From: Mike and Marci Clarkenfields
Date: Mon, 18 Jun 2001
Subject: Re: Steering box part 2

I am certian that the play is within the steering box, switched steering box with my parts car. Both boxes show the same problems. As I switched I made certain that there are no cracks in the frame. With the boxes of the car I can feel the play.
Perhaps they are just worn beyond adjustability?
Johan, et all- The thing to do is to jack your car up and get it on stands. Make sure it is secure! Start on the driver side and check your wheel bearings for play. Next, try to turn the front wheel by hand (like you are making a turn) and watch each of the tie rod joints as you do so. You don't have to go lock to lock, just put enough pressure on it to make it move. More like a wiggle than a real push. This is really best if done with a helper- they wiggle the wheel while you watch. ANY movement horizontally between the tierod sections means that the tierod joint is bad and it needs to be replaced. You do have to look very closely at the tierod joints to see the movement- kind of a shearing movement. You have an inner and an outer tierod joint on the left. When you get to the pitman arm (the arm from the steering box to the tierod) watch for play between the arm and center tierod pivot and play in the steering box (fore/aft or side/side movement) . I have not seen much wear in BMW boxes here- but check it just in case. Don't worry about rotational movement just yet. Working to the passenger side, what goes for the pitman arm on the passenger side is actually called the idler arm. Watch this as your friend wiggles the wheel, or just grab it with both hands and see if you can move it vertically(up and down as opposed to side to side). ANY play here and the bushing needs to be replaced. This is a very common problem on E-3s. Again check the pivot between the idler arm and the center tierod. Now check the tie rods (inner and outer) on the passenger side for horizontal play. Last, check the passenger side wheel bearings. If everything is tight to this point, go upstairs and have your friend turn the steering wheel with the engine off. Again, this is more of a wiggle to look for play, not to turn the wheels. Watch the joints, 1 u-joint and mini-guibo under the dash, and 1 u-joint at the steering box. If these are good, then watch the steering shaft where it enters the steering box. Watch the rotation of the shaft Vs output at the pitman arm. A little bit of play here is acceptable, say 5 to 10 degrees. A new box will be zero, but so will your bank account if you buy a new one.
Now I will warn everybody about messing with the steering box adjustment- BE CAREFULL! It is very easy to overtighten this adjustment and ruin your box! I do NOT recommend that the vast majority of you out there go beyond this point. This adjustment takes "feel" to do properly, if you are not intimate with machinery, you probably don't have the "feel" for this job. Don't be insulted, be warned. OK. Engine off. This adjustment is set up to tighten up at the center point of travel, so any adjustments MUST be made at this point. Count your turns lock to lock and find the exact center- do NOT ASSUME this is where your wheels or steering wheel are pointing straight. Roll the steering wheel from free movement end point to free movement end point around the center of travel. Loosen the lock nut on the box and turn the screw in while rolling the wheel. Try to get the free play down to about 5 degrees- plus or minus 2 1/2 degrees- and tighten the locknut. Now turn the wheel from lock to lock, paying attention to the resistance at the center point. If the steering tends to "bind" at the center, back off your adjustment. If it rolls smoothly through the entire range, go back to center and try to take out the last 5 degrees of movement. Recheck for  binding. This is where the "feel" comes in, there is a slight increase in resistance at the center point, but not a true bind. The steering wheel gives you a lot of mechanical advantage, so a light touch is imperative. Note that there will probably be free play in your wheel because we are taking slop out of a worn box. Guaranteed that it is worn, because it doesn't come from the factory with play. It is better to have a little bit of play and get another 100k miles than to have zero play now and have a trashed box in 10k miles. Good luck!
70 2800- Wallis
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