Nuts & Bolts: Homebrew Ram Assist
Homebrew Ram Assist
I have a 1978 Bronco on 37s with lockers and find it difficult to turn the tires in four-wheel drive on the trail, especially in Low Range when the tires are up against an obstacle. I looked around online and read a thread where I could drill and tap the steering box to run an auxiliary steering ram similar to the aftermarket units that sell for big bucks. I drilled and tapped the box, sourced a hydraulic ram, mounted it, and hooked everything up. The good news: I have a lot more steering power on the trail. The bad news: It's ridiculously slow. It's like the pump doesn't kick in unless I move the steering wheel really slowly. It's almost dangerous to drive around town because it's so slow. What did I do wrong?
Homebrew ram-assist how-tos are all over the internet, but unfortunately none of them tell the full story. Assuming you drilled and tapped the box correctly (because the system works), the first thing would be to make sure that you have the appropriate diameter and stroke ram for the application. Which length ram you need depends on which front axle you have, and yes, the recommendations are different between a Dana 44 and a Dana 60.
But the bigger issue is likely with the steering box and steering pump. Unfortunately, it's not as simple as drilling and tapping a stock steering box and expecting it to feed an auxiliary steering ram in addition to providing steering assist from the box itself. Several internal modifications need to be made to the box in order for it to handle the additional fluid volume required to feed a steering ram. Unless you really know what you’re doing, tearing into a power steering box is not a good idea. Then there's the matter of the pump. The P-pump that is likely on your Bronco was never designed to supply both the steering box and a ram in stock form, and if everything else is just right, it doesn't have much capacity beyond what it was designed to do, at least in stock form. In short, there's a reason off-the-shelf ram-assist kits cost what they do—there is more to them than meets the eye. FYI, PSC Motorsports (pscmotorsports.com) will sell you a complete system and all the components that are designed to work together, while the folks at West Texas Off Road (westtexasoffroad.com) will help guide you through building and customizing the system for your needs and will also make the necessary modifications to your stock box, or put together a full system for you.
We are all about low-buck in this magazine. If there is a shortcut available that can save you some money, we'll be the first to tell you about it. Unfortunately, this is a situation where the forums have it wrong. There's a lot to a properly designed ram-assist system, including a lot of necessary internal component modifications that are beyond the abilities of most shade-tree mechanics. Steering and brakes are two things never to skimp on. Trying to patch together a homebrew ram-assist steering system for something you intend to run on the street is just like buying used tie-rod ends at a swap meet: It's a bad idea, so don't do it.