The MGA With An Attitude
STIFF STEERING and How To Fix It - SR-112

At 09:20 PM 8/19/2009 +0000, Alan Olson wrote:
>>"I have a 1960 MGA that will not go to neutral when you are driving and going down the highway. Generally it continues to go in the direction you point the wheel".

That sounds like stiffness in the steering, needing lubrication or elimination of some friction.

>>"I have completely rebuilt the suspension. I have not touched the rack, except new boots and grease".

Grease? The steering rack should have only 6-oz of gear oil inside, not grease, and just a couple shots of grease on the first Zerk fitting on the input shaft. If the rack is full of grease it will be very sluggish in motion, especially in cold weather.

>>"I have not touched the u joint in the steering column, or changed column bushings".

Likely neither is at fault.

>>"It has new ball joints. I haven't aligned the front end. Maybe this is the way the steering is supposed to work"?

Uh, nope.

. >>"Any ideas"?


Start by reading some of my steering tech articles so you understand how it works.
SR_101 - Steering Rack Tech
SR_103 - Front End Shimmy
SR_106 - Steering Alignment

With the tires off the ground you can grip one wheel and move the steering quickly from side to side to full lock. It should turn freely in this manner spinning the steering wheel through back drive, and you should be able to turn the steering wheel with your pinkie finger. When you have the correct amount of oil in the steering rack you can hear it gurgle slightly through the gaiters as the rack approaches end of travel.

First loosen the damper caps on top of the steering rack housing just one turn and see if that might eliminate the friction. If it does cure the problem, then you need to add some shims under one of the cap nuts until it will run free when tight.

If it still seems to be stiff you will need to disconnect some things to determine what is stiff. Start by disconnecting one tie rid end. Mark orientation of the tie rod, then loosen the jam nut and unscrew the tie rod counting turns as you go. On reassembly you can screw it back together the same number of turns and keep the alignment. After disconnecting the tie rod, move the parts through full steering motion side to side to assure that it moves freely. If it drags, try greasing it. If that doesn't free it up, then you would be in for some additional disassembly of the swivel links. If it moves freely, then go to the other side and do the same procedure.

With both tie rods disconnected you can move the steering rack to see if that will move freely. You should be able to pull or push on one tie rod to make the steering rack back drive and spin the steering wheel. If not then mark orientation of the steering U-joint on the shafts and disconnect the steering U-joint to separate the steering column from the rack input shaft.

The steering wheel should spin freely with your pinkie finger. If the steering column is tight it can only be the felt bushings being too tight or loaded with dirt.

The steering rack should move with easy wrist action on the input shaft. If the rack is tight the first suspect is one of the dampers on top being too snug. If you loosen the dampers and it's still tight, then you will need to disassemble the rack for cleaning. Start by removing the bottom end pinion cap (on front of rack below the radiator). Hang onto any shims you find there. If loosening the bolts securing this cap allows the assembly to move freely, then add a shim or two as needed to provide minimal end clearance for the pinion shaft. If it is still stiff with the pinion cap removed, then pull the pinion shaft out the front saving the thrust washer parts and noting orientation.

Remove the dampers from top of the rack housing (as you already had them loose before). Presumably the rack will still be stiff, which is why you are still going here. Remove the rubber boots from both ends of the rack. Knock back the lock tab cup on one side to "unlock" the inner ball joint from end of the moving gear rack. Pull the gear rack out of the housing (from opposite side). At this point the only part left in the car is the rack housing. You can use a bottle brush or rag on a stiff wire to swab out the housing with solvent for cleaning. Also clean the gear rack. Gear teeth are hardened and would seldom wear unless the assembly had been used for years with dirt inside.

After cleaning the rack should slide freely in the housing. Reassemble with proper shims in the dampers for minimal freeplay and free motion of the rack. Replace felt grease seal at pinion shaft input housing. Reinstall pinion shaft with thrust washer(s) correctly oriented, and shim the end cap for minimal freeplay and free motion of the pinion shaft. Reinstall dampers on top with shims as required for minimal freeplay and free motion. Reinstall tie rod(s) and rubber boots. Install 6-ounces of gear oil through the Zerk fitting on top of the main housing, and give a couple shots of grease to the Zerk fitting on top of the input pinion housing. Reconnect tie rod ends in original position, or do an alignment (toe-in adjustment) afterward, finishing by securing end clamps on the rubber boots.

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