Of course somethinghas to go wrong with the truck in the few days before Christmas. This is the first of two articles that will deal with the replacement of the Steering Gear in my 2000 Jeep Grand Cherokee. Here we’re going to deal with the diagnosis and the start of the repair. A future article will finish the repair (there’s real optimism for you).
I had been noticing some steering noise that I had written off as rust or lack of lubrication in the steering column (that is: the bit inside the car). On the day this got really bad, I was going to two a trailer to pick up some computer servers. When I got to the U‑Haul store, it was really noisy, so I checked the power steering level. It was dry.
Since I figured it was bad to go on empty, I dashed over to the nearest Crappy Tire (and that’s a Canadian term of endearment, BTW), which was coincidentally practically across the street and bought a liter of power steering fluid (and topped it up in the CT parking lot — another Canadian Tradition). We had a good day fetching the computers during which I performed several nigh astounding trailer backing maneuvers. Note that this probably stressed the system a bit.
By the time we ended up back at the CT gas station (my partner has a CT gas card that gives 10 cents per liter), the power steering pump was dry again and I filled it again. I returned the trailer later that night and pulled the truck into the garage. There I found it again fairly low. It appeared that I needed to do this job before Christmas; sigh.
My wife helped me on the diagnosis. I had her fire up the Jeep and turn the wheel while I peered into the engine compartment with a light. I could see fluid leaking slowly from underneath the low pressure (return) hose on the steering gear. In the picture, that’s the hose to the right of the “r” in “Gear.”
The Steering Gear of the 1999 to 2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee (indeed also for the ZJ: 93 to 98 and probably most other Jeeps of the time) is of the Recirculating Ball type. I would normally link to Wikipedia for this, but the page on How Stuff Works is far more clear. Rack and Pinion is far more common and used in more modern jeeps, but Recirculating Ball is not without merit. When going over an uneven bump, recirculating ball steering will not wrench the steering wheel out of your hands. Rack and Pinion steering delivers more road “feel” at the expense of control. Recirculating Ball steering is more common in trucks and truck-like vehicles.
Both types of power steering are better described as “power assist” steering as, while difficult, it is still possible to steer the vehicle with complete failure of the power assist steering system. However, anyone looking at this posting and comparing it to a vehicle with Rack and Pinion Steering will not find many commonalities.
Back to the picture above. The image to the right is the part outlined in green — the Stub Shaft Housing. It is rotated such that we’re looking at the interface between it and the Steering Gear. The position of the leak leads me to suspect the o‑ring at (2). It’s possible that it is the main o‑ring, but in either case it needs to be replaced.
According to my research, this part can be replaced separately. My local Chrysler dealer charges $377 for it. Apparently they all currently reside in Wisconsin, which is not that helpful to me before Christmas. The local Car Quest could source me an entire rebuilt Steering Gear for $299 (which he had rushed — such is the advantage of dealing with local businesses). So while I could replace the smaller bit, there is no guarantee that it is an easier repair and it wouldn’t happen before Christmas.
Another consideration is that in the image up top, it seems that the stub shaft housing has already been replaced (it looks much newer) and this failure has re-occurred. In my research I also came across examples of this short-cut repair failing. The dealer also mentioned that the part is seldom ordered — which may be due to the expense or the inefficacy of replacing it.
Getting on to the repair, All Data suggests the following procedure:
- Set the wheels straight — the steering wheel centered. This appears quite sensible: You’re going to want the steering wheel to match the wheels when you’re done.
- Remove the left front wheel. You’ll probably want to put it on a jack stand or something else suitable. All Data had this at step five, but I’ve moved it here because it will be easier to get at the nuts for the air cleaner housing if you do it now. You might also pull out a few of the plastic clips that hold in the flappy here — you’ll need to replace them, but, again, you need access to the air filter nuts.
- Remove the air cleaner housing. This was a bit of a pain. The bolt-ends and nuts are exposed to the elements behind a bit of plastic flap in your wheel well. I got one bolt out, broke one bolt and managed to pry the box out from under the last. I will also need some new plastic clips to re-fix the wheel well flap.
Remove and cap the pressure and return lines. I assume you “cap” them if you’re going to replace them. You’ll need a flare-nut wrench to remove these: they’re tough and were even spinning in the first 12-point flare-nut wrenches I bought. I returned to Princess Autoand got six-sided flare-nut wrenches (although the joint in this model of wrench is a snare and a delusion).
I had to clean up the nuts with my Dremel to get the 11/16″ wrench on them — they were badly rusted. I had liberally applied liquid wrench to the nuts 24h prior and I applied some heat from a plumbing torch. I still had to improvise more more leverage with a vice-gripon the end of my wrench.
While tough, they turned smoothly after the first turn. The low pressure came off intact. The high pressure was fully buggered. This was lucky as I bought an extra high pressure hose, but have had trouble finding a low pressure one.
Remove the Coupling Bolt and Shaft from the Steering Gear. This one is a bit easy… but I did wimp out an use my big impact gun since my impact ratchet wouldn’t move it. I haven’t moved the shaft yet as I can’t figure that out quite yet and I’m assuming when the whole Steering Gear comes out it will be easy to finesse.
We’ll continue this all in the next post.