So, I replaced my rag joint a while back, and I told Chris that I was going to take a photograph and detail what I did and how I did it as far as replacing the steering shaft coupler (rag joint).
Basically, for anyone who doesn't know what a steering shaft coupler or rag joint is, it's multiple pieces of flexible rubber stitched tightly together, and it's either riveted or bolted to the steering shaft.
The main purpose of a rag joint is to provide a solid link between the steering gear and steering shaft, while reducing vibrations felt through the steering wheel.
Here is what I ended up with after all of the work I'm about to detail:
What you see is a Dorman rag joint, held in place by four grade eight (grade five would do just as fine, or maybe even generic nuts and bolts, but for the cheap price of grade eight, why not have the extra security?)
bolts. The part number for the Dorman rag joint that fits our trucks is 31002. It's the perfect diameter inside and out, the holes where the bolts/rivets go through is in the perfect location, and it is over twice as thick as the factory rag joint!
Since my rag joint was riveted in place, this necessitated removing the steering shaft, grinding the heads off of the rivets, and then driving the rivets out with a hammer. The stock metal plates that the rivets clamp together are re-used, and you merely use bolts to hold it in place rather than the rivets.
Overall, this new rag joint is tremendously better than the old one. It took a good bit of slop out of my steering and my driving speed (with the severely worn out gear box) made me feel comfortable taking it up to 45 mph and all over the road rather than 35 mph and all over the road with the old rag joint. After I replace the steering gear, the steering will be tight as a new vehicle, and I won't have to constantly fight to keep the thing in my lane.
My only complaint about the rag joint is that with the thicker joint, you feel everything through the steering wheel. On smooth road, it's just like driving a car with electric steering, but as soon as you hit gravel or a pot hole, etc. you'll feel every ridge and pebble. When I removed the rag joint from it's packing, I found it was incredibly stiff. It was almost solid. I attribute this to the higher level of thickness compared to the stock rag joint. A plus side to this whole ordeal is that if the rag joint ever wears out again (highly unlikely due to how tough it is), I can simply unbolt it and bolt the new one in.
Removal and installation:
1) Remove the snap on shroud that sits over the rag joint down by the steering gear. Slide it up the shaft and let it stay there so it can temporarily be out of the way.
2) The steering shaft is held on by two pinch bolts. One pinch bolt is up at the top of the shaft near the firewall, and it has a special metal clip that the pinch bolt threads through that it also tightens against to help prevent it from backing out. This clip made the removal of the pinch bolt aggravating, but not difficult. The other pinch bolt sits between the steering shaft coupler and the steering gear. This pinch bolt clamps two ears over the splined shaft of the gear box. You may have to loosen the bolt and spread the ears with a large screwdriver to remove the bolt and shaft. Undo both pinch bolts.
3) The steering shaft should now collapse like a shock absorber. It took quite a bit of effort with mine due to the amount of grease/grime/dirt/etc. inside of my steering shaft, but it will collapse. It should slide right off at the firewall, and it may need a little motivation to slide off of the splines on the gear box. DO NOT BEAT ON THE SHAFT. IF YOU MUST USE FORCE, FIND SOMETHING LARGE TO USE AS A PRY BAR AND PRY IT OFF USING THE GEAR BOX FOR LEVERAGE. GO EASY.
4) Once the steering shaft is out of the engine compartment, you'll want to get out your angle grinder. You CANNOT drill through the rivets that hold the rag joint onto the shaft unless you've got enough cutting oil and patience to go non-stop for a week. Trust me, these rivets are TOUGH. Take your angle grinder, grind the heads of the rivets flush, and then drive them out with a hammer and a punch. You'll want to wear safety glasses and use C-clamps or something similar to fasten this thing down while you go to town.
5) Once all of the rivets are removed, it should separate into four distinct pieces: 1) The steering shaft itself; 2) The old rag joint; 3) the splined coupler that the lower pinch bolt uses to fasten the shaft to the steering gear; 4) and the metal plates that the rivets pull against to hold the coupler in place.
6) From here, it's easy. You'll take the new rag joint to a hardware store of your choice and pick out a set of bolts that are long enough to thread through the coupler, the shaft, and the splined fastener that sits between the rag joint and the steering gear, while providing a tight fit to the inside diameter of the holes of the coupler. You want NO slop, as this can translate to movement at the steering wheel. I chose grade eight hardware with nylon locking nuts and crush washers.
7) Assemble the new rag joint using the factory hardware that came from the steering shaft. Throw the hardware you got with the rag joint in the garbage because none of it is correct for your application. Remember, all we're doing here is replacing the rubber coupler, and the rivets we had to remove the replace the coupler.
8) The steering shaft goes right back in the engine bay like it was. Take care to get the orientation of the shaft right, or your steering wheel could be upside down. If you'd like, you can replace the upper pinch bolt with a new, snug fitting bolt, two washers (one for either side of the shaft), a nut, and a nylon lock nut to serve as a jam nut to keep the bolt from backing out. If you managed to get the upper pinch bolt out without screwing up the metal clip, congratulations, you did something I couldn't!
The lower pinch bolt should slide right into the hole, slip the shaft over the splines, and tighten the bolt down. Make sure the spines on the gear box engage with the metal clamp on the end of the steering shaft.
9) Slide your snap on shroud back down over the rag joint and take it for a test drive. You should have tighter steering, feel a little bit more of the road through your wheel, and be completely satisfied with your work.
If your steering wheel sits upside down, you'll want to undo the upper pinch bolt and slide the shaft off of the steering column at the firewall, spin the steering wheel 180*, and reinstall the upper pinch bolt. The lower pinch bolt only goes on one way due to a flat spot on the splined shaft of the gear box. Your steering wheel should now be right side up.
It took me about 2 hours, which includes the time to go get the hardware to install the new rag joint because the hardware in the packaging doesn't match the application for our trucks. If done right it should take at most an hour.
Let me know if anyone has any questions. I'll be happy to answer them.