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Are there any methods you guys have to identify the cause of slop in the steering?

 

When the truck is off I can rotate my steering wheel freely back and forth several degrees before I get any "catch" in the steering. So what all types of things can I look at to figure out what this is? I figure the first thing I will look at will be the I-shaft, but what else - is there a way to tell if it's the steering box, tie rod ends, a pitman arm or another part? I want to look everything over and get a reliable hypothesis about what the problem(s) is(are) before I start throwing intermediate shafts at the problem.

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First do a physical inspection of the components. Check for play.

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I had a similar situation on my Tahoe. I ended up having a Pitman arm replaced and that tightened up the steering a lot.

 

You'll probably want to get it up on a hoist and have things checked to find out what is really causing the problem.

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First do a physical inspection of the components. Check for play.

Ok, where specifically do you think I should look? I believe I've seen some slack where the pitman arm connects to the drag link when shaking the wheels side to side while the truck was on a jack. If the truck is off, though, would I be able to see any slack here by turning/jiggling the steering wheel between the "catch" points?

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That may be the problem. Sometimes, (when I get the balls) I'll crawl up under the truck(running) and get my wife to slowly turn the wheel. If you see the pitman arm and drag link move before the idle arm moves, there lies the slack to cause the play in your steering.

Even when the truck is off, there will be some play in the steering wheel before the actual steering would take place.

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Every vehicle I've ever driven has some play in the steering when it's off. Some were worse than others. Generally it's the natural 'slop' that comes from having THAT many moving components in a system. It's more important to make sure your tires are not wearing strangely, and to make sure that your vehicle doesn't 'wander' (seem to steer different directions just driving down the road).

 

A physical inspection of the parts is in order if you're concerned.

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Every vehicle I've ever driven has some play in the steering when it's off. Some were worse than others. Generally it's the natural 'slop' that comes from having THAT many moving components in a system. It's more important to make sure your tires are not wearing strangely, and to make sure that your vehicle doesn't 'wander' (seem to steer different directions just driving down the road).

 

A physical inspection of the parts is in order if you're concerned.

I'm aware that there is always some slop, even in a steering system in top working order. The slack I'm getting now seems as though its increased significantly over the 4 years I've owned this truck and I seem to have to "man the wheel" more than I used to do. I've got more than just a couple degrees of slack. It looks like I'll be spending some time under the front end soon.

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One thing I like to do is jack up one side of the vehicle so that one tire is off the ground and one is on.

 

This fixes one side of the suspension in place and makes finding worn components a bit easier.

 

Do both sides and see if one is "sloppier" than the other.

 

Sometimes I'll get under and use my feet to work the tire in the air back and forth while I observe the rest of the suspension if there's no helper available. Using the tires initially will get you a lot more leverage than trying to move parts by hand.

 

(Of course, make certain you have several jackstands under the vehicle and not just one jack)

 

From past experience, I've also found that it takes quite a bit of effort to detect sloppy balljoints by hand on trucks - the components are heavy and sprung - a lot more oomph is required than with the average car, but ball joints are probably not the primary culprits in this case anyhow.

 

I've also found that sometimes its very difficult to see sloppy components until they're dangerously worn - you really need to get your hands on them and then feeling what's worn is a lot more effective.

 

I believe that the steering box can also be tightened a bit if some of the internal components are worn. If memory serves, there's an adjustment bolt to tighten a bearing/bushing. Have to be careful not to overtighten, but you can take up a little slack this way if the box has loosened. Procedure's likely in the service manual.

 

 

Also, stay open to the possibility that more than one component is worn at the same time if all the components are the same age. Especially since you'll need an alignment after replacing some things - might as well save the cost of additional alignments by fixing everything at once.

 

Good luck!

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From past experience, I've also found that it takes quite a bit of effort to detect sloppy balljoints by hand on trucks - the components are heavy and sprung - a lot more oomph is required than with the average car, but ball joints are probably not the primary culprits in this case anyhow.

I found easy way to detect ball joints. Jack the vehicle off the ground, but do not place a support under the suspension. Take a pry bar and wedge it between the bottom of the a-arm and spindle. If you can pry it up, it bad ball joint. Of course if they are really bad you'll be able to wiggle the wheel itself back and forth.

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