Done in a Day: DIY Jeep Steering Column Fix

    Electrical and mechanical repairs were easy to do on this 1976 Jeep CJ-5 steering column

    Jay KopycinskiPhotographer, Writer

    The keys were already prone to falling out of the ignition and the lock cylinder had been acting flaky for quite some time. Also, the turn signal switch would only work in one direction because the plastic inside was cracked. Obviously, it was time to pull our 1976 CJ-5 steering column and replace the worn-out components.

    This is a standard non-tilt column and does not have an integral transmission shifter mechanism. Those columns can be refurbished, but they require a bit more work than what you see here. Removal of our column was pretty straightforward. Once the trim ring at the dash was removed, two bolts under the dash and six more bolts at the floorboard were removed. The ignition switch and turn signal connector were unplugged, and the steering coupling in the engine compartment was unbolted. This allowed complete removal of the column from the Jeep.

    With basic tools and a couple of inexpensive specialty tools, we were able to replace the lock cylinder, ignition switch, turn signal assembly, and lower bearing assembly. The parts are readily available from a variety of auto parts sources for roughly $100 total.

    We had the complete job done in a couple of hours. While this rebuild was done specifically on a 1976 CJ-5, many other steering columns have similar construction, so the process to rebuild those should also be similar. Once done, our column was mechanically and electrically ready for many more miles.

    The ignition switch attaches to the outside of the column using two screws. An actuator rod coming from the lock cylinder farther up the column is used to switch the electrical connections based on the action at the lock cylinder.
    At the base of the column is the lower shaft bearing assembly. Removal of a snap ring allows removal of a steel retainer, the ball bearing, and a plastic collar.
    Our column still seemed to rotate freely and had little play in it, but we found that the old bearing was rusting and completely void of grease. It wouldn’t have lasted much longer.
    We had previously removed the horn button, and then the steering wheel with a simple puller after marking its position relative to the splined steering shaft. To release the lock ring under the steering wheel lock plate we used an inexpensive and commonly available lock plate tool.
    Once the lock plate was removed, the horn ring and spring could be pulled off the column. There is also a shaft bearing at the top end of the column. It sees less exposure to the elements and usually lives longer than the lower bearing. Ours was still greased and in good condition.
    Unscrewing four screws allowed removal of the turn signal switch and its stalk. The little hazard button simply unscrewed from the column.
    The turn signal connector exits the column tube part way down the column. It can be pushed upward into the tube, allowing the switch above to be pulled free of the column.
    Looking down from the top of the column, you can see a small slot in the metal casting where a thin screwdriver can be inserted to release the lock cylinder once it has been turned to the “on” position. Some columns may have a screw in this area that retains the cylinder.
    Here is the new (left) lock cylinder next to the old one for comparison. You can see the spring-loaded locking tab that catches in the column casting to retain the cylinder.
    Inside the column is a gear that uses the lock cylinder to drive the actuator rod to the ignition switch. We found ours to be undamaged.
    The new lock cylinder. Just align and drop in place until the locking tab clicks inside the casting.
    We inserted the actuator rod into the side of the new ignition switch and attached the switch to our column.
    The new turn signal connector was pushed through the column and the switch was screwed into place, followed by the stalk and hazard button installation.
    The spring and horn ring were put back into place, noting how the protrusions on the bottom of the ring mate into the turn signal switch. Then, the lock plate and ring were reinstalled using the special tool. The steering wheel can be installed at this time or later after the column is back in the Jeep.
    Finally, we installed a new lower bearing assembly and secured it with a new snap ring. At this point the column rotated very smoothly. We also confirmed operation of the lock cylinder, and checked the turn signal set and cancel actions before putting the column back in the Jeep.

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