Steering Maintenance

Regular maintenance of the steering equipment is primarily a question of lubrication, so is dealt with separately in the Lubrication section, where the greasing of the various swivels and joints is discussed. It is worth emphasising here, however, that the steering rack itself should be lubricated with hypoid oil not with grease. Unfortunately it is not uncommon for owners and poor mechanics to see what appears to be another grease nipple and pump in the grease thinking they are doing a good job. The oil to be used is the same as the rear axle oil, so it is best to associate these two jobs together. Keep a separate gun for the oil to avoid having to clean it out every time you change lubricant.

Tie-rod end ball joints

Little else is required to keep the steering gear in good order but from time to time it will be necessary to replace the steering tie-rod ball joints, which wear and become too loose. It may be an issue picked up at the annual technical test. These components are not repairable and are simply changed for new ones. I try to obtain the original type with a grease nipple, though “sealed-for-life” are often what is available. With the joints off, you also have a perfect opportunity to replace the steering rack gaiters. If they have leaks or splits, it is a technical test fail point because it allows dirt and water into the rack, making it vulnerable to corrosion that causes stiffness or, at worst, a jam.

The issue that generally gets the owner-mechanic scratching his head is how to separate the joint. First there is the challenge of removing the nut. This was originally castellated and held with a split pin but later replacements used a self-locking (“Nylok”) nut. The old joint will be discarded, so neat removal of a corroded split pin is not necessary. If it is rusted in just cut the ends off as best you can and unscrew the nut past them. If the tapered joint in the steering arm is good and tight, then you should be able to get the nut off with no trouble. However, clean it well beforehand to avoid clogging the thread with muck or rust and give it a squirt of Plusgas. You want the nut to move as smoothly as possible because if it jams, there is the risk that the tapered joint will loosen and then the stud will turn in the joint, making unscrewing the nut much more difficult. If this happens, try pulling the joint tight again by doing the nut up. I have also found that it helps if you twist the joint over to one side so that the stud is emerging from the top of the joint at an angle. This seems to position it in a tighter area and makes it less prone to turn as the nut comes off.

When you have removed the nut there comes the challenge of splitting the joint. The stud is tapered below the thread so it is designed to pull tight into the steering arm. If it came loose while you were unscrewing the nut, the chances are it will not take much to pop it out again. If it is stuck fast, the best technique is to use a joint splitter. I tend to prefer the ones that are like a sharp edged housing that pushes over the joint, with a screw that bears on the end of the stud. There is another type that is more like a fork, or two fingers,  that straddles the joint with an “opposing thumb” that bears on the stud. Pressure is applied by tightening a screw that forces the fingers and thumb together, again pushing the joint apart. As you are replacing the whole joint, there is no problem tearing the rubber dust cover off to get a better view.

There is another technique that comes from the realm of “dark arts”. This involves taking two heavy hammers and bringing them smartly together on opposite sides of the joint. The joint then supposedly pops apart after a few blows. Some mechanics swear by it but to me it is the garage equivalent of the flint axe. And I do not like the idea of applying that sort of force to the steering arm.

Once the joint is separated, it is generally a simple matter of unscrewing the old ball-joint and fitting the new. There is a lock-nut behind it on the tie-rod and you will find flats on the rod itself to hold it while you unscrew the lock-nut and the joint assembly. When you screw on the new joint, try to restore the lock-nut position as was. That way, the wheel alignment will not be too far off where it should be. Screwing on the new top nut is not normally a problem but if you do find the stud twisting, try to push the taper hard into the steering arm and try twisting the joint over so that it bites harder. Once the nut is tightening against the steering arm the problem will disappear.

Get the wheel alignment properly checked at a garage or tyre supplier as soon as possible. The wheels should be parallel, with zero toe-in.


Steering Rack Replacement

If your steering rack has had a hard life and develops unacceptable wear, then it will be necessary to replace it with an exchange unit. There are two types because later cars were fitted with rubber mounting bushes to eliminate vibration noise. The early type cannot be retro-fitted with the bushes, but an early car will accept a later rack and bushes together. The change points were Car 15,545 (RHD) and Car 18,165 (LHD).

The workshop manual describes what is necessary to dismantle and service the steering rack, but, like the differential, this requires very careful attention to correct clearances and end-play measurement. If you can obtain the necessary replacement parts and have the facilities, you might consider undertaking the work yourself but for the majority of owners, the exchange unit rebuilt by a specialist is the practical answer.

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