DIAGNOSE – THE STEERING HAS EXCESSIVE PLAY AND FEELS LOOSE
by Jim Miller
The steering has excessive play. The steering may feel sloppy and may require constant correction in order to keep the vehicle in a straight line.
The usual cause of this symptom is worn suspension components, such as a rack and pinion or steering box. It can also be caused by worn tie rod ends or center link.
A visual inspection of the front suspension will usually uncover the cause of the symptom. The front end is connected to the steering box or rack and pinion through a series of linkages. Most of these linkages contain joints that allow them to move back and forth while still maintaining a direct link to the steering mechanism. If these joints wear, they will become sloppy and allow play in the steering linkage which will make the steering feel sloppy. These joints will require inspection. With the vehicle on the ground, the engine off, the steering wheel unlocked and the parking brake applied, have an assistant rotate the steering wheel back and forth just to the point where resistance is felt. Inspect each part of the steering linkage for excessive play. Each joint should be tight and move together without play. If the joints are in good working order, the most probable cause is a worn steering box or rack and pinion. This can be confirmed my inspecting the action and relationship of the steering shaft to the output steering linkage. There should be very little or no play in the steering gear. The output linkage should move in direct relationship to the input shaft without hesitation.
PRECAUTIONS, TIPS, and NOTES
Special tools and equipment are often required to service the front end suspension components. A front end alignment should be performed after replacement of any suspension component. Do not attempt repairs to the front end or steering components without first consulting a vehicle specific service manual.
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