So far weve talked about how a suspension lift and larger tires affect a steering systems geometry, and how to fix those problems. But larger tires exact another toll on the steering system: added stress. Not only are the bigger rims and rubber heavier than the original rolling stock, the bigger tires wider footprint means theres more surface area in contact with the ground. So the steering system has to exert more force to control the direction in which the tires are pointed, especially when the vehicle is stopped or traveling at low speeds.
Luckily, there are plenty of products on the market designed to beef up steering components, and they span the entire steering system, from the steering wheel all the way to the knuckles.
If you want to start out at the top of the setup, you can replace your trucks stock steering shaft with a stouter unit. Borgeson, for example, makes a heavy-duty steering shaft assembly that mates a larger-diameter shaft with U-joints at both ends that are almost 50 percent stronger than the stock pieces. Its those stock U-joints, says Borgeson, that are most prone to failure, since they are designed by the factory to be the weak link in the chain. So Borgeson designed its U-joints to match the strength of the shaft, and they wont pop when you try to push your big meats around the trail.
Steering box upgrades are available for both power and manual systems. Before you make any serious steering box changes, be sure to check the frame around your steering box for cracks, especially if you own a 73-87 fullsize GM truck. These models were particularly prone to frame problems around the box, and if left unchecked, the box could snap right off. Several companies, including Autofab, manufacture bolt-on braces to reinforce the area.
To put more power in your power steering, check into replacement pumps. AGRs steering pumps, for example, push more fluid at higher pressures to exert more force on the rods and links. Think you need more assist? Couple AGRs pump with one of its Rock Rams. The Rock Ram is a hydraulic piston, fed by fluid from the steering box, that acts like a power-steering assist box. It adds between 100 and 150 percent more hydraulic force to push the wheels, which can come in real handy when youre trying to muscle 44-inch tires around. Plus, with the Rock Ram in place, your steering box, pitman arm, and drag link are doing less work, so theres less stress on that part of the system.
Items like the Rock Ram do tend to put more stress on links and tie rods, however. So AGR recommends beefing the linkage on CJs and other light-duty vehicles. Several of the suspension manufacturers, and axle specialist Currie Enterprises, make heavy-duty tie rods and steering arms for just such applications. The Currie rods for a TJ, for example, replace the 7/8-inch stock tie rods with 1.250-inch chrome-moly tubes and stouter ends. Skyjacker also builds tie rods with 1.250-inch rods, but with swedged ends that have been hammered down in a die to fit the factory tie rod end.
The steering arms at the knuckles are additional areas where you can add beef. Typically, steering arms are raised to help accommodate lift, but several companies make arms that are just plain tougher than the stock pieces.
Now, those are some of the components you can use to upgrade your existing steering. In some cases, however, you may want to ditch the entire linkage system for something better. Pre-71 Jeeps and FJ-40 Land Cruisers, for example, have so many links and arms in the stock steering that they are prone to tremendous slop and free-play. Advance Adapters makes a Saginaw steering system conversion kit that replaces all the stock linkage, and the steering box, with a much more straight-forward design. This is a fairly complex procedure, not a bolt-on kit, and Advance Adapters recommends it be installed by a pro. But the difference between the old and new steering reportedly is night and day.
Now, space doesnt permit us to include all of the steering upgrades on the market. But these articles will give you a good start in the search for your ideal steering system. Let us leave you with some last words of advice: Dont underestimate the importance of your steering system and its impact on your vehicles performance. Losing the ability to steer your truck could put you in big-time trouble very quickly. So dont leave anything to chance where steering is concerned. Make sure your system is professionally designed, and if you have any doubt as to your own mechanical abilities, have the parts professionally installed, too. The consequences of cutting corners or guesswork here just arent worth the risk.