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One of the things you can try on your car before replacing the rack and pinion if your steering starts to bind or hard steering is to treat your PS fluid. I bought a 12 oz. container of Lucas oil, drained the exising PS fluid from my resevoir with a kitchen baster and replaced the fluid with the container of Lucas oil. Within a few days, the steering improvement was quite noticable. I did still need to replace the rack and pinion since it was worn and binding up but the Lucas oil really improved the steering ease and performance. I'd suggest this step first before any major part replacements, like PS pump or the rack and pinion. It may help save $$ The bottle of Lucas oil was $11.00 at a local auto parts outlet.
this problem indicates a bad steering rack. the bushings in the rack are worn and have caused groves in the housing causing the binding. the only solution is to replace the steering rack. if a problem was the power steering pump it would not get easy when you turn the steering wheel further the problem would be there all the time.
There is one adjustment to the steering gear, but this doesn't remove very much play in the steering. And once set, I have never seen them back off ( it's the big nut on the back of the rack, break it loose, then turn the inner nut, Just a little through. You get it to tight and it will be hard to turn). If you have a lot of play, look at the tierod ends, inner and out. There are also two universal joints on the steering shaft that could cause a lot of play. One by the rack and one under the dash. There are bushings/bearing that hold the steering shaft in place, These don't cause much left or right play, they will cause the steering wheel to be sloppy at the column.
Remove the outer tie rods from the knuckles. Turn the knuckles by hand. If they turn hard than you have issues with ball joints binding.
If they move freely than start the vehicle and turn the wheel. If you steering is still stiff I would be suspicious of the universal joint near the rack. If you remove it it should rotate and flex freely. If it doesn't replace it.
YOU HAVE TO SAFELY RAISE SUPPORT VECHICLE ON JACK STANDS.MAKE SURE YOU HAVE VECHICLE PARKED ON LEVEL SOLID GROUND.ONCE VECHICLE RAISED.REMOVE FRONT WHEELS.REMOVE TIE RODS END COTTER PINS AND CASTLE NUTS.REMOVE TIE ROD ENDS FROM THE KNUCKLES.REMOVE FRONT STABILIZER BAR.POSITION THE DASH OPENING WEATHER SEAL FOR THE STEERING COLUMN OUT OF THE WAY.REMOVE OR DISCONNECT THE FOLLOWING.REMOVE PINCH BOLT RETAINING THE STEERING COLUMN INTERMEDIATE SHAFT COUPLING.REMOVE STEERING GEAR RETAINING NUTS BOLTS.REMOVE REAR SUBFRAME BOLTS.USE WIRE TO SUPPORT EXHAUST COMPONENTS UNLESS YOU ARE REMOVING THEM COMPLETELY.SUPPORT THE EXHAUST SYSTEM FLEX TUBE AND REMOVE THE FLEX TUBE TO DUAL CONVERTER Y PIPE ATTACHMENT.LOWER THE VECHICLE SLIGHTLY UNTIL THE REAR SUBFRAME SEPARATES FROM THE BODY APPROXIMATELY 4 INCHES.REMOVE THE HEAT SHIELD BAND AND FOLD THE HEAT SHIELD DOWN.ROTATE THE RACK AND PINION ASSEMBLY TO CLEAR THE BOLTS FROM THE FRONT SUBFRAME AND PULL TOWARD THE DRIVERS SIDE OF THE VECHICLE.PLACE A DRAIN PAN UNDER THE VECHICLE AND DISCONNECT THE POWER STEERING LINES.REMOVE THE RACK AND PINION ASSEMBLY THROUGH THE DRIVERS SIDE OF THE VECHICLE***** TO INSTALL ****** INSTALL NEW TEFLON O - RINGS ON THE POWER STEERING LINE FITTINGS. PLACE THE RACK AND PINION RETAINING BOLTS IN THE GEAR HOUSING.INSTALL RACK AND PINION ASSEMBLY THROUGH THE DRIVERS SIDE OF THE VECHICLE.INSTALL POWER STEERING LINES ON THE RACK AND PINION ASSEMBLY. INSTALL RACK AND PINION ASSEMBLY ON THE SUBFRAME.INSTALL ******** HEAT SHIELD.INSTALL TIE ROD ENDS TO THE KNUCKLES TIGHTEN THE CASTLE NUTS AND INSTALL THE COTTER PINS.INSTALL STABILIZER BAR.INSTALL RACK AND PINION ASSEMBLY RETAINING BOLTS.TORQUE THEM TO 85 - 99 FT LBS. RAISE VECHICLE UNTIL SUBFRAME CONTACTS THE BODY.INSTALL REAR SUBFRAME RETAINING BOLTS TORQUE THEM TO 83 - 112 FT LBS.INSTALL EXHAUST SYSTEM FLEX TUBE TO DUAL CONVERTER Y PIPE.INSTALL FRONT WHEELS.INSTALL A NEW PINCH BOLT IN THE STEERING COLUMN INTERMEDIATE SHAFT COUPLING ON THE RACK INPUT SHAFT TORQUE PINCH BOLT TO 25 - 33 FT LBS.POSITION THE STEERING COLUMN OPENING WEATHER SEAL OVER THE STEERING GEAR HOUSING.LOWER THE VECHICLE FILL THE POWER STEERING FLUID RESERVOIR. START THE VECHICLE AND CHECK FOR LEAKS. CHECK FOR PROPER WHEEL ALIGNMENT AND STEERING WHEEL POSITION.BLEED POWER STEERING SYSTEM.
If you have power steering, first check to see if you have fluid in the power steering reservoir. If you don't have power steering, you most likely have binding in the rack and pinion unit, and that has to be replaced as an assembly, and is a bit pricey, so check your fluid first.
If the fluid is full the power steering pump could be bad, but usually they growl, and are noticeable.
It sounds like the rack is broken inside the column.The gears would bind from old,hard grease and cause the already thin pot metal rack to break.The steering wheel and the upper column has to come apart to replace the rack,brass gear and the actuator/gear.
sounds like a bad "Rag Joint ', that;s a piece of tire carcass material (a two inch circle at the bottom of the steering collumn) where the steering wheel connects to the rack and pinion(It;s to kill vibration)
It's fairly easy to replace, also easy to get your steering wheel upside down
if the rag joint's good the steering rack and pinion assy must have a stripped gear. This is rare, check the rag joint firstit's a small ***** to replace but not impossible usualy you have to unbolt the collumn inside the cab (Two bolts under the bottom of the dashboard, there's a cover to remove beneath the stering column)