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by Tony Lewis
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.
Bentley Morley wrote: “[Tony’s] advice was a good help. I also had the Dodge manual. I have a 2004 Intrepid with 105,000 miles, and the steering wheel was off center and progressively getting worse, and I started to notice a bit of sway on the highway. For the inner tie rod bushings, Moog has part # K7408 which are polyurethane. The driver side was bad, but the passenger side could have gone a bit longer.”
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:
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:
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.
Photo 1: Under the hood
See the steering rack in this photo? Of course not. But it does show the major components that must be removed before you can see the rack. Note that this is the 3.5L V6 with the air intake plenum going to the two throttle bodies on the back of the engine.
Photo 2: windshield wiper base
This is a shot of the bottom of the base of a wiper arm. The trick to removal is to pull the arm up and grab the release tab with pliers, pull the tab out, then let the arm go down (it will not go all the way back down if you have pulled the tab out). The rock the arm slowly while pulling up to get it off of the motor stub. BUT before you do that, put a rag all the way around the base to catch that little plastic insert that acts as a wedge, or your life will become miserable.
Photo 3: 3.5L V6 air intake plenum.
Note that it has two hose connections located on the bottom; you must be sure to get those hoses back on the connections when reinstalling the plenum.
Photo 4: passenger side rack clamp bolts
Once you've gotten stuff out of the way, it is relatively easy to get to these bolts (although it does not look this way from the photo). I found mine to be loose. I removed them, cleaned them off, and then torqued them back in with Lock-Tite on the threads.
Photo 5: driver's side rack clamp bolts
Same as for the passenger side, with more stuff in the way, but you can still get to them without a lot of effort once the big stuff is out of the way.
Photo 6: Rack and inner tie rod ends
You have to look carefully, but you should recognize the inner tie rod ends with the bolt heads in this photo. As noted in the text, the heater hose is in the way, and you might want to temporarily disconnect it to give you more access to the bolt heads. Also not perspiration on author's arm at this point.
Photo 7: bolts and tabs
Here are the two inner tie rod end bolts, the through plate and the tab plate. The four tabs are bent down over the bolt heads after installation to keep them from backing out as you drive down the road.
Photo 8: Inner tie rod bushing
This is why I spent 2 hours on Saturday to fix my steering. The original inner tie rod bushing is on the left, with the new one on the right. Amazing that the loss of a small amount of rubber causes such a dramatic change in steering response. This bushing had only 4 years of service, and was not original to car.
Photo 9: inner tie rod bushing side view
Old bushing versus new. Look carefully at the new one, and you'll see that the rubber part has and upper and lower section, making it 10 times easier to install than the factory solid bushing, which must be pressed into place.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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