I’ve been shopping for the perfect XJ Cherokee for quite awhile and one popped up in Salt Lake City that seemed like it would fit the bill perfectly with low miles, a five speed, and cruise control. I didn’t want to risk missing out so Sprocket and I drove straight up from Ridgway and got into SLC at about 2am. In the morning before looking at the Jeep, I headed over to the bank to get some cash.
As I pulled into the drive through, I heard a loud clunk sound. At first, I was confused, had I some how hit something? I sort of forgot about it while I was conducting my business at the bank but as I pulled out of the drive through I realized I couldn’t turn left. Something seemed bound up.
I crawled underneath the jeep and noticed that the tie rod end & pitman arm were hitting the sway bar when I tried to turn to the left. I went back into the jeep and turned the wheels to the right and heard another larger, ominous, clunk. This time, it seemed apparent what was wrong: the steering box was hanging down off of its mounts. While not an ideal situation, I figured this wasn’t that bad and I’d be on my way within the hour.
When I returned from the hardware store bearing what I hoped was the correct hardware (this was actually the second trip…), I realized, it was more than just a broken bolt. There was actually a broken part. I had no idea what that part was but I knew that my mission had just gotten a lot more complicated. I also noticed that the steering box had been bolted from the top and they had sheared off in the steering box.
I headed over to a fast food restaurant, washed my hands, and took a walk to look at that XJ. Turns out, it wasn’t what I wanted. As I walked back I started browsing the forums and learning all about the steering system on the Jeep. Turns out, I had a broken “rag joint” or power steering coupler—the part that connects the input from your steering wheel to the steering box.
That bolt circled in red is supposed to be attached to the hole on the rag joint (indicated by the arrow. My theory is that when the steering box fell, it stressed the 38 year old piece of rubber and it failed.
While I was able to locate a replacement rag joint fairly easily, first I had to figure out how to get the old broken one off. I struggled with it for awhile and was finally able to get the old joint off of the steering box. This might have been the low point for me—I was covered in power steering fluid (cursing the advice I’d been give to not replace the pump and just make sure it was full), removing a part that I didn’t fully understand how it worked, and just feeling a little bit unsure.
As I read the installation instructions, I realized that I was going to need some backup. While I was carrying tools, I didn’t have a grinder or a drill to remove the old pins. Away I went to Pep Boys (again) to see if their service department would do me a little favor. Thankfully, they seemed happy to help and soon I was headed back to figure out how to reinstall the rag joint.
Somehow, I made this way more complicated than it needed to be and it took me a long time. It was all made more difficult by the fact that the steering box was definitely supposed to be attached by the top bolts so I ended up using ratchet straps to hold it exactly in place.
On the way to fellow #omniten member Josh’s house (yay for friends to crash with!) I stopped for some beer and for the bolts I’d need to fix the Jeep for good (yay for Josh having a drill!). I had some priceless looks but when the cashier at the liqour store asked, “What happened to you?” And I answered, “Well, the bolts on my steering box sheared and when it fell it look the 30 year old rag joint with it, but I fixed it.” His answer? “I’m seriously impressed.” Since I was seriously impressed with myself, it felt good to hear someone say it.
At Josh’s place I was able to use his drill to extract the broken bolts from the steering box and get it bolted up so that I didn’t need the ratchet strap safeties. The replacement rag joint was a little thicker than the original and I couldn’t get the metal support to fit on correctly in the parking lot because the bolts were too short and had little “keepers” on them. I ground off the keepers (they looked like ski pole baskets) and replaced with the longer bolts that came with the replacement part.
Everything is back together and looks great. Except, I’m going to have to take it apart one more time to get the steering wheel straight since I apparently bolted the steering column attachment on 180 degrees off. Oops. But this time, it should go fast. 3rd time’s the charm. 🙂
(The wheels are just slightly turned to the left in this photo. It’s driving me nuts to have the AMC logo upside-down.)