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A few days ago, I received an e-mail with a couple pics from MikeW, a very good friend of mine who regularly participates in wrenchin' projects with me (sometimes on his stuff, sometimes on mine). The pics were of his leaking steering box on his 2000 TJ. He had decided he was going to replace it and so we exchanged e-mails as to what was available, pricing, etc. After some deliberation and a phone call to my friend in CA, Mike decided to go with a rebuilt box from the local auto parts store. It was decided that his wheelin' probably doesn't require one of the higher end steering boxes from PCS or Tommy Lee and the money saved could be applied to other things on the to-do list.
Mike stopped by the local auto parts store and picked up a rebuilt box for a TJ. They had no Grand Wagoneer boxes in stock (none of the stores did) and he didn't feel like putting the wrenchin' session off to another weekend while waiting for the special order box to arrive. He also picked up a Hayden tranny cooler that would be installed as a power steering cooler, as I had done. When I arrived the following morning, we took a quick trip to AutoZone to rent a pitman arm puller and pick up a bottle of Valvoline Synpower power steering fluid.
Update: I've since talked to MikeW in regards to the steering box. He said it was like driving a Cadillac. The slow degradation of the steering box (ultimately resulting in a leaking seal?) went unnoticed for the most part as other mods were installed, bigger tires added, etc. Mike said he is very satisfied with the outcome and once again enjoys the handling and steering of the vehicle.
Many TJs, including Mike's, has a skid plate that protect the steering box from assaults by rocks and other nasty objects. This is not a factory item but rather an early modification that lots of folks install. If you have one, it needs to come off. most are held on with about 3 bolts.
Mike has a Currie Anti-Rock swaybar on his TJ and removal of the driver's side arm is required to gain access to the one of the steering box mounting bolts. If you don't have an Anti-Rock, you have one less step to worry about. (but you really should get one!)
Next comes the pitman arm retaining nut. While I am not a adjustable wrench fan, Mike's 1/2" drive socket set stopped one size short of what was needed to remove the nut. So the adjustable wrench was put into use. The nut was pretty easy to remove (perhaps a result of the oil soaking into it) so we didn't have to worry about rounding off the corners.
We left the retaining nut on the end of the shaft with about 4 threads engaged. When using a pitman arm puller, the arm can let go with a tremendous force. I've seen tie rod ends fly off quite violently when they were not properly retained. Leaving the nut on the end of the shaft helps ensure a safe removal. The pitman arm cooperated very nicely. We were ready to do some serious battle with it, armed with a fresh can of PB Blaster (penetrating solvent) and a hammer to tap on the side of the pitman arm while we slowly increased the pressure. Instead, it came off very easily. We discussed some of the horror stories I've read on the forums in regards to pitman arm removal by those Jeepers that live in the rust belt portion of the US (salty winter roads, etc.). I am grateful that for the most part, the Arizona weather doesn't create those type of problems very often. Also be aware that the pitman arm pullers can break (especially those inexpensive ones from places like Harbor Freight). Be careful when performing this part of the job. Wearing eye protection is a good decision for all involved.
We opted to also separate the pitman arm from the drag link. Mike wanted to inspect the tapered hole in the arm and the Currie rod end as he had noticed a little play in them prior to starting the project. As it turned out, the rod end and pitman arm were both fine and simply needed to be torqued a bit tighter than they were.
Be sure you have a catch container ready for the next step, else you will have a fair amount of power steering fluid to clean up once it is done draining from the pump and reservoir.
With the catch container in place, it was time to remove the high and low pressure lines from the steering box. These can be accessed from the top of the steering box, right under the front grill. If you have a winch installed, you will probably find it a tight fit but the lines can be removed with a little patience. An 18mm open end wrench was a good tool for this part of the job. When you get the lines free, you will find a generous amount of old power steering fluid coming out of them.
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