The ultimate Intrepid / LH steering fix
As many of the original LH cars, such as Intrepid, Concorde, Vision, LHS, New Yorker, and 300M get older, owners may notice that the steering gets more "sloppy", with lots of steering wheel input required to turn the wheels. This sometimes can be attributed to one or more sets of rubber bushings associated with the steering rack that have worn or gone bad. Unfortunately, although the bushings themselves are quite inexpensive, getting to them for replacement is somewhat difficult. I created this document to help others understand and fix the problems with bushings on older LH cars, the original 1993 - 1997 series.
Before we go further, here's a warning:
Your steering system is one of the most important safety systems on your vehicle. Never attempt to fix or replace any steering component unless you are qualified and competent in this area of car repair. In general, you are advised to have your steering problems repaired by your dealer or a professional repair shop. Do not attempt any repairs without the appropriate factory manual for reference. Do not attempt any repairs without first disconnecting the battery cables. Steering system repairs, if done improperly, will lead to loss of control of the vehicle, resulting in damage or loss of life.
Now, with that out of the way, let's go over why the LH cars sometimes have "sloppy steering". There are two sets of bushings that contribute to the problem:
- steering rack hold down bolt bushings
- inner tie rod bushings
The original LH cars, from 1993 to 1995, used clamps to hold the steering rack down, with rubber bushings between the clamps and the rack to isolate vibration from the steering wheel. When the rubber bushing wears out, then the rack can shift left or right, even if the clamp or hold down bolts are in place. It takes just a little bit of flex in the rack to generate up to 20° of steering wheel movement, with no movement in the front wheels themselves (slop). I think by the 1996 models that these clamps were welded onto the rack, and the bolts now are inserted into rubber bushings pressed into the firewall.
For the earlier cars, a clunking noise at the firewall while rotating the steering wheel is an indication that these bushings are bad or the hold down bolts are loose.
All LH steering racks use two center mounted bolts to hold the inner tie rods to the steering rack. The inner tie rods have metal/rubber bushings pressed into the end, which the rack bolts are inserted through. If the rubber bushings are worn or lost, then the inner tie rods can "float" on the bolt, also leading to sloppy steering. I believe this basic design is still used on the current generation of LH cars.
Fortunately, this is pretty easy to check. First, jack up one side of the car such that the front tire is off the ground. Grasp the tire at the sides and try to shake it. The tire should not move, or move much. If it does move, and you hear a clunking noise under the hood, then the inner tie rod end for that side is bad (be sure to check the other side as well). Figure 1 shows the rack, clamps and tie rods.
How do you get to the steering rack?
The following instructions give you a reasonable method to get to the steering rack, its bolts and bushings. First, open the hood, and look at the steering rack (photo 1). You can't. It actually sits on a shelf in the fire wall, and is hidden behind the engine components (on the 3.5L, you can't see it because of the air intake plenum), hoses, etc.
The photos referred to in the text are all shown below.
Here are some step by step instructions on getting to the rack. Note that these instructions and photos are based upon the 3.5L V6; getting to the rack with the 3.3L V6 may involve other steps:
- Remove the windshield wipers. Ha! There are no references on how to do this, but it is simple (and tricky). Pull the wiper up as far as you can without bending it. Under the base, there is a small tab (photo 2) that you can use needle nose pliers to pull out. Once you have pulled it out, let the wiper back down. At this point you can "rock" the base of the wiper to get it off of the wiper motor post. Don't do it just yet! The base of the wiper blade is held in place by a small plastic wedge, and if you pull the base off, you will loose that wedge, and then you'll be in trouble. Put a rag completely around the base of the wiper blade, slowly rock the base while pulling up, and watch for that little black piece of plastic to fall. Be sure to catch it and keep it for reinstallation later.
- Unscrew the screws that hold the black plastic cowl cover. Carefully remove the rubber seal under the hood on the edge of the plastic cowl cover; don't be surprised if it splits if the car is old. Pull the windshield wiper hose off and remove the plastic cowl cover. Don't bend it too much, or it will split too.
- Believe it or not, the next thing to do is to remove the windshield wiper motor assembly. It is not too hard to do, as you should be able to easily reach the 6 or so bolts. Be sure to unplug the wiring harness too.
- If you have a 3.5L, take the connections loose on the air intake plenum. Move the plenum down as much as possible (photo3).
- Take the wiper assembly out. Note that one of the rods that go to the driver side wiper will probably hit the base of the windshield, but if you rotate it some it will come out. Note that if you have a 3.5L, you had to move the air plenum first before you can get the windshield wiper assembly out.
- Now that the windshield wiper assembly is out (keep the bolts with it), you can shift and rotate the 3.5L air intake assembly to the right to remove it from the engine compartment. It has two built in hose connections on the bottom, so don't mess up the hoses.
- IF you are replacing the 93 - 95 rack bushings, at this point you should be able reach both hold down clamps, bolts and bushing (photo 4, photo5) Remove the bolts and clamps, and replace the rubber bushings with new ones from dealer. If you are NOT replacing the tie rod ends (are you sure?), go to step # 15. (After getting this far, I would not hesitate
to change out the tie rod bushings; this could be regretted later even if they
are okay right now).
At this time, you have replaced or tightened down the bushings and bolts that hold the rack in place. If you do not plan to replace the tie rod end bushings, which are the main source of the steering sloppiness, then head to step 15 and put things back together. I do suggest you change out the tie rod bushings or you may have to do the job again.
- Now you can pretty much see the rack, but there are two heater hoses right in the way of the inner tie rod ends. You can loosen one (capture the antifreeze) and move it out of your way (photo 6, Figure 2 shows the bolts and tie rods better).
- For safety reasons, metal tabs are bent over the two bolts that hold the tie rod ends (to keep them from backing out while you are driving down the road). I was able to get the top tabs bent up with the use of a set of pliers, and got the bottom tabs down by using a long screwdriver and hammer to drive them down (photo 7).
- To replace the inner tie rod ends, you'll need a 21 mm box wrench (there is not enough room for a socket wrench), and replacement tie rod end bushings. The good news is that a set of two should run about $10. BE SURE TO BUY A SET THAT IS "SPLIT" FROM AN AFTERMARKET VENDOR; THE FACTORY ONES ARE "SOLID" AND REQUIRE SPECIAL TOOLS TO PRESS INTO PLACE.
- Make sure that you have a lot of time and patience at this point, because it will take a few minutes to back out the bolts with the box wrench (a few degrees at a time because of limited space to rotate the wrench). One of those rotating/ratcheting box wrenches might be a good investment for this project. You might have to get creative in clearing the bolts from the motor and remaining hoses. Once I took my bolts out, both of the bushings were so worn (photo 8, photo 9) that they literally fell out on their own. Another thing to watch for is washers which are supposed to be installed between the back of the tie rod ends and the rack; don't loose or drop them. Don't attempt to rotate or adjust the tie rods, or you'll have to pay for a front end alignment!!!
- At this point, you have both bolts and the tie rod bushings out, and it is time to reverse the process. Make sure that you have some axle grease to assist in getting the new bushing halves into the metal tie rod end, and those washers. It is important to install the washers to prevent the bolts from hitting the back of the steering rack. My vehicle did NOT have the washers and I had to go buy some. The fun part is that with the new bushings, washer, hold down tab, and bolt and lack of clearance, you will have to be really carefully not to drop the washer and/or new bushings (which can slide out) when trying to get the bolt back into the rack. The other trick is that even though the rack or tie rods have not moved, you probably will have to move or shift the rods or rack to get the bolt back in. The way I did it was to install the passenger side bolt and tie rod on the rack first, then the driver's side.
- Once the passenger side bolt and tie rod is reinstalled (with the hold down tab in place), you have to get the driver's side rod and bolt and washer in. Trust me, the easiest way to do this is to jack up the driver's side of the car to get the wheel off the ground, and then slowly move the wheel (which moves the tie rod end) until you can get the second bolt lined up with the hole in the rack. Get the bolt threaded in, and drop the car back down.
- Make sure that both bolts are securely tightened down (once again, very time consuming due to limited wrench access), and bend those tabs back down over the bolts.
- If you are happy with your work at this point, you can reverse the disassembly process (put the heater hose back, air intake plenum, windshield wiper assembly, reattach power to wipers and the spray hose, put the cowl cover back in, the rubber seal and then the wipers with those little wedges).
- Start the car up and rotate the wheels from the extreme left to right and then back. There should be no clunking noises, grinding or mechanical noises. Drive the car SLOWLY on a side street while rotating the steering wheel. The "slop" should be gone, and the wheels should respond smoothly and quickly to steering wheel changes. In fact, you should get more vibration through the steering wheel before; I consider this a small price to pay for good steering response. Once you have convinced yourself that the steering system is working as designed, you can resume normal driving.
- Do you hear mechanical noises, still have sloppy steering, or the car won't track the road properly? At this point you need to throw in the towel and get the vehicle to the dealer (or repair shop) and let them tackle the repair, as it might be a problem with the rack itself, or other major suspension or steering components. One easy fix to consider while your hands are dirty is the replacement of the outer tie rods (at the wheels). They are also inexpensive, and much easier to get at, but you will have to pay for front end alignment after they are changed.
That's about it. Believe it or not, this whole process took me less than 2 hours from start to finish. The screws for the black plastic cowl were shot, so I had to buy a replacement set of 10 from the dealer. The rubber seal under the hood split, but some 3M rubber sealant did a great job of gluing it back together as well as attaching it back to the cowl (it was originally held down by plastic pins that pulled out of the rubber seal). And yes, I did crack the black plastic cowl reinstalling it, but I just glued it back together versus buying a replacement one (at over $100 at dealer). I have driven the car for over 3 months with no problems to date (other than the slightly increased amount of vibration in the steering wheel), and am very glad to have the car responding as if it was new.
Once again, tackle this repair procedure at your own risk, and don't even try it without the factory service manual, or a third party manual that clearly shows how things are assembled.
This fixes the problem with the "sloppy" steering due to partial or full loss of the rubber bushings at the end of the tie rods at the rack itself. The whole purpose of the article was to clarify to readers that the rubber bushings are the main problem with sloppy steering, and that there was a (relatively) easy way for the above average/mechanically inclined owner to fix the problem for $10. By the way, this is not "my" fix, this is the same thing the dealership will do (for a lot more money). I had read a lot on ALPAR and other web sites about the causes of the problem, but never saw a clear article with illustrations, so I decided to do it myself.
There is no "permanent" fix - the bushings should be good for 4 years or so.
My cost the first time around (paying the dealer) was $400 - way too much (hence the article).
I am not aware of any lawsuit or recall. Note that even if the rubber bushings on the inner tie rods are completely gone, you never lose control of the steering (although it is much more sloppy), because the tie rod bolts are held in place by the metal tabs that are bent down to prevent the bolts from ever working loose. I hate to side with Chrysler on this, but rubber bushings are normal wear items (although these bushings are extremely hard to get at, as is the water pump on the 3.5V6), and you'd be hard pressed to argue that the dealer or Chrysler owes you a free fix (unless under warranty). My opinion.
Diagrams are copyrighted 1996 by Chrysler Corporation. Photographs are from Tony Lewis.
Additional notes from Nicholas Fong
I followed the good work done by Tony Lewis on your web site, "The ultimate Intrepid / LH steering fix" to replace my 96 Intrepid inner tie rod bushing. It was excellent article. I saved several hundreds of dollars of expensive repairs based on that article.
You may want to add that the part number of the inner tie rod bushing is NAPA 274-9182 (one box, two complete sets of bushings) or Moog K7349.
Second, my 1996 Intrepid 3.3L uses a 22 mm bolt head, not 21 mm as mentioned in the article.
I used a SK 322 socket (6 point, 22 mm, 3/8 drive) and a low profile 3/8 Sears drive, I moved the steering to the extreme left. That gave me enough room to fit the socket over the bolt head.
Initially, I used a 18" pipe to slide over the 3/8 drive handle to give more torque to break loose the bolt.
Third, never let both bolts out simultaneously. Always leave one bolt screwed in. If both bolts are out, the sliding block (just inside the dust boot) will move left and right and it took several hours to move it back to exactly where it should be. See attached diagram.
The thread for the bolt is machined on a main rod deep inside, the sliding block (which slides on the main rod) must be aligned exactly so that you can put the bolt back into the thread. Unfortunately you cannot see the sliding block, nor the thread which is deep inside, and the boot will cause movements of the sliding block.
Additional note by Markham
After removing all that is needed to be removed to get to the two bolts attached to the rack and pinion. I used a 22mm impact socket and a pull bar to loosen the two bolts. The pull bar doesn't have the large head a socket wrench has. I still needed the box wrench to finish.
Additional note by F.J. MacFarlane
For my 2002 Intrepid (2.7 V6), I had no clearance issues getting to the inner tie rod end bolts. No need to remove the windshield wiper or anything above the rack, or any hoses, EXCEPT for the intake "plumbing."
I removed all the intake plumbing from the air cleaner to the throttle body to get access. The bolts in my car have a 15mm head, by the way. I found I had to get someone in the car to "rock" the wheel back and forth a little bit when I got the final bolt in the sliding block to get the threads lined up right to "catch" and thread in.
Even though access was not a major issue, it was still a 3-4 hour job due to getting the old bushing out on one side (a major pain), and lining up the last inner tie rod end bolt so it would thread in to the rack. I had to fabricate a "bushing press" with a piece of threaded rod, nuts, some washers, and some appropriately sized sockets to press the sleeve in the middle out. Next time I'm going to "pop" the outer tie rod end off, take the whole tie rod assembly to the bench to remove the inner bushings, it'll probably take less time!