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Old 03-09-2011, 03:07 PM
AMG-SM AMG-SM is offline
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Thumbs up Lessons learned fixing my front end and wandering problems

So I recently purchased a 2002 Ford F250 Powerstroke Diesel 4x4 w auto trans. The truck is stock and was used on a farm for a good portion of its life until I bought it. It had front end wandering issues when I bought it so I knew what I was getting myself into.

I started by searching for past threads on this forum and others on wandering and front end work to try and determine what the root cause might be and how to fix it. Most of the threads were rather vague on the cause and too many threads had the solution pegged at throwing lots of money at it or that the solution was only satisfied by the dealer b/c the F250 suspension was complicated. Others claimed that all you needed to due was tighten the allen head on the steering rack w/o any thought to condition of tie rods or ball joints which didn't sound right.

So I did some more research and worked through this step by step.

First lesson - Don't take the truck to the dealer. They wanted to replace everything in the front end at a cost of $2,690.00!!! Yeah right...

So I started looking at the tie rods since they are the main parts that attach the steering rack/box to the hubs. If those are worn, then you can bet the steering is going to have slop. Take a look at the tie rod to Pitman arm:
Click the image to open in full size.

It doesn't take a genius to see that doesn't look all that great, eh. The boot is worn and the tie rod is a little cocked over to one side and moves easily by hand. That one has to be replaced for sure.

Follow the drag link over to the passenger side and you see this:
Click the image to open in full size.

Doesn't look as terrible but it had some play which you could see by prying on it with a crow bar. It was also slightly droopy which after removing the bar I could confirm that the tie rod had a fair amount of play. The boot is also pretty worn and flimsy and ready to rip.

Next, I checked the tie rods on the hubs. You can see the slight tear in the boot but this one actually felt pretty tight. No idea how long that tear has been in there.
Click the image to open in full size.

The driver side tie rod looked ok.

Lesson #2 - It doesn't take much to learn how to check a very bad tie rod for wear. There are a couple of videos on YouTube that were helpful. You basically pry against the bar and look for in/out movement of the tie rod from the bar and also look for too much/easy side to side movement.


So I had 2 tie rods that definitely looked worn and 1 that was suspect. So I did some further research on here to learn where people bought these parts from. Seems like people get these parts from the local NAPA or Autozone or try and find MOOG parts as they are supposed to be the best. Neither my local NAPA or Autozone had these 4 tie rods so I got a mix from both which leads to lesson #3...

Lesson #3 - Buy good parts from a good source. If I had to do it over again, I might order the MOOG parts from Summit Racing if shipping isn't too expensive. They carry MOOG and can ship it to me.

I really wasn't 100% happy with the parts that I bought from Autozone or NAPA. The guys at NAPA may be too lazy to tell you that you can get the USA part and just sell you the China part. It pays to be informed and ask for it. I only found out when it was too late. The USA part is made of higher quality material and is only ~$10 more.

On the China NAPA part, the metal part that the grease fittings screw into are pretty cheap and cracked when screwing in the grease fitting. The long drag link from Autozone was the nicest looking part out of the 4 tie rods that I bought.

Lesson #4 - Test the grease fittings before screwing them into the tie rod end. On 2 of the tie rods (can't remember which) the grease fitting wouldn't squirt grease through so I had to reuse the old ones.

Lesson #5 - Add some grease to the joint under the rubber covers with your finger prior to sliding on the cover and bolting together.

Lesson #6 - Squirt some grease through the fitting into the tie rod prior to assembly to make sure there is plenty of grease in there. Out of the box, they all looked a little dry and were very tight and difficult to move in any way.

Lesson #7 - It is a good idea to measure the overall bar length prior to removing so that when you install the new parts, you have half a chance of the alignment being somewhat close. I measured from grease fitting to grease fitting and it worked well.

Lesson #8 - Installing the drag link. Even if you measured the drag link, it might have been wrong from the previous owner's shop. It turns out that my drag link was too long if I had tried to install it at the same length as the one I removed it would have placed the pitman arm incorrectly. The correct way to install the drag link is so that the Pitman arm is pointed directly forward. Adjust the length accordingly if your new parts are slightly different.

My steering wheel wound up cocked 90* b/c of this but the pitman arm was facing forward so it was from previous alignments that were done half assed.

Now that this was done, I took it to the local Big O tire to get 2 new front tires and get an alignment. While the truck was on the alignment rack, hey checked the ball joints. Guess what? They were in spec. Remember what the dealer said at the beginning of this post? That the ball joints needed to be replaced... Yeah right. And this leads to...

Lesson #9 - Don't trust the dealer. They aren't the only ones that can do an alignment - at least on a 4x4. The 4x2 may be more complicated but I have no idea if it is. Other shops are perfectly capable of doing an alignment. There is so little to adjust on the 4x4 front end for alignment.

Alignment was pretty much excellent. It turns out that my toe was in spec so my measuring of the tie rods was reasonably accurate. Just needed some adjustment to get it even side to side. Camber was ok too and didn't need adjustment.

So now, I have a truck with a good set of new tie rods so there is no more play between the steering box and the suspension components that actually turn the wheels. It drives much straighter, most of the wandering is gone. So why do I still have bad on-center steering feel and about 1-2" of play in the steering wheel?

Well now that the tie rods are nice and solid and there is no play, you can more clearly identify another problem - whether the steering box needs some adjustment to tighten it up. If I had done that first, it wouldn't have accomplished much and wouldn't have been able to tell much b/c the tie rods were sloppy and in need of replacement.

Lesson #10 - Check your tie rods and steering gear before tightening your steering box. Going to do this shortly.

Hope someone finds this useful.

Last edited by AMG-SM; 04-12-2011 at 11:58 AM. Reason: spelling
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Old 04-11-2011, 11:54 PM
beefmalone beefmalone is offline
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good info!
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Old 04-12-2011, 06:56 AM
projectSHO89 projectSHO89 is offline
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Let us know if tightening the gearbox helps or it it has to be replaced...
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Old 04-12-2011, 11:38 AM
AMG-SM AMG-SM is offline
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Thanks for reminding me by bumping this thread.

I tightened up the steering rack last week. Took all of 15 minutes. You need a 5/8 crescent wrench and a 3/16 allen wrench (I think a 4.5mm also works).

I marked the current position of the allen head bolt and nut using a paint marker before I started.

Then I loosed the nut and turned the allen head bolt a little less than 1/4 turn then tightened up the nut while holding the allen wrench so it wouldn't move while tightening the [jam] nut.

I wasn't sure how far to turn the allen head bolt. I read some threads on here where people say to turn 1/8 of a turn and others saying to turn 1/4. After my experience, I would recommend 1/8 of a turn and go for a ride to check results. The small amount that I turned wound up being more than enough to get the dead play that I would feel while turning the steering wheel 2 inches or so while driving straight.

The truck wanders a lot less but it still wanders a bit. The difference now is that I don't have to turn the wheel 45 degrees to keep it going straight. Just a small correction is enough.


The steering feels tighter than it has been at this point. This is the only truck I have ever driven (other than UHauls) so I don't have a good perspective compared to other trucks. Compared to my cars, the steering sucks overall but that is an apples to pineapples comparison.


I don't have a steering stabilizer/damper on my truck and the suspension is stock. I am researching them now to try and figure out if I should get a single damper or a dual damper setup. I'm not sure HOW they actually work yet.
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Old 04-12-2011, 12:00 PM
AMG-SM AMG-SM is offline
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One more thing - I was at the local Kragen / O'rielly auto parts and saw a big stack of Moog parts in the back. That might be a good source for Moog parts locally.
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Old 04-12-2011, 06:44 PM
trumsey07 trumsey07 is offline
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advanced auto parts have moog
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Old 04-22-2011, 06:41 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AMG-SM View Post
I don't have a steering stabilizer/damper on my truck and the suspension is stock. I am researching them now to try and figure out if I should get a single damper or a dual damper setup. I'm not sure HOW they actually work yet.
AMG

Great observations and very helpful! I just bought my first Ford, used and noticed the same front end issues.

I did want to touch on the front end stabilizer just a bit though. I've driven several trucks with these stock and it definitely firms up the feel of the steering, especially when using larger tires. However, if you live in a northern state with snow and ice you, will at times, want to throw the stabilizer in the weeds. In a panic situation the stabilizer will resist sudden change of direction, like when you are trying to recover from a slide, which will be twice as hard if you have two stabilizers attached. If you are running very large tires on your truck and never see ice and snow, running one or more will help save your steering box from getting beat to death. jm2cw

Hope this helps
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Old 04-23-2011, 02:01 PM
AMG-SM AMG-SM is offline
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Thanks for the info. I live in sunny California so no snow or ice to worry about.
I am running stock suspension and close to stock sized tires (265/??/16).


I had the opportunity to check out a dual stabilizer setup on Fat Diesel's truck. It is pretty interesting. What it seems to do is triangulate the long toe link that runs between the pass and driver side spindles to the front axle where the front diff is located. I can see how this would help decrease minor changes or deflections of each tire when encountering bumps and such.

I think I'm going to try it since the price is reasonable and the installation looks simple.


I have been reading about the "Red Head" steering box on some other threads and that is probably the real solution to the truck's crappy steering but it is much more work to install.

If I drove the truck on a day to day basis, I probably would just bite the bullet and do the Red Head steering box. I basically drive the truck a couple of times a month to either tow my race car or run an errand, it isn't as high on the priority list. We'll see...
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Old 04-24-2011, 08:36 PM
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After a little investigation I found that my tie rod end at the pitman was sloppy and the nut was not pulled down all the way. Bought a Moog joint from Oriely's and installed it, haven't had a chance to test drive it yet, though.

It seems kind of odd that the tie rod end that was in there didn't use a regular cotter pin. The pin that was in there didn't have a head to fit in one of the castle nut slots to keep it from backing off. Consequently the nut backed off just enough to let the stud slop around in the pitman arm. Either bad assembly from the factory or bad repair work.
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Old 05-01-2011, 01:19 AM
jross239 jross239 is offline
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I was just about to post a question about sloppy steering in my 06 f250 4x4. I have already had the tierod ends replaced on both sides, but I can rock the bar back and foreth.

I ussd to have to keep the wheel at 45 degrees left to keep straight and go to about 45 right to correct drift. So there was alot of play.

Now wheel is centered, fairly tight to the left, but still have to turn it about 45 to the right to correct drift.

When I had the tierod ends replaced I had it aligned. The shop said my gear box may be going out.

is there an adjustment I can make to tighten up the box? Also I have dual steering stabalizers, and I still wander all over the place.

I'm suspension dumb so pictures of what to look at is always helpful.
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Old 08-12-2011, 01:28 PM
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I just replaced the two tie rod's from the pitman arm to the "other" tie rod bar. The steering is no better at all.

I then tightened that allen key 1/4 turn and it did not change anything. Can I tighten that allen key more? How much?
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Old 08-12-2011, 06:37 PM
PoPs 03DEX PoPs 03DEX is offline
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AMG-SM
Great information helpful pictures too!
I am thinking I need to give mine a good once over as the front end has started to feel loose or have some wander. was thinking may also look at replacing bushings.
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Old 08-14-2011, 12:16 PM
AMG-SM AMG-SM is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jross239 View Post
I was just about to post a question about sloppy steering in my 06 f250 4x4. I have already had the tierod ends replaced on both sides, but I can rock the bar back and foreth.

I ussd to have to keep the wheel at 45 degrees left to keep straight and go to about 45 right to correct drift. So there was alot of play.

Now wheel is centered, fairly tight to the left, but still have to turn it about 45 to the right to correct drift.

When I had the tierod ends replaced I had it aligned. The shop said my gear box may be going out.

is there an adjustment I can make to tighten up the box? Also I have dual steering stabalizers, and I still wander all over the place.

I'm suspension dumb so pictures of what to look at is always helpful.

I would definitely try tightening the adjuster on the steering box 1/4 turn and going for a drive to see if there is any difference. What you described sounds exactly like what I started with. Tightening up the steering box helped that issue so that I only have to turn the wheel about 2". No idea how that translates to angles though.

I have adjusted my steering box 3 or 4 times now. You can feel when you adjusted it too tight when you take a test drive. The steering feels a lot heavier and you can almost feel the ball bearings that are in the steering box if you go to tight.

I originally recommended 1/8 of a turn but I now retract that statement. If you have a situation where you have to turn the steering wheel a lot to correct your direction, start with 1/4 turn and then adjust a few times to see if it is doing something on your truck. Loosen it back up quickly if you feel you got it too tight. Hopefully, you will feel it through the steering wheel. Then make smaller 1/8 adjustments to fine tune.
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Old 08-14-2011, 12:20 PM
AMG-SM AMG-SM is offline
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Also, here is a good post on how to test the various components:
Ford Truck Enthusiasts Forums - View Single Post - steering issue


Quote:
Originally Posted by T8R View Post
To test tie rod and bushings:

Make sure that the vehicle is in Park, and that the emergency brake is engaged. With the engine running, have a helper turn the steering wheel right and left while you lie under the front of the vehicle to inspect the moving parts for play. The worse a part is, the more obvious the play will be. For slightly worn tie rod ends, you might feel the play with your hand on the part.

Tie Rod Ends - should not have any play, although they may rotate with the tie rod.

Bushings - Should not have any obvious play - make sure to check all of them while you're down there - they'll be different depending on whether you have 2wd or 4wd, but if they're bad the problem is the same. If the whole axle or I-beam shifts side to side when the wheel is turned, a bushing is in definite need of replacing.

Pittman Arm - watch the nut that holds the tie rod to the pittman arm. It should not rotate separately from the pitman arm. (This is an indication that it is not tight enough, or that the hole in the pitman arm may be worn - usually from not being tight enough. Find the torque specs for your specific application.)

Steering box - the input shaft and output shaft should move at the same time. If not.. it's a good time to call Redhead.

Rub points - if you run oversize tires or after market rims - this is a good time to check the clearance and make sure nothing is rubbing the frame. (Tire rub on the frame can and will eat bushings... even brand new ones... it sucks to have to do the same job over again.)

If you've never worked on the front end of one of these or aren't as familiar with it as you'd like - it never hurts to have a friend with experience take a look under there for you too, since it's only about 5 min of their time. Turns out, one of the guys at my favorite local parts shop has considerable experience with frame and alignment. He spots things that even I've missed.

When you're done - turn the truck off.

ball joints - there is an excellent write up in the Ball Joint Thread. I highly suggest checking it out. The thread is amazingly long - so get comfy with the search function - and find key words relating to your specific truck. (2wd, 4wd and a few other key words will be helpful)

(Somebody please correct me if I've left anything out.) To check the ball joints, you'll want to have the front tires a few inches off the ground, with the axle or I beam supported by jack stands. With help from a friend, one of you can use a long 2x4 or 4x4 as a lever under the tire to apply a lifting force under the tire, while you or your helper feels for play at the ball joint. Remember to check both the upper and lower ball joints.

This is also a good time to check the bearing for play by holding the wheel at the front and back and attempting to rotate it as if you were steering. You should not feel any play.

2wd bearings can be re-packed and re-torqued if there is a small amount of play, but they don't get hot when driving. To be honest, for $15, I just opted to replace them while I had everything apart to do the ball joints anyway.

4wd with the ESOF uses a sealed bearing cartridge that is not serviceable. There is a whole thread dedicated to this procedure - which I won't repeat here because it starts to border on 'off-topic'. You'll need the bearing, seals and a special tool - either purchased or home-made.

Seeing as how I have a 2wd, I'm not familiar enough with after market manual hubs and whether or not they can be serviced, although I have seen dedicated threads on this subject as well.

It's been a little over a year since I did all this last - so I'm trusting you guys to correct me if I've forgotten anything or left anything out. :-) Hope this helps.

Good luck getting your steering sorted out, and keep us posted on your results.

Edit: Also - if you already have grease-able ball joints, it helps to take the weight off the front of the truck to grease them. This gives the grease a better chance of actually making it into the ball joint.
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Old 08-14-2011, 12:33 PM
AMG-SM AMG-SM is offline
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Here is some more good info in a thread on steering stabilizers with a great video that shows the problem that a steering stabilizer actually fixes:

http://www.ford-trucks.com/forums/10...ure-video.html

Installing Rancho Steering Stabilizer & RS9000XL Shocks Ford Super Duty - YouTube

My remaining problem (now that I have fixed the worn out tie rods in my truck, tightened the steering box a little, had an alignment done) is a big dead spot in the steering when driving straight. Its worse on uneven road surfaces or roads that have ruts. It only happens when I'm trying to keep the truck going straight.

I have about 2" of dead on-center steering wheel play. I can just sit there and turn the steering wheel back and forth about 1-2" each way and nothing happens. Once I hit about the 2" turn point, I finally feel like the steering gear "grabs" and actually does something. If I'm in a long sweeping turn on the highway, I have to turn the wheel 3-4", wait for it to start doing something, correct and then I can just hold it and the truck tracks straight.

Given the tie rods and ball joints are good, this tells me that there is a problem between the tie rod on the pitman arm and the steering wheel. What's in between those parts?
  • The steering box could be worn,
  • the pitman arm itself could be worn,
  • the steering column could be loose at the firewall.

I actually installed a Rancho single steering stabilizer in my truck this weekend and it didn't make a difference with regards to my problem with on-center steering. The stabilizer (as you can see in the video above) will help keep the wheels in control when you hit bumps and stuff. It won't help a worn rack or a truck that is wandering due to a worn steering rack.
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Old 08-14-2011, 12:33 PM
 
 
 
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