What It Takes To Reliably Turn Big Tires - Steering You Straight
Running 37's on our 2006 Dodge Ram Megacab
If you have been paying attention, you know that here at 4-Wheel & Off-Road we like big tires. A lot. Our trucks don’t always like them as much as we do though, particularly the front end components. Dodge/Ram Heavy Duty trucks are notorious for wearing out suspension and steering parts, which can lead to the dreaded “death wobble,” where the entire truck starts shaking violently. We didn’t want that to happen with our new 37-inch Pro Comp Xtreme MT2 tires, so we worked with Offroad Power Products on a game plan to ensure that our ’06 Megacab could handle whatever situation we put it in. In this case, fitting the tires was the easy part. Making the truck live with the bigger tires was another story.
Problem: The knuckles on late-model 3⁄4- and 1-ton trucks use a one-piece unit bearing that cannot be greased or maintained, and the bearings are close together, which subjects them to high radial loads.
Symptoms: To check for bearing wear, lift one corner of the vehicle and grab the tire at the 3 and 9 o’clock positions while someone holds the steering wheel to keep it from turning. Rock the tire back and forth looking for any sign of movement.
Our Solution: We ordered up new Timken unit bearings from Rock Auto. The unit bearings came complete with wheel studs and ABS lines, resulting in an easy installation. The unit bearings are not left-right specific either, and with the low cost from Rock Auto we were able to afford a third unit bearing that we keep in our truck as a spare.
Alternate Solution: Dynatrac’s Free Spin Kit replaces the unit bearings with a fixed spindle, serviceable bearings, 35-spline stub shafts, and manual hubs. This kit is significantly more expensive than replacing the unit bearings, but it also results in improved mileage. The Free Spin Kit stops the front driveline from rotating when the hubs are not locked. The CV on the front driveline of Ram trucks has been known to seize up on trucks with over 100,000 miles on them, often taking out the transfer case in the process.
Problem: Ball joints are one of the most critical components of any steering and suspension system. They act as the pivot between the steering knuckles and are subjected to enormous loads, particularly when larger, heavier tires and wheels with less backspacing are installed.
Symptoms: Loose or worn ball joints can cause poor handling. They can be checked by grasping the wheel at the 12 and 6 o’clock positions and checking for movement.
Our Solution: We ordered Moog offset ball joints from Rock Auto. These high-quality joints allow us to add back some of the caster lost when we previously installed lift coils. They are greasable, strong, and very affordable from Rock Auto.
Alternate Solution: Dynatrac produces ball joints from heat-treated billet steel that are not only stronger than stock but also rebuildable. The Dynatrac ball joints are not offset, but adjustable control arms, such as those available from BD Diesel, offer a wider range of adjustment than our offset ball joints to fine-tune the caster angle.
Problem: The Cummins engine can propel Ram trucks to amazing speeds, but they were never meant to fly. The engine weighs approximately 1,100 pounds, which to put it in perspective is more than double the weight of an aluminum V-8 engine.
Symptoms: Once the axle is bent it tends to take out other components in short order. Bent front axles can result in steering wander, abnormal tire wear, and leaking axle seals, and are often visible from the front of the vehicle with the tires exhibiting excessive camber.
Our Solution: Artec Industries manufactures axle trusses for a wide variety of applications, from JK Wranglers to Ford 8.8 axles swapped into TJ Wranglers. Artec’s AAM axle truss ties all of the suspension bracketry together and has gussets for the inner knuckles to prevent them from bending.
Alternate Solution: Axletube sleeves are available that provide more ground clearance than the Artec truss but do not address the issues of bending knuckle Cs or tearing suspension brackets off of the axletubes.
Problem: Many of the front end issues in Ram trucks are a result of having to survive below the heavy Cummins engine. The steering box is no exception, and the long sector shaft and bearings are subjected to huge forces.
Symptoms: As the bearings in the steering box wear they result in slopping steering and wander. If you have a Cummins-equipped truck make every effort not to turn the tires while the vehicle is at a stop.
Our Solution: BD Diesel offers a steering box brace that essentially captures the sector shaft in double sheer with another attachment point below the pitman arm. The brace spans between the framerails to eliminate frame flex or any unwanted movement in the steering box. This was the easiest product we installed. If you have a Dodge Ram this should be your first upgrade.
Alternate Solution: Diesel Power Products offers an upgraded Mopar steering box with a larger sector shaft and upgraded internals. The BD steering box brace will still work with the Mopar box, although new hardware is required.
Worn Tie-Rod Ends
Problem: Ram HD trucks use a steering system in which the drag link connects to the passenger-side knuckle, and then the tie rod connects from the driver-side knuckle to the drag link. The inverted-Y steering allows the tires to scissor inwards and out, causing the steering wheel to turn uncontrollably and the tires to cup.
Symptoms: Worn tie-rod ends result in slop in the steering and are not serviceable. Check for play in the steering system by having someone turn the steering wheel slightly from side to side while you look at each part of the steering system for movement that does not translate into tire movement.
Our Solution: Synergy Manufacturing recently introduced a Dodge steering upgrade with bolt-on installation that is superior to stock in every way. The drag link and tie rod are 200 percent stronger than stock, and the tie-rod ends are both stronger than the factory components and easy to replace, should that ever be necessary.
Alternate Solution: ’09 and later Ram HD trucks came from the factory with inverted-T steering, which uses a tie rod that connects the two steering knuckles together. This is better than the inverted-Y but still not serviceable and not nearly as strong at the Synergy steering.