Browse other gifts from Zazzle.

HD Steering Upgrades: Intro

89 F-150 4x4 OEM Steering Linkage and Steering Dampeners. Photographer: Eric McGrew

Let’s face it… whether we are running a solid front axle or an independent front suspension vehicle, most of the factory steering systems were never designed to take the constant beating that we (Off-Roaders) like to throw at our rigs. Increased forces alone, from serious off-roading, can be bad enough. It becomes even worse when we start to modify an off-road vehicle to go and do what we want it to. Large tires, suspension lifts, body lifts, heavier axles and environmental hazards, such as hard direct impacts, all just help to exaggerate the need for upgrading our steering systems. Good thing for us, there are companies out there to provide what we need.
Before we start talking about the mods that can be purchased, built, or fabricated for our 4x4’s, lets
start off by considering what kind of vehicles may need a steering system upgrade.

Solid Axle vs Independent Front Suspension

Image courtesy of: Dixie Welding and Fabrication

Aren’t solid axle vehicles stronger than independent front suspension (IFS) vehicles? Honestly, that’s a debate for another time. Just remember... neither system is perfect. Especially when we are talking about if we should upgrade a factory steering system on a rig that is used for some serious wheeling.

So, there’s really no “Vs.” here. That’s right…! Solid axle or independent front suspension (IFS), either way, you can have the same problem if steering system components are not up to the job. Your specific suspension/drive train your vehicle is important though. This is because, the style of system you have will determine what kind of upgrade components and kits are available for your vehicle. Never forget, if you want to avoid serious problems with your steering system, it has to be able to handle the conditions you will be subjecting it to.

JD Fabrication GM IFS 4x4 HD Steering Links. (Image courtesy of John Cappa)

Don’t Get Confused About Why Steering Boxes Are Changed

Viewing forum builds or watching an experienced fabricator’s build may be confusing at times. You may have seen, read, or heard about people who are searching high and low for the “ideal” steering box for their build. Because of this, it’s good to understand the difference between upgrading a steering system for preference, strength, and durability. Typically, you will find that strength and durability are closely linked. While preference can be based on the need for a stronger or more durable steering box, this isn’t always the case.

After Off-Roaders have built, wheeled, tested, and rebuilt a rig, they often start to look for ways to tweak their rigs. This becomes a challenge because it typically requires testing and changing out multiple versions of the components. Many builders will change one (strong) steering box out, just to install another of equal strength, but with a slightly different design. Why would they do this? This is often done in an effort to find a steering box that has the feel they want. Sometimes, a builder is looking for a steering box that will mount how he needs it/wants it to. Once again, though, this isn’t always to say that these steering boxes are a better quality than the OEM steering box that they originally had. In these cases, they just need/want a steering box with a specific trait.

Steering boxes are like any other component - many are close in quality, but almost all models have unique differences. A few ways that steering boxes might differ are that they:
- may mount lower/higher than the original
- may have a higher/lower turn ratio
- may be designed to mount inside or outside the frame rail
- may be a new model that can be rebuilt/replaced easier or more economically
- may provide a longer reach for extended wheelbase applications.

These are just a few reasons that we’ve seen over the years for someone to change one steering box for another. Once again, though, while you may choose to change your steering box for any of the above-mentioned reasons, not all are “have to” or “need to” reasons. Most often than not, these decisions are based on a personal preference. In these cases, you have to choose based on the rig that you are running/building, and decide for yourself if a change is worth the money, time and effort. It’s good to realize that there are always pros and cons to every modification. So, doing research is an important part of making a good decision.

Aside from “ideal” reasons, there are other factors that make upgrading your steering system a good idea. Let’s start with an overview of the components that may need to be reviewed.

Common Problematic Steering Components

When talking about steering systems, it’s important to identify any component that can be considered
the “weak link” (pun intended). Basically, depending on the use and brand of the vehicle that you are wheeling, any number of the components may be a potential issue. Factory tie rod ends (TRE’s), TRE adjustment sleeves/links, steering linkage, steering boxes, rack and pinion systems, or steering columns (the linkage system that runs from your steering wheel to the steering box) can all be potential problems. However, it’s rare that your whole system is in need of replacement. More commonly, you will just need to find the few components in the system that are in need of an upgrade.

Many times, OEM steering components struggle when used in a lifted application. It’s not uncommon that the TRE’s needed to be replaced, steering linkage needs to be redone, or the TRE adjustment sleeves/rods (in IFS applications) need to be upgraded.

You may be asking, why would these need to be changed, and what are the negative effects of leaving weak components on my rig? In the next HD Steering Upgrades article we’ll answer these questions.

*Note: uses affiliate and ad link services to help come Off-Road Independence as well as up and running. These ad services use cookies to make this possible. This is just to let you know. 

View more gifts at Zazzle.


Popular Posts