Turn And Go: Rebuild Your Car’s Steering System At Home

Respect Steering

In the early ‘80s, automotive enthusiasts didn’t have much to get excited about. Gone were the performance cars of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. Formerly powerful musclecars had become all but neutered shadows of their older siblings, and tightening fuel economy standards made it seem like the dark days were here to stay. But change was on the way, as a generation of rebellious young adults didn’t think it was cool to be seen driving their father’s Chevy Cavalier.

The stock steering components under Project Respect had definitely seen better days. The tie-rod ends and idler arm assembly were showing signs of wear and needed to be replaced.

Enter The Third-Generation Camaro

While the third-generation Camaro did get caught up in the emasculation of the musclecar, it did manage to keep the Camaro name alive. Released for sale in December of 1981, the 1982 model was the first Camaro to ever be sold with a hatchback instead of a trunk.

The nuts for the tie-rod ends were the first to be removed. A pickle fork separator is useful, if you don’t have one, a few gentle taps with a hammer will usually separate the tie-rod end from the spindle. Be careful not to damage the threads as you hit the spindle. There is one specialized tool you will need, and that is a pitman arm separator. These are inexpensive, and can be found at any hardware or auto parts store.

Parts We Used

It also gave buyers such options as fuel injection, and for the first time, a four-cylinder engine. Over the years, the third-generation Camaro continually received upgrades, and although the ‘80s stigma of a mullet-sporting driver with a missing T-top is still around, these cars are destined to be a car worth collecting.

The capabilities of the third-generation Camaro cannot be measured by straight-line performance alone. Let’s face it, this generation had nothing on its predecessor’s 1/4-mile prowess. But, when it comes to all-around capability, this Camaro does have a lot of potential. That being said, the last third-generation Camaro was built in 1992 — more than 23 years ago — which means many of the parts on these cars have long since passed their life expectancy, and need replacement. Lucky for us, Classic Industries carries the parts needed, to bring new life into classic Chevys.

Earning Respect

Take for instance our project car, Project Respect. It is a 1991 RS Camaro that was purchased for a relatively-fair price of $1,500. Under the hood was the factory 305 cubic-inch V8, producing a legend-stripping 167 horsepower at the rear tires.

IMG_9127 (7)

With the steering linkage removed from the car, we can use the old pieces as a template to assemble the new pieces. To get your steering and alignment close to specification, measure the distances from all connection points on the old linkage, and assemble the new linkage using those measurements.

When we decided to give this Camaro the respect its generation was lacking, the name became obvious. While the car has been the recipient of many upgrades over the last couple of years (you can find all of those articles here). One of the things we hadn’t tackled, was rebuilding the steering system. Thanks to Classic Industries, we were able to make the Camaro’s worn, sloppy steering, respectable.

Next to come out was the steering box. Remove the three bolts going through the frame into the gear box, disconnect the hoses, and then unhook the steering-column coupling. The Classic Industries gearbox is a remanufactured, fast-ratio unit that can dramatically improve steering over slower-ratio, stock gear boxes.

Turning On

After 24 years of aiming the front tires over, around, and into potholes, speed bumps and tight corners, it was readily apparent that Respect’s steering system could use some much-needed attention. Inspecting the steering components is a fairly easy task. Begin by jacking up the car and grabbing the front and rear of one of the front tires.

After we installed the new gear box, we installed the new pitman arm to the gear box. It is easier to install the arm when the steering box is bolted into the car.

As you “steer” the tire from left to right, worn components will be made noticeable by the ease of movement the wheel realizes before the actual steering begins to move.

As long as you have a pitman arm puller, this steering upgrade is something you can handle in a few hours. – Sean Goude, Shop Tech

To pinpoint the worn item(s), grab various components of the steering system that make up the steering linkage and see if they are loose. What you are looking for are obviously bent, worn, or otherwise defective parts. After checking the components under Project Respect, we knew that some work was required.

For starters, the power-steering gear box was badly worn, and allowed the steering wheel to move left to right a considerable amount before ever actually turning the wheels. We were fortunate that the gearbox didn’t leak oil all over the garage floor, but we’re sure it was only a matter of time.

The tie-rod ends were also showing signs of wear, and the idler arm was allowing movement that was definitely not conducive to a controlling and firm feel when grasping the steering wheel.

The new steering-linkage parts are finally reinstalled into the car.

P18511

Replacing the OE, standard-ratio gear box with this remanufactured fast-ratio unit can dramatically improve handling. Each gear box is cosmetically correct, but has a        2  1/2 turn lock-to-lock, rotation.

So, now we had a decision to make. While there are many suspension companies that specialize in sport and/or race-style suspensions and steering parts capable of making our Camaro corner like a road racer, that wasn’t exactly what we were hoping to accomplish. We just wanted to give the RS a factory-new steering assembly without breaking the bank. So we turned to the Classic Industries website, where we purchased all of the parts we needed.

Time, Tools, And Finishing Touches

If you are planning to rebuild your car’s steering system yourself, there are a few things that you will need to keep in mind. For starters, while this is a fairly easy job to accomplish, a beginner can plan on using most of the day to complete the task. An experienced do-it-yourselfer can probably accomplish it in half that time. You will need various sockets and wrenches ranging from 1/2-inch to 1 1/8-inch. Also plan on needing a hammer, needle-nose pliers, a pitman arm puller, and a lot of shop rags.

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With the steering linkage installed and everything tightened up, we can grab our tape measure and get the front end adjusted well enough to get us to the alignment shop.

Once the worn steering components are replaced with the new pieces, you will need to take the car to an alignment shop. To make sure you don’t ruin your tires on the way to the alignment shop, either call a rollback and have your car hauled to the the shop, or check out this do-it-yourself alignment article about getting your car’s alignment close to specification at home. Since no special tools are required, what are you waiting for? Get out in the garage, get that steering fixed in your car, and go for a drive.

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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