When a steering box fails--can it be too tight, not too loose/sloppy??? - JeepForum.com
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post #1 of 5 Old 11-12-2010, 07:06 AM Thread Starter
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1999 TJ Wrangler 
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When a steering box fails--can it be too tight, not too loose/sloppy???

I'm about to share a fair bit of background info, but before I do I'll cut to the chase and ask the main question I'm trying to find out. If a steering box/steering gear were to fail, is it possible for it to do so and be too tight rather than too loose or sloppy???

Now then, here's the background info:

I own a 99 TJ that has been my daily driver for the last decade. It has 172,000 miles on it. Until very recently everything has been stock--no lift and no big tires.

I did lift it recently, but before talking about that let me comment on changes that started happening during the last set of tires I had on. From roughly the 119,000 mile mark until 170,500, I was running a stock-sized set of Michelin's. They were great tires, but along the life of them I began noticing two different problems--both of which I thought were related to the tires but now I think may be related to steering issues. The first was a vibration that I was told was probably from where I had gotten off schedule rotating my tires. The second was a really sketchy feeling at the wheel, almost like the whole Jeep was going to just slide right out from underneath me at times. This second problem was especially more noticeable in the rain, but it became more and more noticeable the older the tires got, so I just assumed that it was because they were getting some wear on them and were slick or whatever. Or, perhaps it was a combination of that and a high-mileage stock suspension.

Well, I made do for as long as I could--got 52,000 or so miles out of that set of tires. I'd told myself that when they were shot I'd lift the Jeep and put me some bigger tires on it, make it into more of a toy. I did that about three weeks ago or so. I'm now running 33x12.50 BFG All Terrains on a 3.25" Rough Country suspension lift. The lift and tires were done by a professional four wheel shop, not an at home job.

So, I get it lifted and it looks great and I'm happy. Then I get in the Jeep and drive out of the place and the odd sensation of feeling like it's going to slide out from under me in curves is still there, as is the vibration.

Now, some would say "That's just a Jeep--you've got big tires now, it's higher up in the air, and it's got a short wheel base. Get used to it." Well, I'm a reasonable man and I realize that you can't take a hairpin curve at excessive speed in a lifted TJ. But, again, this problem started before the lift, and I owned the Jeep from the time it was brand new off the lot--I remember the days when it handled a lot better, and I'm convinced that there is something wrong that, if repaired, would make it drive a lot better.

So, I've spent the last week or so reading tons of info on this forum and other Jeep sites. I've read about ball joints and steering components, drop pitman arms and unit bearings, and how all of that stuff can cause the type of problem I'm describing, or in really bad cases death wobble.

That said, I took it back to the shop that did the lift. They checked it over and found three things that could be contributing. I had a motor mount that a bolt had come loose on--the mount was not broken, just loose. They tightened that up free of charge. They also pointed out that I have a bit of excessive play in my steering shaft (evidently there's a bearing in there somewhere), but they said that the shaft is supposed to have a little bit of play, but that mine was maybe just a smidge more than normal. Finally they said that the upper ball joint on the driver's side is a smidge bit loose, but the boot is not cracked or ruptured or anything like that and the guy that does the alignment said that while it had a slight bit of play in it it was far from what he would consider a "bad" ball joint that needed to be replaced.

That was the diagnosis from the shop. I wanted my shade tree mechanic cousin to check it out to verify their suggestions before spending the money to have anything done. He's not a professional auto mechanic, but he is a professional hydraulic maintenance worker, and he's knowledgable enough that he could make a living at it. He thought that the ball joint was surely not the problem, and that he agreed with the shop about the steering shaft, but that it still shouldn't be so bad as to cause me to feel all that uneasy at the wheel.

He decided to adjust my steering box for me to see if taking some of the "slop" out of the gear would accommodate for the little bit of play in the shaft. He tightened it up a bit and we took it for a spin. Tightening it up made it worse. We both drove it in with it tightened, and with it like that it was easier for me to explain my problem to him--everywhere we went, you had to overcorrect the steering to keep it in the lane. You'd come out of a curve and it would seem to be going straight, then you'd have to overcompensate and steer it back the other way a bit to keep it from darting off the road--like the alignment was off, basically, but it would do it both ways now that the steering box was tightened up. But--and this is key--even in this condition there was still a slight vibration in the wheel.

So, we decided to adjust it back down. He ended up taking it all the way down as far as it would adjust, and then we test drove it again, and with it adjusted as loose/sloppy as it would go, there was still a little bit of that darting sensation.

All that said, again, my question is, when a steering box/gear fails, can it fail by being too tight rather than too loose or sloppy????

If so, here's what I'm thinking has happened that explains all of the above. Somewhere over time my steering gear started to fail by tightening up. About the same time (and maybe because of the steering gear tightening up) I started to get some play in the steering shaft. This caused a vibration that can be felt in the wheel, and it also caused it to be harder to steer, leading to bump steer, having to overcompensate coming out of curves, and that general feeling of feeling like it was going to slide out from under me. Obviously if that was the general sensation of driving the Jeep that tightened feeling would be more noticeable in the rain, too. But, all this time I had just chalked it up to being a problem with the suspension and/or tires--that my tires were worn funny or something and that is where the vibration came from, and that they were getting some age on them and that's why they were a little slick and made me feel like it wouldn't take curves good. Obviously new tires and new suspension should have fixed that, but it didn't.

Soooooo....I'm about to have a steering box and steering shaft replaced, but I thought that before I did I'd ask for comments here. I was under the impression that for a steering box to fail it HAD to be that the box would be too loose, not too tight. If I'm wrong then my theory about the box being the problem makes sense, but if there's no such thing as a steering box failing from being too tight, then that's something I need to know before I shell out the cash for a new steering box.

Thanks for any help you all can offer.

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post #2 of 5 Old 11-12-2010, 07:49 AM
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post #3 of 5 Old 11-12-2010, 10:57 PM
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i skipped the novel..
Too much preload will kill the box faster than not enough preload.

'97 zj 5.2, some stuff, some other suff, and some things that even work sometimes.

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post #4 of 5 Old 11-22-2010, 09:47 PM Thread Starter
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This thread hasn't gotten many replies, but it has gotten quite a few views, so I thought I'd write a post sharing what I found out since I first asked the question.

I think ratmonkey's post above was a fancy way of saying "Yes". I learned that a steering gear can indeed break in a way such that the gears tighten up and get stuck. What that means is that your steering can get harder to steer and dart both left and right and that can be related to the steering gear failing. If this is your problem, though, be sure to check out other steering related posts, as things like unit bearings and ball joints can also cause similar issues.

In my case I did indeed need a steering gear. I also learned a few other things in the process:

1) I mentioned that my steering shaft seemed to have excessive play in it. I later learned that ALL TJ steering shafts have this play in them. Here's a little info on that: The lower intermediate shaft (that attaches to the steering gear) has a universal joint on the steering gear end and a bearing/bracket assembly on the other end where it attaches to the upper shaft. When we first wiggled that steering shaft we assumed that perhaps the steering bearing was bad. After pulling the shaft, though, we found that the mounting bracket that the bearing rides in was very, very loose. The bearing/bracket assembly is only sold as a part of the lower intermediate shaft, not separately. I was able to get my local Jeep dealer to find a dealer in Indiana who had the complete assembly in stock, so we called them and asked them to see if the new part had any play in it. I talked to the parts man in Indiana myself, and what he was describing was exactly the same situation as the amount of play that I had in my bearing/braket assembly. Bottom line here: Don't freak out if you grab hold of your steering shaft and it seems to wiggle a lot. It's meant to do that.

2) I had already come to the conclusion that the steering gear was the majority of my problem, but I also had a persistent vibration in the steering wheel. That is why I wanted to pull the shaft and get to the bottom of the play in the shaft. When I took the shaft to the dealer to ask about the play in the bearing, a technician suggested that the vibration could be caused by a power steering line being "grounded" and touching either the frame or something else. I went back to look to see if that was the case and the lines weren't touching anything at all--but then I happened to look at the shaft itself and realized that there was a worn spot where the metal looked polished. The power steering lines had been rubbing against the shaft all this time, and so any time I would make a turn the engine vibration would be felt in the wheel. That said, if you have a vibration in your steering wheel, check your power steering lines to see if they are touching anything, including the steering shaft.

Hope this info helps someone out there.
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post #5 of 5 Old 11-22-2010, 11:32 PM
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Well you have a rag joint in the steering shaft that can go bad. Does your wheel have play before it actually moves the truck?
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steering , steering box , steering shaft

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