Taking The Clunk Out of Toyota Pickup SteeringPosted in How To: Suspension Brakes on January 1, 2011
There is little argument that the 4x4 Toyota SR5 is one of the most capable and reliable trucks out there, but nothing lasts forever. Even a Toyota needs some TLC from time to time, or it will become a "clunker."
We recently helped a friend overload her '94 SR5, aka "My Baby," with a cord of dry oak. There was some annoying slop in the steering, and every time we went full right or full left in a tight corner, there was a loud, disturbing "clunk" coming from the front end. Our first thought was bad wheel bearings, or worse.
Our friendly Toyota mechanic at Plaza Tire in Nevada City, California, explained that it was a common problem for this generation of Toyotas, even as tough as they were. There was an easy fix we could do ourselves. With over 210,000 well-used miles on it, our threatening "clunk" was coming from worn-out joints in the idler arm and pitman arm. Both were in sad shape. Some of the squeaky noise might have also been coming from dry rusty steering stops.
This can be a do-it-yourself-in-your-driveway fix, but we opted to watch a professional so that we could pass on the process to our readers. Ron Smith had done dozens of these common repairs on Toyotas and similar vehicles.
To remove the old components, you need two special tools. After taking the rock shield off, Smith removed the tie-rod ends using a pickle fork. With the nut and cotter pin removed, a pitman arm puller was used to persuade the arm off its rusty splines. (Note: Applying a few squirts of WD-40 the day before is a good idea.) Both the pickle fork and pitman arm puller can often be rented from automotive parts houses. We found some for sale on amazon.com for under $10.
Installing the new Moog pitman arm (p/n K9422) is easier than pulling the old one off, but it is important to line up the two scribed lines on the steering box splines and the corresponding lines on the new pitman arm.
Moving to the passenger side, the Moog idler arm (p/n K9424) attaches to the frame with three long bolts. We asked Ron what the torque setting was. "Good and tight" was an easy setting.
Though this was a relatively simple maintenance job that can be done in an hour or so with minimal tools, we wanted to get another 200,000 miles or more, so we made sure the replacement parts were top quality. Moog idler arms have an internal wear take-up spring that absorbs shock and vibration for smoother, safer movement and maximum durability. A patented pressed-in cover plate eliminates excessive play and allows for tighter tolerances. By using a double-tapered bearing design that decreases deflection, they help preserve proper toe setting, and they have a larger bearing surface area that distributes the load more evenly.
Moog idler arms and pitman arms both use powdered-metal gusher bearings designed to improve performance and extend service life. This design allows grease to flow through the bearing to the stud and provides a smooth, durable surface that extends service life.
If you're in your driveway, all that's left is to reinstall the tie-rod ends and the rock shield. While you're lying on your back, dab a little grease on the steering bumpstops.
We were not in the market for new tires, so now was a good time to have an alignment done. We also noticed that the original factory shocks were totally wasted. A pair of Rancho 5000s, (p/n 5145) was a good investment.
Back on the road, and off-road, there was a noticeable difference in the way the truck handled. Steering was tight, and yes, the "clunk" was gone. It was just some TLC that this Toyota had earned.