So you want to improve your vehicle’s steering? This can be accomplished with a rack and pinion conversion. Read this article for step-by-step instructions on how to make your vehicle steer better.
- Support the vehicle securely on jack stands. Never support it using only a jack.
- The next step is to remove the old steering system; you will need a pickle fork to separate the tie rods loose from the steering arms. The entire system may be removed as a single unit (including the steering box shaft) if you are careful and there is enough clearance. In some really old vehicles, that has a one piece steering box/steering column you will have to cut the steering column and shaft off the steering box. If you are determined To remove it as a single unit you will have to disassemble the steering wheel so the shaft can slide out the column. Make sure the vehicle is raised high enough in the front for this maneuver. If you are cutting the column, cut it midway between the steering box and the firewall.
We recommend the application of Lock-Tite® high strength thread lock on all threaded applications except for the power steering hose fittings. Also, use grade 8 fasteners whenever possible. You can never be too careful!
- After the old steering system has been removed you can install the mounting brackets. The driver’s side bracket mounts to the place where the power assist ram bolted to the frame, if so equipped. If your vehicle did not come equipped with power steering you may need to install the threaded inserts into the bottom side of the frame.
Next, bolt on the driver’s bracket using two 3/8 bolts or whatever size the factory would have used for the power steering option. Consult the appropriate repair manual for this information and torque specification.
- Install the passenger side bracket in the factory idler arm location. Again using 3/8 bolts , flat washers and nuts that were in this location originally, again consult the repair manual for the torque specs.
- Attaching the tie rod bracket to the rack and pinion unit usually requires metric bolts, flat washers and lock washers. Place the flat washers between the bracket and the rack and pinion, which may compress the rubber boot -this is normal. It is entirely possible to mount the bracket upside down so be sure you have it right the first time. Place the lock washers under the bolt heads and use Lock-Tite® high-strength thread Locker on the bolt threads. Torque to 60 ft/lbs.
- Center the rack and pinion unit by turning the pinion all the way to one side and then counting the number of turns until it stops on the other side. Divide that by two and turn the pinion in the other direction that amount. The rack should now be centered.
- The mounting clamps slide over the rubber mounts on the rack and pinion unit. It is easier to align the passenger side mount before you slide the clamp over it. Once the clamps are in place you can bolt the rack and pinion to the passenger and driver’s side brackets using four 5/16-18 bolts. Don’t forget to use flat washers under the heads of the bolts and Lock-Tite® on the threads. Torque to 20 pound/feet’s.
- Screw each tie rod end with jam nut onto the tie rod sleeves the same amount. On the opposite end of each sleeve, thread the remaining 5/8” rod ends with jam nuts. Now, attach the 5/8 inch rod ends to the tie rod bracket using 5/8-18 x 1.5 bolts and lock washers. Use Lock-Tite® high strength thread locker and torque to 50 pounds/feet.
- To set a ball-park alignment, measure the overall length of the old steering system. Measure from the center of each outer tie rod, and then adjust the tie rods on the steering rack to match your measurement and tighten the jam nuts against the sleeves. To adjust the tie rods, use the supplied bump steer spacers. Start with half of them above and half of them below the tie rod end. As needed, adjust the spacers so the tie rod matches the angle of the lower control arm with the vehicle on the ground. When attaching the tie rod end to the spindle, torque the 15/16” nylock nut to 50 pound/feet.
Note: In some cases, the flange above the taper may not seat against the spindle -this is OK.
- Install the u-joint assembly onto the rack and pinion. Position the setscrew on the round part of the shaft so that is lined up with the indent on the pinion shaft. Also be sure that the shaft ends do not protrude into the inside of the u-joints. Before you completely tighten the first setscrew, tighten the one that sits on the flat of the pinion first.
- When installing the new steering column, you must use the stock column clamp and insert the supplied rubber isolator. Notch the rubber in the center of one edge to clear the tab on the clamp. Now, trial fit the column in the vehicle to determine the depth it is to be installed. The main body of the column should extend approximately ½inch on the engine side of the firewall. Also, when placing the column in the clamp take care to align the turn signal and tilt controls to your preference, usually at 9:00.
- Check the firewall bracket for fit. You may have to drill some holes in the bracket to align them with existing holes in the firewall. The column should be inserted so that the firewall end is as close to the engine as possible.
Now note the tabs on the inside of the large hole in the bracket should be bent in towards the interior of the vehicle. Use sheet metal screws inserted thru the tabs to attach the column to the firewall.
- Slide the firewall bracket on to the end of the column then place the upper half of the stock column clamp and install the column using the necessary bolts. Next, slide the u-joint onto the end of the column before you bolt the column in securely.
- Column wiring: A Corresponding Packard Electric connector has been supplied with the steering column so the vehicle’s wiring can be adapted to the new column. The steering column wiring will have the following color coding that corresponds to the connector supplied.
- Column Connector:
- White “P” Brake Lights
- Dark Green “N” Turn Signal (Right Rear)
- Yellow “M” Turn Signal (Left Rear)
- Purple “L” Turn Signal Power
- Brown “K” Hazard
- Blue “J” Turn Signal (Right Front)
- Light Blue “H” Turn Signal (Left Front)
- Black “G” Horn
Check to make sure the functionality of the stock column mashes the stock wiring color codes to each particular function before you disassemble the stock wiring and column.
- Horn relay: A relay must be wired into the horn circuit before it will function properly with this type of steering column. Simply supply fused 12 volt power to the center terminal on
the relay then connects the black wire from the column to the left side terminal. The right side terminal is connected directly to the horn.
- Now, tighten the setscrew on the upper u-joint. Turn the steering from side to side wheel to check for smooth operation of the u-joints. If binding is encountered (stiff spots felt every 90 degrees of rotation) adjust the steering column by sliding it back and/or move the u-joints on the shaft to reduce the angle on the binding u-joint until rotation is completely smooth. It is imperative that smooth operation is attained. Driving with binding u-joints will wear them out prematurely.
- Next, the power steering hoses can be attached to the rack and pinion unit. The lower port on the rack and pinion unit is the high-pressure port. The high-pressure hose is threaded on both ends. For the rack and pinion end be sure that the fitting has an o-ring installed on it before attaching the hose. Extras may be attached to the rack with a zip tie. Torque to 21 pound-feet. The low-pressure hose also needs an o-ring on the rack and pinion end. Torque to 13 pounds-feet and carefully route the hoses away from exhaust components or anything that may become hot. Connect the high pressure hose to the threaded fitting on the power steering pump and connect the return line onto the nipple and secure with a hose clamp.
- Power steering fluid recommendations: Run standard GM Power Steering Fluid if (the rack is GM sourced). Do not run
Ford PS fluids that double as transmission fluid, unless you are using a Ford rack and pinion system, these contain detergents that can damage the GM rack seals. For those who prefer synthetic fluids you may switch to Royal Purple Synthetic after 1000 miles, but it is not required.
- To bleed the system, turn the steering wheel all the way to the left. Now, add fluid to the “cold” mark on the dipstick. Next, turn the steering wheel back and forth 3 or 4 times. Start the vehicle and allow it to idle. Add fluid to the “cold” mark as needed. Now turn the steering wheel side to side until there are no more bubbles. Keep checking the fluid level frequently while proceeding. Let the engine run for a few minutes. Add power steering fluid as needed. Now replace the cap and shut off engine. Note: If the fluid level rises after the engine is shut off, this means there is still air in the system. Repeat the steps above until all air is out of the system.
- Now re-check every bolt and nut to be sure all are tight. Please note, when checking for tightness, if the connection was assembled using Lock-Tite® and the nut moved during the check, you have just removed the thread locking component of that assembly. Reapply the Lock-Tite® and continue on to the next fastener.
- Test-drive the vehicle at low speed for a short period. Check every bolt for tightness again. When the engine is at operating temperature check the power steering fluid level. If necessary, fill to the “hot” mark if needed.
- The last step is to have the front end aligned and re-check all bolts for tightness after the first 100 miles.
This article is the intellectual property of Simmons BOSS CREATIONS. Any reuse of the contents must include the following attribution:
Marcus Simmons, ASE Certified
Simmons BOSS CREATIONS
Phone: (248) 461-6977