How to Fix Jeep Comanche/Cherokee Steering Column Problems
Loose and floppy steering is not an uncommon problem in Jeep Comanches (MJ) and Cherokees (XJ), and many other vehicles like these that utilized a GM tilt steering column. What kind of Jeeper would let something a simple as an unstable and erratic steering wheel keep him or her off the trails? A bad one, that's what. The shaky steering on these Jeeps is an easy fix, if you have some time and patience. Here is a step-by-step look at how we repaired our loose steering column.
It took a lot of work to get to this point in the tear down on the Jeep Comanche steering column so we could begin to fix the loose steering. There are still more parts that need to come off before the problem can be fixed. There are of little parts and mechanisms packed into a small space to make a tilt steering column assembly.
The horn button is the first thing to get out of the way. It simply pops off with a little effort, exposing the horn contacts. The three Philips-head screws must be loosened to remove the horn contact.
A master steering wheel puller set was rented from our local auto parts store. There are two different tools that will be needed to take the upper part of the steering column apart. This master set has everything you will need to get it done. The first tool you see here is a puller to remove the steering wheel from the shaft.
Once the wheel is off, this is what you will see. The plastic cap covers the lock plate and protects it from any debris from falling down into the column. Carefully prying in the three locking slots will free it up to be removed.
The lock plate is part of the system that locks the steering wheel from moving when the ignition is locked and the key removed. It is held in place with a snap ring and a spring. This lock plate compressor tool is part of the master steering wheel puller kit and is used to compress the lock plate and spring so the snap ring can be removed.
After the lock plate is removed, the final piece of the horn contact is lifted off the shaft and spring.
The turn signal switch is next. The three screws circled in red are the fasteners that hold the turn signal switch into the base. You will need to move the turn signal lever up and down as needed to reach them all. The screw circled in blue is the bracket that attaches the turn signal lever to the switch, it needs removed as well. The little bracket will come loose, pull it out of the way and set it aside so it does not get lost. The hazard light knob will need removed as well. It simply unscrews from the switch.
Before the turn signal switch can be removed from its nest, the electrical connections need to be disconnected under the dash. The main turn signal ribbon wire connector is secured to a slip-on bracket on the column. Pop the connectors off of the bracket and then separate the connectors.
This Jeep was outfitted with delay windshield wipers. Tracing the wires coming out of the bottom of the column led to the delay wiper module. The connector was disconnected to free of the wire.
With the wires disconnected under the dash, there will be enough slack in the wires to just barely get the turn signal switch over the shaft and pushed off to the side. Do not try to completely remove the turn signal switch and wiring if your switch is working ok. If your switch is not functioning properly, now is a great time to replace it. The only way to really remove it is to clip the connector off of the wires since it is impossible to pull the whole connector out. The wires and connector on the new turn signal switch will fit down the column without too much trouble. At this point, the lever for the tilt mechanism can be unscrewed and removed.
Looking into the column housing, there are several items to pay attention to with the turn signal switch now out of the way. The first is the bi-metal electrical contact at the 2 O'clock position. Note the position and orientation of this piece before pulling it out of its slot. That will give you access to the black Torx head screw circled in red. Removing that fastener will allow you to remove the key lock cylinder from the column housing. After that, the three silver Torx head screws can be removed. After that, the whole column outer shell can be removed. It is a tight fit, but it will just squeak by the steering shaft, and hang to the side with the turn signal switch.
The next major step in the process is to remove the pivot pins on either side of the column. The pivot pin puller is something that will need to be ordered online or from your local parts store (Performance Tool W80652). It's about $10 and unfortunately not available for rent. There is a smaller thread that screws into the pivot pin. When the nut on top is tightened, it slowly pulls the pivot pin out of the column. This is a great place to take lots of photos and pay close attention to where all of the bits and pieces are. After the pins are pulled and the upper portion is separated from the main lower column, things start falling out of place everywhere. Document where everything is before that happens. Extra attention to detail here is required.
The upper column may require the tilt lever to be screwed back into the column to actuate the tilt to get the column to be in the right position to be separated from the lower portion. You can now see the steering shaft tilt joint.
Eureka! We have finally dug deep enough to access the four bolts that have loosen up and caused the wobbly steering wheel. All of that work just to tighten four bolts that worked themselves loose over the years. Sheesh! Maybe someone should have suggested Loctite on those bolts during the design phase back in the day.
To make sure we don't have to dig this deep ever again, Loctite was generously added to all four of the bolts that had worked themselves loose. The bolts have a unique reverse Torx head on them. Plan ahead and have a socket available that fits. We have accomplished what we set out to do! Now it's a matter of trying to put it all back together the same way it came apart.
This is one of the most difficult parts of this job. Mating the upper tilt portion back with the lower tilt section. The silver dog bone piece is part of the ignition switch mechanism. It needs to be properly lined up with the black cam teeth to the right and hooked up to the mechanism on the lower column as they are slid back together. If you jiggle or wiggle the wrong way it will fall apart, and you will need to start over. It took several tires to get it all in correctly. We found that it is best to remove the tilt return spring until after the pivot pins are reinstalled, otherwise you will fight it. It is housed in the 6 O'clock position on the upper column. The upper mount is a push-n-twist lock to be able to remove and install the tilt spring.
Once the upper portion is properly lined up with the lower section, the pivot pins can be carefully tapped into place. Just make sure everything is in the right place before you install them, or you will be pulling them back out to fix the mistake.
Putting the outer shell into place is tricky. There are two pieces that need to mate together in just the right way so that the high beam switch functions properly. This probably took a dozen attempts before it was right. Once it is all lined up, tighten the three silver screws to mount the column shell. At that point, try to operate the high beam switch with the power off. Confirm that the switch mechanism feels normal and that you hear the mechanical part of the switch clicking under the dash. It is also time to reinstall the key tumbler and bi-metal contact piece that was mentioned before. Cycle the key to check for smooth operation. If anything seems abnormal about the high beam switch or key operation you need to tear things back down to investigate and correct the problem.
Once everything is good with all the switches and mechanisms in the lower assembly, the turn signal switch can be reinstalled. The bracket for the turn signal lever needs to be fished into place and then screwed back onto the switch. There end is in sight!
The horn contact, lock plate, and snap ring are then installed using press tool just like before. Then the plastic cover is snapped into place. The only thing left to do is to reinstall the steering wheel.
After the steering wheel is bolted back down, the horn contact is screwed into place and the horn button is snapped into position to complete the assembly. Connect the battery cables, turn signal switch connector, and delay wiper connector to be able to turn the power on. Take time to run through all of the switches, tilt, ignition to verify that everything works after the major surgery that took place. This job is definitely an intricate one and will test your patience but is necessary if your steering wheel has any wobble to it.