Upgrading The '94-'02 Dodge Ram
Ahh, night wheeling. Full moon, lights out, a desert wash, and the sound of mud-terrains shushing through the dirt. Then, Wham! Like a shot in the dark, a mischievous 3-foot boulder jumped out of nowhere. We rammed that sucker with our right front tire at about 35 mph, launching the truck skyward, bending the wheel, and even cracking the dash. Worse, we were many miles from pavement, and the output shaft in the steering gear was twisted nearly 90 degrees. Power-steering fluid was barfing from the seal, and thanks to the newfangled serpentine-belt system on the engine, we couldn't pull the belt to bypass the steering pump. By the time we muscled the thing over a hundred miles home, the dry-spinning steering box had totally eaten itself.
It was as good an excuse as any to upgrade all that junk. Besides, our '99 Dodge Ram 2500 V-10 4x4 already had been suffering from that odd steering clunk that many owners of '94-'02 Rams complain about. In some cases that noise can be caused by the flaky slip joint in the stock steering column, and that can be cured using an aftermarket column with double needle-bearing U-joints made by Borgeson (www.borgeson.com), and sold by PSC Motorsports (www.pscmotorsports.com), among others. But that wasn't our problem.
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Instead, even with just 70,000 miles on the odometer, our truck had suffered for years with a junk track bar. The track bar is used to laterally locate the front axlehousing since the Rams use coil-spring front suspensions. The problem is that the ball-type, tie-rod-end-style connector used on the frame end of the bar wears out quickly, causing a thunk and allowing the front axle to wiggle a bit. Dodge figured out the problem in '03-and-up solid-axle trucks and swapped to bushing-style connections at both ends. Meanwhile, the aftermarket has a number of solutions.
First, there's the Luke's Link (www.lukeslink.com), a rebuild kit for the frame end of '94-'02 track bars that includes a fixture that captures the ball socket of the rod ends to prevent loosening. Lindstadt Alignment (www.bellefourche.com/lindstad) also offers lower-cost basic rebuild kits for the track-bar ends. Next came brackets from Solid Steel Industries (www.solidsteel.biz) that allowed the older trucks to convert to the '03-and-up track bar. That same bracket can be used to mount the upgraded aftermarket track bars that are designed for '03-and-up trucks. KORE Performance (www.koreperformance.com) offers an '03-and-up style 4130 chromoly track bar that's stronger than stock to absorb real abuse, and Carli Suspension (www.thecarlisuspension.com) also has an '03-and-up bar with a spherical bearing on one end and a Delrin bushing on the other. DT Pro Fab (www.dtprofab.com) has an adjustable bar with Heim ends. Both '03-and-up bars and '94-'02 bolt-in replacements are offered by Thuren Fabrication (www.thurenfabrication.com), which uses a hardened stainless 1-inch Uniball at the frame end and a Delrin bushing at the other.
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For our truck, we chose the newest track-bar solution, which is from Rare Parts (www.rareparts.com). It uses a stock-type bar modified to include slight adjustability (our truck is stock height) with a threaded-on frame-end housing that is case-hardened and includes a ball joint that is 11/4 inches in diameter for a claimed 47 percent increase in the surface area of the wear components as compared to the stock design.
As for the steering-box repairs, we went with PSC Motorsports, whose beefy off-road boxes we've been happy with. The company offers a number of products for Jeep, Chevy, Ford, Suzuki, and Dodge applications, including ram-assist steering if you need it. We didn't. Our choice was the company's Extreme Duty steering box. More than a standard rebuild, they are honed and trued, and all the internal components are Magnaflux-inspected and are flow-tested before shipping. The Extreme line can be identified by the billet end caps. Our box is the light-valving model (PN SG-841MX), and as the company warned us, it has very light touch and very little road feel. We wanted old-school one-finger steering and we got it. For more of a stock feel, we could have used the standard Extreme Duty model (PN SG-841M). We also used the standard-displacement pump (PN 1390); a higher-flow pump (PN 1490) is available, though it's best for lower-rpm diesels and requires extra cooling. PSC offers those coolers as well as remote-reservoir options for extra capacity and bubble reduction. So now we're all dialed in with easy steering bliss and ready for more night wheeling-with the lights on.