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by Richard Henley
I had to tear into the steering column of my 1974 Trailduster to address several issues — the third time in as many months. The pictures with the article are from the second time, after I changed out the ignition lock that was sticking, changed the turn signal cam, and removed the broken pieces of the horn contact roller. The second time, I replaced the turn signal switch; there is no repair for the horn contact roller; and I repaired the plug on the ignition switch because the original pins in the factory plug burned up. Several weeks later, I had to get back into it again as the 35-year old plastic on the replacement turn signal switch gave up and I had to install the cam from my original switch.
The first step is to remove your horn cap. Once you get it off, you can remove the horn contact. Different models will vary, so this part of the procedure may differ from what I have shown.
After removing the horn cap, use a socket to remove the nut holding the steering column to the shaft. It should be pretty tight so ½” drive will probably be required.
At this point you need to look for a reference mark on the steering wheel and the shaft, some models will have one, and others don’t. If it doesn’t, it may have a master spline on the shaft and steering wheel so you can’t get the wheel in the wrong position, but not always, so if you don’t see a reference mark it’s a good idea to make one of your own.
Use a puller to remove the steering wheel. Some old shade tree mechanics will tell you that you don’t need a puller and offer the suggestion of hammering on the end of the shaft while pulling up on the wheel. Don’t do it! Not only will you mess up the end of the shaft, you also will destroy the bearings in the column, and possibly other parts of the column too. There’s the possibility of the steering wheel coming off suddenly and visiting parts of your anatomy at a high rate of speed. It’s only funny until someone gets hurt, after that it’s hilarious unless that someone is you, so if you don’t have a puller, get one. Some parts houses rent them, and its well worth the investment.
Next we do the turn signal switch. The first thing is to disconnect the wires from the column under the dash. You remembered to disconnect the battery ground cable before starting this, right?
The neat thing about Ma Mopar’s design is that the turn signal switch and ignition switch have different harnesses, so look for the one that doesn’t have heavy blue and black wires, that’s the turn signal harness. Remove the three screws that hold the turn signal switch down, making note of the position of the plate under them, as it only fits one way.
If your cam arms aren’t broken, you will have to put the turn signal lever in the turn positions to get to two of the screws without breaking the cam arms off. Then remove the screw that holds the turn signal lever on, it has a ¼” hex head.
On models with cruise control, leave the lever hang by the wires, as it’s also a separate harness and you don’t need to remove it. Then carefully slide pull the turn signal switch up, making sure not to ruin the wires as they slide up through the column. If your changing out the turn signal cam, some will tell you not to remove the whole switch, but I prefer to as it makes it easier to solder the connections for the two wires on the cam.
Most cam kits you buy will have crimp butt connectors, don’t bother with them, as you don’t want to be fixing the bad connections in 6 months, just solder and tape the wires and it will be right forever [editor’s note: lazy people, see Posi-Tap]. The best thing to do with the crimp connectors is to let your preschool age daughter play with them while your working, she’ll think she’s doing something important while helping daddy, and it keeps her occupied so she’s not playing with the important parts. Another good idea is to put some di-electric grease on the contacts. Not only does it help lubricate the contacts, it keeps them from corroding.
If you need to replace the upper bearing or have to get into the column further, the upper bearing collar will have to come off. Some models will have a ignition lock light, remove the Philips screw to get it out of the way. There are three screws that hold the collar to the column, remove them and then the snap ring from around the steering shaft. Then pull the collar up off the shaft. If there’s any crud or rust on the shaft it will have to be cleaned off the shaft, as the bearing fits rather tightly to the shaft. If you need to replace the bearing, it comes out the front of the collar.
With the bearing collar removed, you now have access to the ignition lock and switch. To remove the lock, with the key out of the lock, push the pin in and slide the lick out. It may not slide out too easy as the fit is tight, and 35 years of road dust isn’t going to make it any looser, so some gentle prying may be necessary. Once the lock is out, you can remove the ignition switch. Unplug the harness that has the large blue and black wires, remove the three screws holding the switch in, and carefully remove it, keeping in mind again the part about not ruining the wires as they slide up through the column.
Now for the fun part. If your truck is like mine, the reason you are removing the ignition switch is to repair the connector where the pins burned up. When looking through the bone yard, I noticed every 1972-76 truck had the same exact problem with the ignition switch plug as mine did. Ma Mopar must have noticed this problem too, because by 1977, because she provided the cure by removing the blue and black wire from the plug and putting them in their own plug with a heavier spade connection.
The easy repair is to get the switch from the 1977-?? truck, cut the matching plug from the donor trucks wiring harness, and install on your truck. Only a bit harder is to cut both parts of the plug from the donor truck and install on your truck, or if you can’t find the right plug from a donor truck, about any connector will work provided it’s heavy enough, and will slide down the column when you are done soldering it on.
When soldering wires be sure to use electrical rosin core solder, as acid core solder will eat up the wires in short order. Tape the wires securely, but don’t overdo it, remember the harness has to be able to slide back down through the column. As mentioned previously, don’t bother with crimp connectors, the idea here is to fix this right the first time. Soldering the new plug on the switch harness is the easy part, a bit harder is soldering the other plug end on the truck harness, because you’re working under the dash to do it.
Putting it back together is the reverse of taking it apart. A little oil or lithium grease around the horn contact roller is a good idea, as it moves every time the steering wheel turns. When reinstalling, make certain you get the wires back in the column in the same way they were before, if they are in a position that causes them to rub on the shift collar or are crushed by the bottom trim a short will happen, and you'll be taking it apart again.
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