2003 Chevrolet S-10



February, 27, 2010 AT 6:05 PM

Steering problem
2003 Chevy S-10 6 cyl Two Wheel Drive Automatic 74000 miles

Trying to determine cause for loose steering.

Story: Purchased a used 2003 chevy s10 and have had some looseness in the steering wheel. Replaced idler arm, steering box, upper steering column and had a front end alignment completed. Drives straight.

This is my first s10 so I am not sure if this looseness is normal. I had a ford explorer and the wheel and responsiveness was tight.

I am not sure what else to try. Tie rods may be worn: would this be the cause?

Major symptoms:

some play in wheel when not on.
notable tilt in wheel when on road with pith, feels like a little play is always there.


5 Answers



February, 27, 2010 AT 6:46 PM

Worn ball joints are pretty common on these vehicles. They can allow the tires to tilt a little which might lead to a barely noticeable pull, but they're more likely to cause tire wear and an inability to maintain alignment settings. Your alignment mechanic should have performed an inspection before doing an alignment. Another vote against ball joints, ... If you look at the steering arms / outer tie rod ends and the lower ball joints, you'll see they're in the same plane, (same height from the ground). As a result, any sideways movement in the upper ball joints will not move the steering arm in relation to the lower ball joint, so they won't cause a change in the steering wheel position or the direction the tires are steering.

Even though you replaced the steeing gear box, double-check it's adjustment. With the engine running, have a helper turn the steering wheel back and forth about six inches, twice per second. Watch were the pitman shaft comes out the bottom. If you see the shaft move sideways a little, then start to turn, it is either out of adjustment or the lower bushing is worn. 1/16" sideways movement is a real lot and will eventually lead to the shaft moving away from the seal and it will leak fluid. Also watch the input shaft for moving in and out like it's on a screw thread. It will move out and bottom out against the cover before it finally starts to turn. That cover is adjustable to eliminate the free play.

Any play in the collapsible two piece steering shaft will be felt as a knocking sensation long before it causes steering wander. Be sure the steering wheel comes back to center by itself after turning while you're moving. If it stays in the direction you last turned, the " memory steer" can mimic loose steering.

Worn idler arms are very common on GM vehicles. Glad you replaced it. They will allow the right tire to move left and right. Double-check that it is at the correct angle. Both ends of the centerlink must be at the same height from the ground. Loosen and adjust the idler arm to match the pitman arm. Of course, don't overlook play in the ball and socket of the pitman arm. That won't affect tire wear or any alignment angles, but it won't be fun to drive if it's sloppy.

As a last possibility, look at the caster numbers on the alignment printout. Caster can be increased to give more road feel, slightly harder steering, and better directional stability. Caster has no affect on tire wear except for when the tires are turned fully in either direction. Increasing caster will never be noticeable as far as tire wear is concerned. The reason for putting power steering on vehicles is to overcome the hard steering high positive caster causes. In return, the higher the caster value, (within reason), the more directional stability you will have.




February, 28, 2010 AT 12:17 PM

Thanks, Caradiodoc-

Being new to this " car thing" I will try to work through the ideas you provided. I guess it was to much to ask for a " fix this" and all would be good solution.

The only way I know to better explain it is that there is a good inch or two of play in the steering wheel, while stoped and whiel moving before the wheels move. I have been told by the dealer that it is the idler arm (replaced), the steering box (replaced), shocks (replaced) and am now not wanted to pay more money for a non-fix solution.

Someone stated the rag joint? May be the issues. Any thing else you would recommend?
Sounds like you may be leaning toward pitman arm. Is it as simple as take off old, replace with new? I am not sure where the ball and socket of the pitman arm are located or what I should be looking for.



February, 28, 2010 AT 1:54 PM

The rag joint is in front of the firewall. Its part of the steering shaft, and looks like a chunk of tire sidewall. They really don't give much trouble.

The pitman arm is what you removed from the bottom of the steering gearbox. The ball and socket is on the other end, attached to the centerlink. Oh, I'm confusing it with Chrysler products. On GMs, the ball and socket is on the end of the center link. Have a helper move the steering wheel back and forth while watching that ball and socket. The stud should not move sideways at all before the centerlink starts to move. You can inspect the four tie rod ends the same way.




February, 28, 2010 AT 2:10 PM

I have had a " shop" friend tell me the tie rods are worn, but he stated that they would be ok to leave till I replaced the tires. Would worn tie rods be a reson for steering wheel play. If worn tie rods can cause the 2+ incehs of play I speak of, I will have them changed? I don't want to waste money, but am out of options to try. Tie rods?



March, 1, 2010 AT 8:12 AM

I think it's time to have the steering and suspension inspected by a professional. Based on all the time you've spent already, let's get this problem handled so you can enjoy driving the truck.

Sears used to offer free inspections, obviously because they were hoping to sell you something. Another possibility is the Automotive program at a nearby community college. I was always looking for live work for my kids, but it's important to understand most programs will only take your vehicle in if it fits what they're currently studying. We would not bring in a brake job when we were learning electrical. First, we barely had enough class time to cover the current subject, but more importantly, we would be taking potential work away from the shop owners who eventually hired our graduates.

Still, this can be an inexpensive way to get an unbiased opinion from people who are supervised by a professional. They will also gladly show you what they're looking at when they condemn a part.

Two inches of steering wheel movement is not excessive, so I wonder if I'm thinking of something different than what you're referring to. Worn tie rod ends can cause sloppy steering, but it would be more common to have steering wander at highway speeds, and possibly accompanied by excessive tire wear. The only movement you should see when a helper turns the steeing wheel is the stud rotating in the socket. The stud must not move left and right in the socket, and when you push up and down on it, there must be no movement between the two parts. It IS normal and proper for the socket to swivel on the stud. That prevents it from binding as the suspension travels up and down.


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