Working the steering wheel all day on a Jeep with manual steering can both wear you out and build your arm muscles—and the bigger the tire, the greater the effort. We wanted to change that.
Many of the early CJ-5 models did not come equipped with power steering. This 1976 base model with the 4.2L inline-six engine was one of those, so we wanted to make the conversion over to a power-assist setup. Our original steering components also had a good number of miles on them and were worn from decades of use. Turning the wheel took some good effort, and looseness in the steering components left us with a less-than-precise reaction to steering input.
To do the swap, you’ll need to find some OEM components. We sourced a set of original power steering pump brackets from a salvage vehicle. With our 4.2L engine, we could source from either the I-6 or the 150ci I-4. Those working with a Jeep V-8 would need to source V-8 bracketry. We also purchased two-groove water pump and power steering pulleys from an early CJ. Some of these seem to be harder to find, depending on old Jeep parts availability in your area. Gathering all the mounts and pulleys from a single parts donor may save you headaches later, as there was some variation in belt offsets over the years.
We chose to use a pump from a 1980 CJ with a 4.2L (same) engine and a steering box from a 1980 J20 with a 360ci engine, as the truck box has a variable ratio, offering a bit quicker steering response at the off-center portions of the steering travel. We purchased these remanufactured units at our local auto parts store. There are also GM and similar Saginaw steering boxes that offer quicker ratios, depending on your steering preferences.
While we were doing the conversion, we added a Rugged Ridge heavy-duty steering box mount to replace the weaker factory one and upgraded our worn steering shaft to a new one from Omix-ADA.
When deciding which steering components you might want to use for a conversion, know that the pump and steering box fittings changed for the 1980 models. Previous years used SAE-thread inverted flair fittings, while the later years used O-ring fittings with metric-sized threads. You just need to match the compatible hoses with the pump and box you use.
With the new steering components all in place and fluid added, the system was purged of air and we got to take it for a drive. The old looseness in the steering was gone, and we could easily steer with one hand. The power boost was a welcome upgrade and will be even more of a pleasure on the trail.
We began disassembly by removing the drag link end from the pitman arm and disconnecting the steering shaft from the input of the steering box. Then, the original steering box and its mounting brackets were all unbolted from the frame.
It’s possible to use a variety of Saginaw steering boxes from various cars or trucks, including those originally used on CJ models. We opted to purchase a rebuilt 1980 J20 steering box from our local parts store. It’s a variable-ratio steering box.
Here’s a side-by-side look at the new power steering box (left) and the old manual box (right). The new box is captured with four bolts versus three for the old box. Here also is the Rugged Ridge heavy-duty mount we used compared to the weaker stock stamped-sheetmetal mount.
The Rugged Ridge mount attaches to the power steering box with four studs and necessary spacers to fit it to the side of the flat 3/8-inch-thick steel plate.
The heavy-duty mount attaches to the framerail and front crossmember with a total of six bolts.
Lifting and attaching the new steering box and mount is best done with a helper that can start threading a few of the bolts.
Here you can see the mount in place on the frame. It sandwiches the stock front spring shackle mount. We used a floor jack and ratchet strap to work the shackle back in place so everything could bolt together. The final piece of the Rugged Ridge mount also wraps around the outside of the framerail. We could not use it on this Jeep due to the winch plate that was already in place.
The stock and new Omix-ADA pitman arms are both flat, the same length, and have the same-size tapered tie-rod hole. However, the splined hole is larger on the power steering pitman arm.
With both front tires pointed straight, we found the center of travel of the steering box and installed the pitman arm to the sector shaft. We reused the original pitman nut and lock washer.
We upgraded our worn steering shaft to a new one from Omix-ADA. Our worn stock shaft used a bell-style coupling, while the new one uses needle-bearing U-joints at each end. Our stock steering input was a 3/4-inch shaft, while a CJ power steering version measures 13/16 inch. However, our J20 power steering box also has a 3/4-inch input shaft. The column shaft ends are all the same.
We checked the lower bushing in the steering column while the steering shaft was off but found only minimal play there. The new steering shaft was installed and secured with the pinch bolt.
The lower end of the steering shaft was connected to the steering box with its pinch bolt. The steering was cycled to make sure it traveled lock-to-lock fully and smoothly. The steering wheel was re-centered by adjusting the length of the drag link.
Here are the original pump-related parts we sourced for the conversion. There are the four brackets used to mount the power steering pump and two-groove pulleys for both the steering pump and the water pump.
Finding the correct water pump pulley can be tricky because they were made with several different offsets. If possible, it’s best to pull all your donor pieces from one vehicle to ensure compatibility. One other option in some cases where the pulleys misalign is to use a shop press to shift the position of the pulley on the water pump shaft.
The pulley had to be pressed onto the new power steering pump. We’ve had good luck using a simple kit available from Harbor Freight to both pull and press these pulleys. Our pump has a two-groove pulley, but we won’t need the small groove on this Jeep. It was used to turn an emissions air pump on some models.
Here’s a quick look at the mounts assembled around the pump.
The main pump bracket mounts to the side of the engine block and to the intake manifold. Ours had to be notched to clear the exhaust header. This CJ-5 already had the needed two-groove crank pulley, so there was no change needed there. The inside pulley on the crank and water pump should align to the power steering pump. The outside groove serves to match the alternator.
We attached new Omix-ADA CJ replacement hoses to the steering box and pump. The new hoses are a tight fit under the radiator and next to the framerail.
With the pump mounted and plumbed, it was just a matter of adding the drive belt and filling the reservoir with Red Line synthetic fluid. After firing up the engine, we cycled the steering back and forth a few times to purge air bubbles from the fluid.
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