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How to Adjust Power Steering

by Chris Stevenson

Drivers often complain that their steering wheel feels loose and that it has too much "play." Vehicles that "wander" down the road, unable to maintain a straight track, are a source of frustration, not to mention a road hazard. Many vehicle owners believe that excess steering wheel slack indicates a problem with the steering pump, steering column, or rack and pinion housing. Not so. Adjusting the steering box can be easily done with a few tools to bring the power steering play back into acceptable limits.

Use a floor jack to raise the front wheels of the vehicle off the ground and place a jack stand under each side of the frame. Raising the vehicle makes the job easier by relieving the load bearing off of the steering linkage. Block the rear wheels with chocks and set the emergency brake. Place the vehicle transmission in neutral, whether manual or automatic type.

Move the steering wheel back and forth gently until it stops at both ends--left and right. Use a ruler to mark how many inches it travels from one end to the other. If you have more than 1 inch travel, you have too much "free play." Raise the hood and look at the rear of the engine compartment next to the firewall on the driver's side. You will see the long rack and pinion steering housing protruding out of the firewall and joining with a large gear box. The steering gear box contains a worm gear that takes up the slack in the steering play. A small screw and lock nut sit on top of the gear box called the "worm gear" adjustment screw.

Select the proper wrench to loosen the lock nut. Only loosen it enough so that it remains slightly snug. Take a large, slotted screwdriver and place it on the top of the screw. Turn it 1/4 turn clockwise then tighten the locking nut using mild pressure.

Examine the play in the steering again, using the ruler to measure the travel distance. If you have reduced the play, you have made progress. Loosen the locking nut again and turn the adjusting screw another 1/4 turn clockwise to further reduce play. Follow these steps until you have reduced the steering wheel play to about 1 inch. Then tighten the locking nut, using a torque wrench to seat it to manufacturer's specifications.

Lower the vehicle with the jack from the jack stands and take it for a test drive.

Tip

  • If your vehicle uses the old Ford-Saginaw design, turn the adjusting screw all the way out. Disconnect the pitman arm on the steering linkage underneath the car. Then, adjust the sector shaft end play by inserting the proper shim between the adjustment screw and the top of the sector shaft. Replace with the manufacturer's recommended shim thickness after you have removed the old one. Set the gear mesh load by fitting an inch-pound torque wrench on the input shaft nut. Torque this nut to factory specifications. Replace the adjusting screw and run it down until it seats on the preloaded bearings. Adjust it to remove the free play, using 1/4-inch turns until only an inch remains in the steering wheel play.

Warning

  • Do not over-tighten the worm gear lash adjustment screw. The bearing may freeze and lock up the steering.

Items you will need

About the Author

Chris Stevenson has been writing since 1988. His automotive vocation has spanned more than 35 years and he authored the auto repair manual "Auto Repair Shams and Scams" in 1990. Stevenson holds a P.D.S Toyota certificate, ASE brake certification, Clean Air Act certification and a California smog license.

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Photo Credits

  • ford mustang's steering wheel image by Lario Tus from Fotolia.com