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Heavy-Duty Use Requires Heavy-Duty Parts

Posted in How To on March 1, 2002
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Borgeson replacement steering shafts fit most Ford, Chevy, Dodge, and Jeep applications. The shafts are equipped with U-joints that are much stronger than stock, getting rid of that weak link in the system. They are also telescopic to a depth of about 6 inches so that they’ll collapse in case of an accident. Borgeson replacement steering shafts fit most Ford, Chevy, Dodge, and Jeep applications. The shafts are equipped with U-joints that are much stronger than stock, getting rid of that weak link in the system. They are also telescopic to a depth of about 6 inches so that they’ll collapse in case of an accident.
AGR offers two ways to beef up a steering system: a replacement power-steering pump that flows a greater volume of fluid at higher pressures, and the Rock Ram hydraulic piston that acts like a second power-steering box to boost assist. The pump and Rock Ram combo will fit most Dodge, Chevy, Jeep, Scout, and Land Cruiser applications. Some Ford kits are available, though AGR tells us some Ford models require an upgrade to a Saginaw pump (from an E-series van), as the weak stock pump won’t handle the new components. AGR offers two ways to beef up a steering system: a replacement power-steering pump that flows a greater volume of fluid at higher pressures, and the Rock Ram hydraulic piston that acts like a second power-steering box to boost assist. The pump and Rock Ram combo will fit most Dodge, Chevy, Jeep, Scout, and Land Cruiser applications. Some Ford kits are available, though AGR tells us some Ford models require an upgrade to a Saginaw pump (from an E-series van), as the weak stock pump won’t handle the new components.
Upgrading to bigger steering arms is also a good idea when running serious meats. These beefy pieces are from axle maker Dynatrac and are found on the company’s Dana 60 axles. Not only are they stronger, they’re designed to return the front tires to their proper respective turning (Ackermann) angles. Upgrading to bigger steering arms is also a good idea when running serious meats. These beefy pieces are from axle maker Dynatrac and are found on the company’s Dana 60 axles. Not only are they stronger, they’re designed to return the front tires to their proper respective turning (Ackermann) angles.
While it’s safe to upgrade certain steering components on some vehicles, there are others that need a complete steering make-over to really handle the stress from ’wheeling. Pre-’71 Jeeps and FJ-40-series Land Cruisers have particularly sloppy systems that are best replaced with a conversion, like this Saginaw swap from Advance Adapters. The change-over is not a simple bolt-on, but it will get rid of the stock steering’s free-play. While it’s safe to upgrade certain steering components on some vehicles, there are others that need a complete steering make-over to really handle the stress from ’wheeling. Pre-’71 Jeeps and FJ-40-series Land Cruisers have particularly sloppy systems that are best replaced with a conversion, like this Saginaw swap from Advance Adapters. The change-over is not a simple bolt-on, but it will get rid of the stock steering’s free-play.
A quirk to watch for: Pre-’87 GM fullsize trucks are prone to frame cracking around the steering box. Several companies, including Autofab, manufacture plates and braces to reinforce the area. A quirk to watch for: Pre-’87 GM fullsize trucks are prone to frame cracking around the steering box. Several companies, including Autofab, manufacture plates and braces to reinforce the area.

So far we’ve talked about how a suspension lift and larger tires affect a steering system’s 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 tire’s wider footprint means there’s 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 truck’s 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. It’s 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 won’t 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. AGR’s 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 AGR’s 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 you’re 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 there’s 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 doesn’t 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: Don’t underestimate the importance of your steering system and its impact on your vehicle’s performance. Losing the ability to steer your truck could put you in big-time trouble very quickly. So don’t 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 aren’t worth the risk.

Sources

AGR
817-626-9006
www.agrperformance.com
Currie Enterprises
Corona, CA 92880
714-528-6957
http://www.currieenterprises.com
Dynatrac
Huntington Beach, CA 92647
714-596-4461
www.dynatrac.com
Advance Adapters
Paso Robles, CA 93446
800-350-2223
www.advanceadapters.com
Autofab
Santee, CA 92071
619-562-1740
www.autofab.com
Skyjacker
West Monroe, LA 71294
800/763-8743 orders
www.skyjacker.com
Borgeson Universal Company
Torrington, CT 06790

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