Replace That Worn Rag Joint With A Stout Borgeson Universal

Buying a used vehicle is a lot like marriage: certain issues will become apparent only after you’ve had a few miles together. When we purchased this neat little Chevrolet S10 a while back, we knew the steering needed some work, but we were unsure exactly where the issues were about to pop up. The sloppy, oil-soaked rag joint on our 1999 S10 soon put an end to the honeymoon.

The previous owner said he replaced the inner and outer tie rods, but we were about to learn how many other joints were in the steering system contributing to slack-stack-up. One of the biggest offenders was the oil-soaked rag joint on the intermediate shaft that goes between the steering box and the steering column. Replacing the rag joint (and the intermediate shaft) isn’t complicated, and is a great way to upgrade the communication between the steering box and steering wheel. We turned to the folks at Borgeson Universal to completely remove any play in our intermediate shaft and prevent the decay of the rag joint material from ever happening again.

worn steering rag joint

Removing the rag joint is relatively simple and upgrading it with a sturdy universal is a great way to remove any slack in the intermediate shaft.

As mentioned, there are a lot of joints in the steering assembly of the typical steering-box-equipped vehicle, and each joint is an opportunity for wear and increased play. Our S10 did have new inner and outer tie rods, but the biggest offender for massive degrees of steering wheel travel was the rag joint. As you can imagine, no matter how tight those joints are between the wheels, if that rag joint has excessive play, turning the wheel is merely a guess as to where your wheels will be pointing.

From Rag Joint To A Universal Upgrade

Instead of relying on a rag joint to relay the rotation of the steering shaft, we opted to upgrade to a Borgeson universal joint for absolutely precise communication between our steering wheel and the box. The best part about this upgrade is that it is relatively simple, but the improvement in the steering from a worn-out rag joint upgrade can be massive.

There is a cover surrounding the rag joint which simply clips around the bottom of the intermediate shaft at the steering column. Once we removed that cover and the intermediate shaft, we could see how worn our rag joint had become. Oil is not kind to the rubber material that comprises the "rag" portion of the joint.

Swapping the rag joint will not compensate for worn steering or suspension components, but if your joint is as worn as ours, it will make a dramatic improvement in the handling of your vehicle. It seems that 200,000 miles is the new normal with used vehicles from this era, and the suspension will have some worn components throughout. We’ve got a few other upgrades planned, so those other areas will be addressed when we do those modifications as well.

The original intermediate shaft on our S10 had a lot of “features” added to it by Chevrolet. It had the rag joint, which was much wider than the universal we’d be using. The shaft itself was also much wider for most of its length, which could be an issue if swapping in a small-block V-8 engine. There was an unsightly rubber sleeve that added to the girth of the shaft.

S10 intermediate steering shaft upgrade

It’s easy to see how much thicker the factory intermediate steering shaft is from the Borgeson upgrade, especially at the rag joint.

Borgeson offers a steering shaft for 1979-1988 GM G-Body, 1982-1992 GM F-Body, and 1982-1993 S10 pickups, but not one for the second-generation S10s like ours. The beauty of the later S10 intermediate shaft is that it is a one-inch “Double-D” (DD) tube that simply slides over the shaft coming from the steering column. There is no universal at the upper joint. If you’re upgrading the steering shaft on a vehicle that does use a universal at this upper mounting point, Borgeson offers an extensive line of u-joints. Simply match the size and spline count of the shafts you are using. And, if that is the case, you can also order a solid intermediate shaft with the necessary splines to match your universals.

The universal for our 1999 Chevrolet S10 uses a 3/4-30 spline on the steering box and a 1-inch DD on the other side. Note how the one bolt (left image) is designed to go through one flat side of the DD shaft and hold against the inside of the other flat. We marked where to drill the hole for the long bolt. After drilling, we then installed both bolts, adding Loctite before tightening. Only one Allen bolt is needed on the steering box shaft. We aligned that bolt to go into the OEM bolt groove around the steering shaft, then measured the length to cut our DD tubing.

We ordered enough 1-inch DD tubing so we could cut our shaft to the desired length. Since the DD tubing overlaps the shaft coming from the column, the exact distance to cut isn’t critical. When measuring, just make sure there is enough overlap between the two shafts for a sturdy connection and the shaft isn’t too long to interfere inside the column.

The 17-inch length of our intermediate shaft gives us plenty of mating between the column and intermediate shaft, yet allows us to slide the shaft up into the column to install the universal onto the steering box shaft.

Once we had the universal mounted to our new shaft, we decided to make our shaft 17 inches long, which gave us plenty of overlap, and still allowed us to slide the shaft up into the column so we could install the other end with the universal onto the steering box. We also painted our new shaft with Black Rust-oleum paint to keep it from rusting.

Aligning The Splines

The steering box shaft is a 3/4-inch shaft with a 30-spline fitting. We ordered a steel Borgeson 1-inch DD x 3/4-30-spline universal for the steering box shaft. There are a few things to note when removing the intermediate shaft. The original rag joint used a cross-bolt to hold the rag joint to the shaft. The Borgeson universal uses two Allen bolts to fasten the universal. The bolt on the side for the flat surface of the new shaft is long enough so you can drill a hole into one flat side of the shaft. The bolt will go through the shaft and tighten against the inside of the other flat side. You only need to drill through one flat side of the shaft!

The 1-inch DD tubing will slide over the column shaft, then you can slide it up far enough to install the universal onto the splines of the steering box shaft. Don't forget to Loctite the Allen bolt at the steering box!

Also, be sure the steering wheel and the tires are centered before loosening the original shaft. This will ensure that everything will line up correctly when you install the new shaft. Thankfully, the S10 has a locking steering column; this prevents the steering wheel from turning once the shaft is removed. If your vehicle is equipped with an airbag, you don’t want to spin the steering wheel, as this can damage components for the Supplemental Inflatable Restraint (SIR) system, aka the airbags.

Tightening Up The Steering

We drilled one side of the shaft for the bolt and then installed both bolts on the intermediate shaft side of the universal. We added Blue Loctite to each bolt before tightening them and snugging the lock nuts. You don’t want to over-torque the bolts or the lock nuts. Borgeson suggests you re-check them after driving 100 miles to make sure they are still tight.

steering wheel off-center

If you find your steering wheel is off-center while driving down the road, you can loosen the universal at the steering box and rotate the necessary splines to get the wheel straight again.

Unlike swapping many of the other components to the steering system of your ride, this upgrade does not require a trip to the alignment rack. If you find that the steering wheel is slightly off from where it was before, you can simply loosen the bolt holding the universal to the steering box shaft and rotate the universal one tooth in the opposite direction the steering wheel leans to straighten it out.

Ridding yourself of that worn rag joint will make your vehicle’s steering feel much better. It may also highlight other areas throughout your steering where excessive play has crept in over the years. We found a few other areas on our S10, and we’ll be addressing them as time and funds allow. Stay tuned!

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About the author

Andy Bolig

Andy has been intrigued by mechanical things all of his life and enjoys tinkering with cars of all makes and ages. Finding value in style points, he can appreciate cars of all power and performance levels. Andy is an avid railfan and gets his “high” by flying radio-controlled model airplanes when time permits. He keeps his feet firmly grounded by working on his two street rods and his supercharged C4 Corvette. Whether planes, trains, motorcycles, or automobiles, Andy has immersed himself in a world driven by internal combustion.
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