Borgeson Makes Choosing To Rebuild Or Replace Your Steering Box Easy

When it comes down to discussing the steering system on your car or truck, characteristics can be broken down into two basic pairings. Those two pairings could mean either power-assisted or manual, sloppy or tight, working or not. Okay, maybe that’s a little sarcastic, but you get the idea.

Usually it can take a combination of two or more of those descriptions before many people decide that they should check things out, and see what – if anything – is wrong. Such is the case with Lloyd Hunt’s 1973 Chevy C10.

While diagnosing our steering issue, we learned that not only was the box seriously worn, so were the steering components like the Pitman arm and tie-rod ends.

The Truck Has Issues

Lloyd’s Chevy is like many square body trucks in that it has seen a lot of miles, and the care has been minimal over the years. He just recently purchased the truck in unrestored condition with plans of building a cool “muscletruck.” The steering system was one of the first things that he noticed was mechanically ailing. We talked him into pulling the truck into the Power Automedia shop and have the guys do some diagnostics to see what was actually going on.

bad tie rod

The best way to check a tie-rod end is to have a friend move the steering wheel back and forth while you watch each tie-rod end. If you see any delay in the wheel moving when the tie-rod assembly is moved, replace the end.

As soon as the guys pulled the Chevy onto the Bendpak lift, it didn’t take long for the them to figure out that the steering box was worn beyond a point where any adjustments would make a noticeable change.

Lloyd immediately thought about rebuilding the vehicle-aiming device, but after talking to the folks at Borgeson, he learned enough to know that rebuilding the box was not an option for him. According to Jeff Grantmeyer at Borgeson, “The problem with rebuilding a steering box from the ’60s and ’70s is that when you’re done, you still have an old steering box.”

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When the box is disassembled, it doesn’t appear that rebuilding it would be too difficult. Several items you do not see in this image are the dozens of small ball bearings that support the ball nut, and if you lose one of them, the rest of the box is garbage. Proper assembly also requires specialized tools and adhering to tolerance specifications.

While speaking with Grantmeyer, Lloyd learned that rebuilding a steering box is something that some people can properly accomplish, but some might want to avoid the task. “Experienced, detail-orientated people can of course complete a rebuild, pending availability of components and a thorough inspection of the steering gear to insure all critical surfaces and components are serviceable,” Grantmeyer said.

What’s Really Wrong?

When it comes to figuring out why a steering system has excessive play, some checks can be made to help you come to a final decision. Taking a few minutes to properly diagnose the situation could save you from spending money you really didn’t need to. The looseness that many people feel in their steering is usually caused by one of two things: either worn internals in the steering box, or external components like the pitman and/or idler arm, or the tie-rod ends.

The problem with rebuilding a steering box from the ’60s and ’70s is that when you’re done, you still have an old steering box. – Jeff Grantmeyer

Sometimes, people will even confuse the feeling of a steering system that “wanders,” with a suspension issue. The best way to determine if your situation is a suspension versus a steering problem is to inspect the wear pattern on your front tires. If your vehicle has suspension problems, this will cause an uneven wear pattern on the tires. On the other hand, loose steering components can cause a cupping effect in the tread.

A key indicator that something is badly worn somewhere in the steering system, is when you notice that you need to move the steering wheel an exorbitant amount before the steering actually reacts. In other words, if you can move your steering wheel back and forth several inches before you feel any resistance or before your car actually steers, something is wrong. This looseness can be caused by several factors.

This worn out rag joint was only one of our issues with the steering. Luckily, replacement pieces are available.

The first place to check is the “rag joint.” The rag joint is the flexible connector constructed of a doughnut-shaped piece of rubber with reinforcing cords vulcanized within it. It actually looks like a piece of a tire. Anyway, this piece of rubber joins your steering column to your steering box, and its purpose in the steering system is to act as a vibration damper.

Borgeson

The Borgeson gear box is a direct replacement, because it is manufactured directly from the original Saginaw plans. While we were changing the box, we also upgraded the rest of the worn steering components.

Without this “flexible” connection, you would feel every road imperfection as you drive. When in good condition, it will be stiff, yet flexible. But, the rag joint is susceptible to becoming saturated by moisture or engine fluids. Over time, wildly changing temperatures under the hood of your ride can also contribute to its failure.

After you have checked that, you should move on to the steering components outside of the gear box. Check for play at the tie-rod ends, idler arm, and pitman arm. These pieces of the system work with a ball and socket assembly, and can wear easily if not properly maintained.

Parts We Installed On The Truck

  • Borgeson Steering Box    PN: 920023     $320.00
  • Rag Joint Rebuild Kit      PN: 000941      $16.63
  • Tie-Rod Ends  (X2)          PN: ES409LT   $19.97
  • Tie-Rod Ends  (X2)          PN: ES409RT   $19.97
  • Idler Arm                           PN: K6096T      $30.97
  • Pitman Arm                       PN: K6142         $43.97
The next item on your “to-do list” is actually something that cannot be inspected unless you tear the steering box apart. Inside the gear box is the worm shaft and ball nut. This “intermediate” shaft is partially inside the steering box, and is what connects the steering column to your steering box (via the rag joint). The intermediate shaft is a replaceable item, but if it’s worn, surely the ball nut that it contacts is also worn. If the ball nut is worn, who’s to say that the output (pitman) shaft is not worn. What we are trying to say is, if one piece of the puzzle is worn out, rest assured that the other parts in the box are probably bad as well.

Set Up For Success – Or Failure

We as car guys have a knack for wanting to tear things apart and fix them ourselves, but if you think about it, is that really an option for something like rebuilding a steering box? To some it might seem like a simple task. In reality, there are dozens of small pieces that need to be properly placed and tolerances that must be adhered to in order to have a box that, not only works properly, but will last longer than a gallon of fuel.

Borgeson

Before you install the pitman arm, verify that the steering box is centered in its rotational travel. This will ensure that you have even steering in both directions.

There are two vital adjustments that need to be within spec when rebuilding a steering box. One is the worm shaft bearing load, and the other is the gear mesh load. The worm shaft is positioned between two caged ball bearings, and actually functions as the inner races for both of these bearings. The bottom bearing is installed within the steering box housing, and the top bearing is located in the adjustment nut. This adjustability is what allows for the bearing preload settings.

When tightening the adjustment nut, the two bearings are brought closer together, increasing the pressure applied to the worm section of the input shaft. This “tightness,” must be enough to remove play from the input shaft, yet keep it securely positioned in the housing. If the pressure applied is too great, the bearings will bind, and wear will be expedited. The proper preload is achieved by measuring the amount of drag exerted as you spin the input shaft.

Since we are also replacing all of the tie-rod ends, we removed them as a complete set and then measured the distance from one centered stud/stem to the other. By doing this, you can reassemble the new pieces and get the front steering/alignment close enough to get the vehicle to the alignment shop.

Gear mesh load refers to how the teeth of the ball nut and the pitman shaft make contact. When properly adjusted, the meshing action of the two “gears,” adds little or no additional drag to the turning of the input shaft. If the mesh load is too light, the box will feel “loose,” and the car will want to wander. Too much gear mesh, and the gears can bind.

Borgeson

The tie-rod end connector is a piece that is often overlooked when working on the steering system. These usually get beaten with hammers, and pried on during their life and get destroyed. When we ordered our other Moog steering piece, we decided it was a good idea to replace these as well.

If either of the worm shaft bearing load or gear mesh load settings are made incorrectly, you wasted your time and money to rebuild a steering box that will not last very long. So what’s the alternative? How many times have you seen or heard of someone that tries to tighten their steering by adjusting the allen-head bolt on the top of the box, only to make things worse? There is a specific setting for that bolt, and if it is not properly set, you can destroy the internals of the box.

As Lloyd learned, the alternative that can give your vehicle a crisp feeling through the steering wheel, also calls for a minimal investment – installing a Borgeson steering gear box. We asked Grantmeyer what makes the Borgeson box a good upgrade, and we were actually surprised with his answer, “The Borgeson steering box is the OE. In 2014 Borgeson purchased all of the original tooling, equipment, and manufacturing rights for the entire Saginaw manual-steering gear line.” What better way to get a new steering box than by buying a new, original unit?

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Castle nuts are used for a reason. Make sure that you install a cotter pin in each one.

The Easy Fix

The job of changing out the steering gear box is relatively easy, and anyone can do it at home in their driveway. Most of the task can be accomplished with simple hand tools, but a couple specialty tools like a pitman arm puller and tie-rod separator will also be needed. If you don’t have these tools, a friend might. If they don’t, some auto parts stores will rent them to you.

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Remember to check the spline count on your existing rag joint coupler before you order your box.

We do want to make sure that you are aware of one situation that can cause you a headache. The only issue that we ran into during this install was that our factory rag joint connector would not work with our Borgeson box. The new gear box came with a 3/4-inch diameter worm shaft with a 36-count spline.

Our truck came with a 13/16-inch shaft. We overlooked this when ordering the parts, but Borgeson makes a rag joint coupler that attaches from the steering box to the factory style steering column. So one piece of advice we can give you is to double check that you have the correct rag joint connector or universal joint to tie into your steering column, be it aftermarket or stock.

IMG_1689

Lloyd’s truck might be a little rough around the edges, but we plan to help with that, so stay tuned. For now, he says it is a nice change just to be able to keep his hauler travelling in a straight line.

When it comes down to deciding between rebuilding an old box, or choosing an all-new unit, Grantmeyer told us, “While an original box can be rebuilt, the success will depend on the starting condition of the old components. A manual box from Borgeson is made to the original Saginaw prints, and leaves no question. All internal components are new, and all adjustments and even seals and lubricants are as intended by Saginaw steering gear.” That sounds like the perfect reason to visit the Borgeson website, and find out how you can fix the ailing steering in your classic ride.

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It might have taken several hours to complete the steering box replacement, but the results are definitely worth the effort put into the task. Before the swap, Lloyd was able to move the steering wheel approximately 4 inches before any resistance was felt. We asked Lloyd how significantly the change affected the truck’s steering behavior, and he said, “I hated driving the pig, as it was just that, a pig. I needed to steer from left to right, just to maintain a straight line. Going down the road, it would wander a lot. I felt very unsafe driving the truck. I know the truck still needs shocks and bushings to get that new truck feel, but now the steering is tight and performs as expected. I couldn’t be any happier with this manual box from Borgeson and new steering parts from Moog.”

Article Sources

About the author

Randy Bolig

Randy Bolig has been working on cars and has been involved in the hobby ever since he bought his first car when he was only 14 years old. His passion for performance got him noticed by many locals, and he began helping them modify their vehicles.
Read My Articles

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