With twenty plus years and hundreds of thousands of miles, one can understand an old Ford truck just not driving as nice as it once did. Little bit of wear on some parts, bearings that have been neglected and not greased regularly, salty roads and deteration over time is just the nature of the beast when owning
an older Ford truck. That doesn’t mean you just have to live with the shimmy’s and shakes, or it drifting across your lane when it shouldn’t. There are plenty of replacement parts available still for the Old Body Style Fords, both OEM factory stuff and aftermarket upgrades. Here at Complete Performance we believe in offering both to make sure we have exactly what you need when it comes time to restore and repair your OBS Ford. On the resurrection of this particular 1996 F350 we’ve already thrown a host of new parts at it, including a new Reverse Shackle Front suspension kit from Sky’s Offroad. While doing this installation we found some pretty worn tie-rod ends, some play and the pitman arm and even more
play in the steering gear box than we’d like to live with. With noticeable play in the steering wheel we knew the drivability could be improved with a couple new steering parts.
At 230k on the original steering gear, it’s understandable that there’d be some slop in the steering wheel. While the factory box does offer some adjustment that could take up some of that play, with its age and mileage, replacing with something new just seemed logical. Through years of trial and error trying everything from local part stores replacements we’ve really come fond of the units sold by Bluetop Steering Gear. These folks have been in the game since the mid 1980’sand build an awesome steering gearbox that will most likely outlast this old Ford F350.
Since most of the original steering gear housings used by Ford didn’t use a bushing or bearing, Bluetop increases longevity and improves steering feel by machining a new bore and installing needle bearings. Sector shafts are also checked on a lathe to be sure they’re straight and true and all sealing surfaces are
fully polished to eliminate leakage issues. Going through the entire rebuild process with all new seals of course. With exacting tolerances the gear box eliminates every bit of play you may feel from an standard reman box.
After attending to the steering gearbox itself it’s time to replace steering linkage where we found some play in the tie rod ends and drag link. We could’ve just replaced the rod ends with new factory pieces and installed a new stock pitman arm. But there are better rod end designs available that not only last longer but can be less expensive to replace. Working with Carrick Customs of Bend, OR who also specializes in OBS Ford parts we offer their complete Heavy Duty Dana 60 Linkage system that improves steering feel and longevity over stock. Built from 1.5” x.188 DOM tubing, this tie-rod bar and draglink are stronger than OEM parts and removes flex in the system. This setup can better handle a big heavy set of tires and off-road abuse. State of the art Synergy Mfg. metal on metal heavy duty tie rods with the low misalignment boots help eliminate the dead spot feeling in your steering wheel as you put in that initial input at the wheel.
The pitman arm end of the drag link is also upgraded from a factory piece with the use of a GM 1-ton high angle rod end, which is stronger than a factory Ford piece. It’s also less expensive. So, on top of extending the life of the steering system, if anything ever needs replaced, it’ll be cheaper to do so. The complete steering kit uses a new Y-Link adapter and double adjuster rod end tube adapters that make
everything stronger and easy to adjust. It is worth noting the new rod ends are larger than stock so your steering knuckles on the axle will need to be drilled out to accept the included tapered sleeves. The pitman arm also needs to be modified to accept a taper sleeve as well, which will require machining the hole out larger and having the sleeve tig welded in to place.
For the do-it-yourself kind, this job wasn’t too overwhelming and was accomplished in the garage in a little over two hours. You will need some specialty tools like a pickle fork and a socket big enough for the pitman arm nut. Removing the steering shaft from original steering gear was the most troublesome part of the job and took a pry bar and some finesse to get it to break loose and slide off the splines. Just took some patience and time. With the new parts installed, you’ll have to get a professional alignment done before you can really drive it far or notice the improvements. The combination of new heavy duty Carrick Customs steering kit and Bluetop Steering gear was completely worth the time and expense. A quick trip across town and down the highway for a bit was all it took to prove it. The steering wheel no longer has that back and forth play in it and every bit of wander has been cleaned up.
1 – While the steering system under these OBS trucks is ‘tried and true’, overtime things wear out. At 230,000 miles there was play and wander in the front end while driving and new steering linkage like this combo from Carrick Customs is a no brainer.
2 – Using a much stronger and longer lasting Synergy Mfg. heavy duty metal on metal tie rod end you can expect a much sturdier feel from the wheel, along with extended lifespan, especially if you’re running a big heavy set of tires and wheels.
3 – On the pitman arm side of the draglink, Carrick uses this heavy duty 1-ton GM style rod end. Not only is it much stronger than a factory end link, it’s less expensive too. You’ll notice the slick machined taper sleeve installed here on the rod end. Your pitman arm will need to be drilled or machined out to 1” to accept the sleeve, which will also need Tig welded into the pitman arm to accept the new GM style end link.
4 – The factory tie rod ends were showing some signs of wear with a minor amount of play on both sides. The dust boots were also a little worn out, and with who knows how many miles on these parts, replacing and upgrading will be money well spent and make the truck a little nicer to drive.
5 – One of the main reasons for all this work was to get a stock style pitman installed to correct some of the steering angles that were thrown off when we removed the old school leveling kit last month. When we installed our new Reverse Shackle Kit and Super Duty leaf springs, our stance was dropped back
down near stock height and the big drop pitman arm was no longer required.
6 – After breaking the tie rod ends loose from the steering knuckles and getting the draglink to break loose of the pitman arm, the entire steering linkage was removed as an assembly. Laying side with the Carrick Customs pieces, you can really see the difference in size and understand why this setup will last longer and offer a more positive feel in the wheel.
7 – The factory tie rod end compared to the new Synergy Mfg. ends used on the heavy duty linkage from Carrick Customs. The low misalignment dust boots used on these ends help the tie rod from rolling over too much, which really eliminates the ‘dead spot’ feeling in your steering wheel.
08 – Since the new tie rod ends are larger than the factory units and require a different tapered joint at the knuckle. Carrick Customs includes a new tapered sleeve to insert into your factory knuckle, but in order to fit, the knuckle needs to be drilled out to a 7/8” hole size. This was easily accomplished with a good step bit.
9 – Like the knuckles requiring a larger taper, the draglink side of the pitman arm will as well. After purchasing a brand new factory style pitman arm, we had a local machinist place it in his mill to bore it out to a 1” hole, so the supplied tapered sleeve could be inserted and tig welded into place.
10 – To go along with the new linkage, in hopes of eliminating every bit of slop in our steering, we’ll also be upgrading the steering gear box (original with 230,000 miles) with a Steering Gear. In order to do so, the factory box needs to be removed, starting with disconnecting power steering lines located on top and the steering shaft.
11 – Before installing the new gear box on our F350 truck, we installed the new pitman arm since it was a little easy access just sitting on the shop floor. Be sure you get the alignment correct and to torque that big 34mm nut to spec.