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The term "non-integral" refers to the design of the box in that no hydraulic lines go into it and that the box itself offers no power assist. These boxes were used on most car model lines, both manual and power assisted steering.
While the information is intended for owners of new reproduction or rebuilt units, much still applies to used boxes. Although the early Ford steering box, most notably the ones used in all Mustangs, has a bad reputation for being loose and allowing the car to wander about the road, the box is actually a very good and sound design. Unfortunately, some steering boxes have been so used, misused and abused over the years that many are no longer servicable.
There are certain common problems that are found in these units and cause most of the damage. A little knowledge about these parts can significantly improve and prolong the service life of your steering box. Just a few drops of water inside a steering box and it will cause damage.
Once inside, it has no way to get out. It will tend to settle in the lowest area it can, usually the bottom bearing area of the input shaft. Regardless of how much or what kind of grease inside the box, the water will wash the lubricant off and settle against the unprotected metal. Water is a most amazing solvent. It washes mountains down to the sea and it will wash the heaviest grease right off the steering box parts. You would think it would settle to the bottom of the box where the shaft comes out, but it never gets that far.
It stays on top where the gears are and does its work. And what it does is pit the parts with holes, which tears up the ball bearings and sheds metal into the box.
Once the pitting starts, the damage rapidly increases. Particles of rust and metal shed from pitted parts gets ground into the surfaces of the gears and teeth with all the force it takes to steer the car. Not only does this increase the tolerances of the parts and play in the steering, it also damages the pieces to the point that they cannot be used in a rebuild. But how does water get into the steering box?
What Everyone Should Know About Their Ford steering Box
Well, obviously, if the car sits out in a wrecking yard without a hood, a fair amount of water is going to get on the box and some will eventually get inside. And those junkyard cars with no windows or door or steering wheels?
The water just runs down the steering shaft and right into the top of the steering box. Kind of like a funnel, if you think about it. The most common way is probably from water spray when washing the engine compartment, especially a power washer or a car wash. Take a good look at the input shaft where it goes into the steering box.
If you have a long-shaft box, the kind that the steering wheel bolts to the end of the input shaft, the shaft goes into a snout that screws into the steering box housing. There is no seal of any kind. Because of chassis flex and general inevitable parts mis-alignment, there is no seal on the top of the box to keep out water.
The steering column tube is supposed to cover this area, but pressurized water can easily be blown past and around it. On a long-shaft style box, this is the only place where water can get in.
Now, if you have a short-shaft box, the type that has a coupler on the input shaft that connects it to the steering wheel shaft, then you have it a little better. The short shaft boxes have a rubber grommet where the shaft goes into the box. This is not a seal, it is basically a rubber grommet that helps to seal out moisture. Ford went to this because the steering column tube cannot go over the shaft with the coupler on it, so they sealed the shaft a little better.
The short-shaft box, however, is "sealed" at the shaft so it has a "vented" grease plug on top. Although the hole in this plug is quite small, it sits right on top of the box and can easily have water forced into it from a pressure washer.
Water may not be the ultimate evil for your steering box, but it is something you should be aware of. Whenever yo wash the engine compartment or store the car in the weather without a hood, always wrap the steering box and the area where the input shaft goes in.
Try not to spray pressurizes water on the box if at all possible. ADJUSTMENTS There are a couple of clearances that should be checked when rebuilding a steering box, but there are just two actual adjustments; input shaft bearing preload and gear teeth center mesh load. Any new or rebuilt box should already have these adjustments done to them and should require no further adjustments for many, many miles. Changing these adjustments in any way will probably void your warranty, so it is best to leave them alone and hope that whoever assembled the box knew what they were doing and built it right.
When the cars were new, and the steering boxes had a new parts inside, Ford recommended that you bring the car back to the dealership after about miles and the mechanics would check and possibly re-adjust the steering box. That was because a new box with new parts, much like a new engine, would break-in after a few miles and loosen up. The new parts would shed a little metal and the bearings would take a set. A new reproduction steering box would probably act the same, and might require an adjustment after several thousand miles, but a rebuilt would not be as critical in this matter since the gears and such have already taken a set and have already gone through "break-in wear".
In this respect, a properly rebuilt steering box, using good used parts, will probably remain tighter than a new reproduction box which will "wear in" more. If the box is excessively loose, then that is a warranty problem. And if the box is out of warranty, you still should only adjust the box at your own risk. To do it properly requires you to remove the box from the car, have specialty tools and know exactly the correct way and order to make the adjustments.
For pictures and more detailed information on how to properly adjust a steering box, go to this page. Well, that is one of the adjustments, but it is done after the other adjustment is done and can only be done with the correct tools. It is very easy to over-tighten the adjustment screw and cause the gear mesh to be much greater than it should be.
At the least it can cause the parts to wear much faster and the looseness will return.
Problem is, because of the accelerated wear, the parts are now too worn to take another adjustment and are ruined. In the worst case, the gear teeth can bind and break, which can cause the steering box to lock up in the middle of a turn. It can affect the life and operation of your steering box - and you. Some of it is common sense, but I still get in parts that look like they were removed with a hatchet and pipe wrench.
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There are a few things to keep in mind about a steering box so as not to cause any internal damage. If you ever have to remove the pitman arm from the bottom shaft of the steering box, never use a "picklefork". These tools are destructive. Wedging a picklefork between the pitman arm and the box housing puts tremendous force on the sector shaft, pulling it down in the box.
This can damage the adjustment shim on the adjustment screw and it forces the sector shaft teeth down into the rack teeth with far more force than these parts were ever intended to have. It can gouge the teeth, causing excessive play in the adjustment, and it could break a tooth off of the rack block. Use a proper puller to press the arm off the shaft. This puts no stress on the internal parts of the box at all. Pictures and sources for inexpensive pullers can be found on this page.
The pitman arm is hard pressed onto the tapered splines of the sector shaft and can be very hard to get off, even with a puller.
Some people have had the cheap pullers break on them trying to get the arm off. They suggest the best way to use a puller is to tighten the puller down real good and then whack the end of the puller screw with a hammer to help "pop" the arm off the shaft. This is not the thing to do. Hitting the end of the puller is like hitting the end of the sector shaft.
It drives the shaft up into the steering box and can damage the sector adjustment shim and the top mounting plate. The end of the input shaft that goes inside the steering box has a ball bearing on it to center the shaft and allow rotation without play.
When installing a steering wheel on the end of the input shaft, always line up the splines and use the tightening of the steering wheel nut to press the wheel onto the shaft. Never hammer the steering wheel down onto the shaft. When removing the steering wheel, always use a steering wheel remover tool. Never hammer on the backside of the steering wheel to get it off of the shaft. Any hammering on the shaft drives the hardened ball bearings into the bearing surface of the input shaft and leaved little "dimples" in the metal.
These dimples cause the bearings to turn roughly on the shaft and make the steering wheel feel "notchy". It will eventually damage the bearings and cause the bearing preload to change and create play in the box. Be careful not to drop the box on the input shaft.
One good hit and the smooth rolling action of the input shaft bearings could be gone. I had a steering box mounted in a bench vise as I was assembling it. I had just installed the input shaft and set the input shaft bearing preload to the correct factory settings. The shaft had been freshly machined and the bearings were new, so it was perfect. For some reason, the box slipped out of the vise and fell about three feet to the floor.
I mounted the box up again, making sure it was securely fixed this time, and re-checked my previous adjustment.
The shaft turned rough and notchy as if there were detents in the bearing. That little fall was all it took. The shaft had to be re-machined again and the bearings replaced. You can use a soft hammer to tap a coupler onto an input shaft, but never pound it on with force. If you are unsure if your box is fully filled, go to this page to see how to properly fill your steering box. A steering box needs to be filled with grease to be lubricated properly.
Grease tends to stick to parts, and when the sliding action of the gear teeth wipes the grease off of the teeth, it needs to be constantly re-applied.
Now, the proper grease is designed so that the heat from the exhaust manifold keeps the box pretty warm and the grease soft enough that it will "flow" to a certain extent, but that also means the grease settles and puddles in the bottom of the case.
Unfortunately, the gears and bearings are in the top of the case. When you turn the car, the rack block moves up and down inside the box housing and the sector teeth move side-to-side.