HD TJ Steering Upgrade
For a fancier formated write-up on my website, click here
. It's reposted below in a format for L4J for posterity on this board.
After 5+ years of offroad use the steering linkage was damaged some how. The result was bent linkages that caused components to rub on the axle housing. This presented an opportunity to install stronger steering components as part of the repair.1)VEHICLE SETUP
This upgrade can be performed on any TJ and does not require other modifications.2) PERFORMANCE REVIEWOverview:
The purpose of this upgrade is not simply to repair the damaged steering but to improve it and make it stronger. To that end a Crown Automotive HD steering kit was installed. Essentially it uses the heavier duty 1996 era Grand Cherokee (ZJ) V8 steering components from drag link, to tie rods, tie rod ends, and adjusting collars.Crown Kit vs. Stock TJ Steering:
The Crown kit uses the same diameter and construction on the drag link as the factory unit so there is no upgrade here (however, the stock drag link is pretty strong). But the kit beefs up the tie rod and this is the core reason to go with the Crown kit. The factory tie rod is a thin (22.2mm), hollow tube and can bend easily. Where as the Crown tie rod is a 1Ē (25.5mm) diameter of solid forged steel. In addition to this, the tie rod ends in the crown kit are substantially beefier, too.
Why Crown HD Kit vs Grand Cherokee Steering:
Crown kit on the left, old bent steering and point of contact on the right
The same modification can be done by purchasing Grand Cherokee ZJ (1996 era) tie rod, tie rod ends, and the adjusting collar. All told those components are approximately $157 at 2009 prices with costs having gone up in recent years. But for approximately $160-190 from various internet retailers the Crown HD kit can be purchased. The difference is that with the Crown kit you also get a new drag link and drag link tie rod end. It then becomes a cost effective way to upgrade and freshen the entire steering system. To replace the entire stock steering system with stock components (TJ drag link and ZJ tie rod and rod ends) the cost climbs up to $350+. As you can see the Crown kit becomes ever more attractive at itís sub-$200 price point.Crown vs. Currie, etc.
Compared to a stock TJ steering system the Crown is a very nice upgrade in strength. But there are substantially stronger steering linkage systems out there such as the very well regarded Currie kit with even stronger components. However, these are more than twice the price of the Crown kit and if you donít NEED the extra strength then why pay for more.
Additionally, the Crown kit sources ďstockĒ Grand Cherokee rod ends and other components so it will be easier to source replacement parts in the future.Two Crown HD Steering Kits:
Crown offers two different kits, one with a steering stabilizer and one with out. There is a $25-30 price difference between the two. Given that the Old Man Emu steering stabilizer that is currently on the Jeep is in perfect working order I opted for the cheaper kit:
Part No: HDSTRGCR1
This is just the steering components of drag link, tie rod, adjusting sleaves, and tie rod ends, plus hardware.
Part No: HDSTRGCR2
This is the same as above but also includes a new steering stabilizer.Measurements:
Many people have wondered exactly what are the differences between the stock set up and the Crown kit. Below are the measurements. On the drag link and tie rod the measurement was taken mid-span on a uniform diameter section. The tie rod ends were measured on the threads (major diameter).Drag Link Diameter
Stock = 25.7 mm
Crown Kit = 26.0 mm (essentially the same)Tie Rod Shaft Diameter
Stock = 22.2 mm
Crown Kit = 25.5 mm (15% thicker)Tie Rod End Threaded Shank
Stock = 17.2 mm
Crown Kit = 21.6 mm (23% thicker)
3)INSTALLATIONRemove Old Steering Linkage:
The stock tie rod end vs. the "HD" tie rod end
Set the front axle up on jack stands and remove the wheels. Remove the cotter pins from the castellated nuts on the ends of all the linkages and back the nuts off several turns (but do not remove). On the steering knuckles and tie rod-to-drag link connection you can probably pop the tie rod ends out by banging on the side of the kuckle housing next to the tie rod end with a mini-sledge hammer and/or the nut. If that doesnít work, a gear or pitman arm puller or pickle fork (tie rod separator) is also helpful.
For the pitman arm link itís a much tighter spot. A pickle fork or the right puller if it fits is helpful. I ended up using a combination of methods that included a a torch to warm the pitman arm and expand the metal, a vice grip for downward pressure, and banging on the pitman arm with the mini-sledge. Eventually it popped out.
Remove the steering stabilizer with a puller and finish removing the nuts. Now the steering linkage should come right out.
Match Old and New Steering Lengths:
Removing steering stabilizer w/ puller and removing
pitmant arm TRE by any means necessary
Left: stock tie rod has a definite bend to it.
Right: the flatening of the bend in the drag link caused the rubbing.
Match the length of the new steering components to the old ones. The easiest way is to measure from zerk fitting to zerk fitting on the old linkages and transfer this measurement to the new parts. Donít tighten the adjustment collars just yet.
Setting initial linkage length.
Install the drag link and then the tie-rod. By leaving the adjustment collars loose the rod ends will seat without biding. Tighten the nuts on the drag link ends down to 55 ft-lb. Tighten the steering knuckle end of the tie rod to 55 ft-lb. Tighten the tie rod-to-drag link end down to 65 ft-lb. Reinstall steering stabilizer and tighten tie rod bolt down to 55 ft-lb.Set Toe-In Adjustment:
An easy and precise way to set the toe-in adjustment for the tie rod is to clamp two angle irons or straight edges to the front brake rotors. But first mark the width of your tire and the center point on the straight edges. This gives you two accurate straight edges to run a tape measure on. The front measurement should be 1/16Ē - 1/8Ē less than the rear measurement. Adjust tie rod by twisting adjustment collar. When toe-in is set, tighten clamping bolts to 36 ft-lb for the HD tie-rod clamp (itís 20 ft-lb for the smaller factory tie rod).
Set Drag Link Adjustment:
Setting toe-in by using straight edges clamped to brake rotors.
Now set the drag link adjustment. Install the tires and lower the Jeep back down to pavement. If the steering wheel isnít far out of whack tighten down the adjusting collar. Drive the Jeep approx 20-30 ft in a straight line allowing the tires to ďcenterĒ themselves. Stop the Jeep and if the steering wheel is cocked a bit, loose drag link adjusting collar and twist to realign steering wheel. Tighten up adjusting collar again, drive another 20-30 ft to check steering wheel position. Repeat as necessary until steering wheel is dialed in.
Thatís it, the new steering is installed and adjusted.4)RESOURCES
Torque Specifications per Factory Service Manual:
Pitman Arm 185 ft-lb (not needed for this mod)
Drag Link Rod Ends 55 ft-lb.
Tie Rod End - Knuckle 55 ft-lb.
Tie Rod End - Drag Link 65 ft-lb.
Adjusting collar clamps 36 ft-lb.
Steering damper 55 ft-lb.