check for condition of all suspension bushings, U-bolts for looseness, and any play in tie rod ends and ball joints.
bouncing should be 1 bounce and a return.. if it bounces 2 or 3 times or more, then your bouncing on bad shocks!..
I want to die in my sleep like my grandfather, not screaming in terror like the passengers in his JEEP!...
Although everything stated so far is fairly accurate and will negatively affect steering, they don't explain the sudden appearance of the problem. I have had this happen on more than one old CJ, and every time it was due to a bad tie rod. I bet you either hit something that bent it or, more likely, the adjusting sleeve is slipping. Years plus bigger tires plus rust can cause the tierod to get pulled out, like with the force of a turn lyou described. Then when you try to return the wheel to 'straight', one of the tires is actually off at a slight angle. Then you force the steering more to correct, sometimes it slips back in place...but eventually the rod ends up bending under the force. I would check your rod, sleeve and ends before anything else.
check the brake fluid my cj went crazy the other day it almost did a hook shot off the road, and for some dumb reason i popped the cap on the brake fluid reservoir and the front was low causing one of the front calipers to hang up and make it very difficult to drive i do not have a booster and the brake pedal felt the same after i filled and bled the brakes.
it didn't just start, it has done it since I bought it. I did change out the shocks and it made a world of difference but still has some play in the steering. I can drive about 55 and not feel like im going to die but would really like to get it so my wife and daughter could drive it with out being scared .