The steering system of a motor vehicle comprises three interconnected core components that work as a unit to create smooth steering. These are the steering wheel, the steering gearbox, and the intermediate steering shaft.
In our article today, we’ll discuss the latter in great depth. Most of which will concern issues with your car’s intermediate steering shaft, which includes questions on:
The shaft is the principal component of this entire system. It is the link that connects the steering wheel and the steering gearbox or the rack and the pinion in lightweight cars.
The shaft comprises a thin cylindrical-shaped metallic structure kept in position by four-needle bearings where the driver-side hub and the drive shaft are connected. It is a very important component, as it is the core tool in vehicle control and movement.
But how do you know when this component is not functioning optimally? What are the telltale signs that you need to look for? It’s just like any other mechanical component of a car that experiences mechanical failure.
This can put the lives of other road users in danger, where the shaft is not an exception. Keep on reading this article because we are going to unfold these signs and give suggestions on how to diagnose them before they develop into a bigger catastrophe.
The intermediate steering shaft comprises two “universal joints” at each end of the shaft. These joints are also referred to as the U-Joint coupling in the automotive tech vocabulary. They support the angle between the shaft and the gear by holding the rotary valve and the steering wheel together in rack and pinion system vehicles.
One U-Joint connects to the steering wheel while the other connects to the steering gearbox. This facilitates a smooth turning and transition of the wheel. When turning the vehicle’s steering wheel, the shaft turns. The process actuates the gearbox to turn the wheel with no extra effort.
The steering shaft rotates at an angle designed to enable it to accommodate the steering tilt and the telescope function, as well as for crash safety. The U-Joints must be able to aid the intermediate steering shaft to transfer the steering force from the steering wheel to the steering rack at an angle with no excessive force or resistance.
What Is An Intermediate Shaft
The shaft is usually located under the dashboard at a point that may seem difficult to locate. This might make it very difficult to identify any malfunction associated with the shaft early on. A slight malfunction of this crucial component is highly likely to go unnoticed and this can put the safety of the driver, passengers, other motorists, and the public at risk.
A car’s power is majorly derived from its steering wheel. It is one feature that attracts customers to a car brand. Easy steering is one thing a car brand can take pride in. Comfortable, reliable, accurate, and sporty handling are some qualities any motorist yearns for when taking turns while driving.
Identification of mechanical problems associated with the steering system early enough before the problem becomes severe is always key. A faulty intermediate steering shaft can cause looseness or a seized-up feeling within the steering wheel. A vehicle with a bad shaft mechanism in its steering system is dangerous very to drive with, and should not be kept on the road.
Once a fault is noticed, it’s necessary seeking the services of a mechanic as soon as possible to help diagnose the defects.
Bad Steering Shaft Symptoms
Have you ever wondered why your car’s steering shaft isn’t giving you the optimal functionality that you always desire? How do you see prior symptoms associated with a bad steering shaft?
As was promised earlier, this article digs deep into all the signs and symptoms of a bad shaft and recommendations for treatment. Every car component has specific symptoms that leave a paper trail to the source of the problem. A bad steering shaft is not an exception.
Any keen car owner will experience and note some changes in control and navigation that may make the work more difficult and unpleasant. When such a process that is needed to be easy and enjoyable starts becoming a cumbersome activity, then there is a mechanical problem that needs to be attended to immediately and shouldn’t be ignored. The issues may unfold in different ways and here are some of the most common symptoms that are characterized by a malfunctioning shaft.
1. Unpleasant Sound Emanating From The Steering System
It’s often difficult to notice a car on the road whose sound is a little weird and unpleasant. These, though, shouldn’t be a big issue because every car owner knows pretty well how their car would sound at their optimal performance and how it sounds when there is a defect somewhere. The relationship between a driver and his/her car can be equated to that of a mother and her child.
A little strange noise emanating from the steering system should be enough to alert you that something isn’t right somewhere. In most cases, the unpleasant noise associated with the intermediate steering shaft is like that of a clutch noise or a popping sound.
It usually begins as a small mild noise, but when overlooked, it gradually develops and increases to become a bigger problem. Eventually, the steering wheel becomes stiff and very difficult to turn or control. What’s the major cause behind this?
As we stated earlier, the shaft comprises needle bearings that aid in the smooth movement of the wheel with little effort. The bearings need constant greasing to prevent corrosion and rusting. These improve their functionality that’s always optimal upon manufacture.
However, with time, there is a likelihood of the grease drying up. Corrosion and rusting of the system begin. The efficiency of the system reduces due to wear and tear. Restrictions in driving emerge.
The steering system stiffens and any attempt to turn results in noise. The damage to the system is beyond managing and needs repair, and continuous use without fixing the problem puts the lives of the driver and road users at risk.
A professional service mechanic will recommend a replacement for the entire system. It may seem expensive and extreme, but it’s the best move to help avoid future issues involving steering wheel complications.
2. Difficulty In Turning The Steering Wheel
The flexibility of the steering wheel to rotate freely while driving is always the force behind a car’s movement. A smooth steering wheel is always the pride of every car driver. Navigating through the turns with ease is always the joy of driving with a smooth steering wheel.
The transition and easy rotation power are crucial for easy driving. When the steering is difficult to turn and driving seems like a gym workout rather than smooth navigation, then there is a mess in the steering system. The steering shaft is always the major source of the problem.
When you experience this and you are on the road, it’s necessary to get off the road immediately and look for a towing service provider to help move your car to a workshop to get your steering shaft checked. Don’t do the servicing yourself unless you have some expertise in this.
The primary cause of this menace can be narrowed down to a universal joint problem in the wheel, but you can only examine this yourself if you are a mechanical engineer or have some experience in this kind of job.
It’s also almost impossible to open the steering system and fix this yourself without prior experience. Having an expert do it for you is necessary to save yourself from the hustle of trial and error.
3. A Loose Steering Wheel Tilt
As new technological innovations continue to unfold every time, the car industry has not been left behind. Modern cars are continuously coming up with more advanced technological specifications for smooth rides and navigation. Some modern car brands are equipped with the capability to tilt the steering wheel towards the driver’s desired angle to enhance comfort and aesthetic pleasure.
A tilting steering wheel just comes as an added advantage to make driving a more comfortable activity. It changes nothing or brings any tangible difference to the vehicle’s performance and functionality. After tilting the steering wheel to your desired angle, it is necessary to lock it in and keep it in that position.
However, when the lock-in becomes impossible and every time the steering wheel falls loose even after locking in, failing to stay at its lock-in angle, then the major culprit is the intermediate steering shaft.
Whenever this control issue arises, then there is a problem with the connection between the steering wheel and the steering gearbox. The consequence of a loose steering wheel is an inevitable loss of control on the road. Seeking the services of an automobile expert is necessary to diagnose the mess with the car’s steering shaft.
Here, the mechanic would perform a dry-park test on your car. While sitting on the tires, an assistant slightly wiggles the steering wheel from side to side while the mechanic looks at each steering linkage socket. Sometimes they may even raise the car on a hoist for a better look to help them diagnose.
4. Steering Wheel Cannot Go Back To Its Central Position
When the car is in a static position or when driving on a straight path, the steering wheel should always spring back to its initial lock central position, with the car brand emblem at the dead center.
When you rotate the steering wheel but it cannot spring back to its central lock point even after taking off your hands from the steering wheel, then that is an indicator of a defect within the steering system that needs immediate attention. The spring back to central lock position is always a key safety feature for all power steering systems.
This is usually a recipe for catastrophe if overlooked. Driving becomes cumbersome and navigating through corners and turns becomes tedious to execute. The car becomes a moving death threat.
The life of the driver, the passengers, other motorists, and even the public at large is at risk. This is usually a problem whose root can be traced back from the connecting steering shaft.
Here, when you take the car to a mechanical service bay, the technician first carries out a “flick test”. As the vehicle is driven down the road in a Road Performance Assessment, the wheel is “flicked” to the right to see if the car continues going to the right. If it does, then it’s clear that constant lane correction is required and that signals a problem that needs attention.
5. Corrosion Of The Needle Bearing
As earlier stated, the intermediate steering shaft within its compartment comprises four major needle bearings that help in its smooth turns. The bearings are supplemented with a grease coating within this arrangement to help restrict friction, gliding, and prevent corrosion from building up.
Having the grease in place is also meant to strengthen the bearing needle’s lifespan without having to maintain them every time. The whole bearing compartment is then sealed to prevent moisture from penetrating the compartment and leading to corrosion.
However, when the car has been used for a long period or probably the seal that protects this component has broken, there is a high likelihood that the grease within the bearing dries up. When the protective seal gets broken, moisture eventually penetrates the system and corrosion occurs. This results in premature wear and tear.
In most cases, it is the lower steering shaft U-Joint that is normally associated with this problem since it’s located inside the engine bay. A steering shaft U-Joint fails because corrosion and rusting can cause three major problems.
- If the U-Joint is completely seized, the steering may become stiffer at certain angles.
- There could be a popping or clunking noise while turning the steering wheel.
- When driving, the steering seems loose, so the driver has to correct it and keep the vehicle moving straight.
Total damage to the intermediate steering shaft can occur if such issues are overlooked and no urgent steps are taken to fix such mechanical issues at an early stage when they unfold. The corrosion effect can be mitigated through manual greasing. But how long will the manual greasing and continuous management occur?
What Causes Intermediate Steering Shaft To Go Bad
The most common shaft failures are attributed to wear and tear. With time, the parts get old. This reduces their optimal performance and would need a replacement. Though, we also have other factors that we talk about below.
1. Broken Seal Protecting The Needle Bearing And The Grease
This is one of the major causes of the steering shaft failing. The seal is the one that covers the grease in the needle bearing. A broken seal causes the grease to dry up. The drying of the grease increases friction, leading to noise and a stiff steering wheel.
Breakage of the seal also allows moisture and dust to penetrate the bearing, which facilitates corrosion and rusting. The bearings cannot function optimally. This can even lead to breakage of the shaft because of extreme rusting. The steering shaft gets damaged and the above problems manifest.
2. Physical Damage Because Of Previous Accidents
Physical damage can also be another cause of shaft failure. If you had been involved in an accident that may have caused the bending of the shaft or damaged the universal joints and this went unnoticed, it may cause failure after a while. That’s why a complete service check-up is always necessary after serious accidents to fix loose, broken, and bent parts.
3. Motor Vehicle Manufacturing Defects
Vehicles sometimes come with manufacturing defects. Therefore, most vehicle assembling companies have a vehicle recall to help offer after-sale services for any mechanical errors that may occur because of manufacturing. When metal parts are not tampered with correctly during manufacturing, they become weak and can easily break.
When the alloy it was made from was not produced correctly, this may make the metal not as strong as expected. Some microscopic fractures that originated from the manufacturing process may also be present. After a while, these fractures may become larger and eventually cause the shaft to fail or break.
Steering Shaft Replacement
When your car exhibits any two of the above symptoms, it would be prudent to take the next step. The best will be a replacement of the whole steering shaft system. This is not a mechanical car component that can be repaired and has 100% guaranteed efficiency in return. This will be the best advice from a professional automotive repair shop just to help avoid shaft-related motor accidents.
The cost of replacing a bad intermediate steering shaft will largely depend on the quality, brand, and place of purchase. There are those cars with shafts that are completely integrated into the transmission system and those with shafts as separate parts that function independently from the transmission system. This may also influence the price.
On average, the total cost of replacing a bad shaft would range between $200-$400. Purchasing the parts may take $100-$200, while labor takes the rest of the budget.
How To Replace Intermediate Steering Shaft
Replacement should be very simple, and an automotive professional will not take a long time to fix the system. It is a one-hour job and your shaft is fixed. The mechanic only needs to displace a few components to get access to the shaft. After locating it, they’ll remove the bad shaft and replace it with a new one.
The process then involves putting back the parts that were removed to enable access to the shaft. Once done, the service mechanic refills the power steering fluid, examines if the job has been done correctly, and then proceeds for a road test before handing over the car to you.
You may have the urge to repair it yourself to save the cost of labor. This won’t be a good move, especially if you have no technical know-how of the whole steering system replacement procedure. You may only want to tackle this if you already have experience with this kind of job. Otherwise, it would be advisable to seek the services of a professional mechanic.
Driving With Bad Intermediate Steering Shaft
A new shaft lets you enjoy smooth and better control of your vehicle. It no longer feels loose and is difficult to turn. You can drive safely. The steering wheel becomes more precise and more reliable and you will not need to keep refilling the power steering fluid every time. It saves you money from future repairs.
An effective steering shaft also ensures your safety and that of other drivers, as you are unlikely to encounter any unfortunate accidents. The good thing with this component is that it’s not prone to mechanical issues if effective care and maintenance are provided to prevent bigger mechanical issues associated with the shaft.
Intermediate Steering Shaft: In Conclusion…
It’s always the dream of every driver and even passenger to have a smooth ride when traveling in a car. Having reliable and effective control of your steering wheel as a driver gives maximum confidence and comfort when on the road. The steering wheel is one of the principal components that need an immediate check-up in case a deficiency manifests in its performance.
Mechanical problems involving crucial components of a car that help optimize its performance require immediate fixing by an automotive professional mechanic despite the high cost involved. A bad intermediate steering shaft is a serious problem whose symptoms need to be noticed early before it becomes severe and rectification is done accordingly.
To save yourself from serious problems with your safety, and the safety of the public and to help save on maintenance costs, get your car fixed as soon as possible. Overlooking such minor deficiencies may lead to other parts wearing out faster than normal. The moment you notice your car has exhibited the above symptoms, get it fixed straight away.
FAQs On Intermediate Steering Shaft
If you’re still curious to learn more about the intermediate steering shaft, our FAQs here might help…
When Was Power Steering Invented
Power steering has actually been around for a long time, even in the early days of the automobile. The first power steering system was invented in 1876, but not much is known about this early iteration. However, we do know that the first real-world use case of power steering was in 1903 when it aided drivers of the Columbia 5-ton truck to steer a bit more easily. The first-ever four-wheel drive system, invented in 1900, also came with its own power steering set-up. In addition, WW2 saw extensive use of power steering for heavy military vehicles on the front lines. Although, the first production power steering came in 1951, with the Chrysler Imperial.
What Is A Steering Shaft
In a rack and pinion steering configuration, there are two key elements that you normally interact with… The steering wheel takes your steering inputs and motion to steer the car left or right. Then, there’s the rack and pinion itself, consisting of a rack that connects the front left and right wheels. And, the pinion gear, which rotates on the toothed rack, as per your inputs on the steering wheel. But, between the steering wheel and the rack and pinion, there’s the intermediate steering shaft that connects the two together. The steering shaft also features universal joints on either end, to the steering wheel and rack and pinion.
How To Remove Steering Shaft From Gearbox
If you need to replace the intermediate steering shaft, it’s crucial that you understand how to properly detach it from the steering gearbox. The first thing that you have to do is to take apart the steering gearbox. It usually starts with removing the face cover from the input shaft, by detaching the bearing cap bolts that hold it together. While you’re here, you might also want to consider replacing the input shaft seal and o-rings. Once the face cover is out, depending on what transmission you have, you might need to also remove the side covers of the gearbox. That should allow you to access and remove the steering shaft accordingly.
How Long Can You Drive With A Bad U Joint
One of the most important parts of your car’s steering system is the u-joint (aka universal joint). It’s a very consequential component, as it aids in transferring your inputs on the steering wheel to the steering rack, and thus, the wheels. Therefore, it’s a very bad idea to drive with bad u-joints. Moreover, the length of time that you can drive with bad u-joints is rather unpredictable. This is made worse by the fact that you can’t easily see and inspect it. If the u-joints are really bad, they could break after a few miles. But, if they’re still in somewhat serviceable condition, they might last for a bit longer than that.
What Does A Bad U Joint Sound Like
When your steering system’s u-joints fail, one of its most noticeable symptoms is the sound it makes. The noises are akin to clunking or squeaking sounds. And, they’re much more noticeable when you’re turning left and right, or are generally applying any sort of input on the steering wheel. But, besides the noise, you might also be able to feel the steering acting up. For example, you may be able to notice odd vibrations and shakiness from the steering wheel, due to the faulty u-joints. On top of that, you may also feel the steering wheel becoming stiffer, harder, and more unpredictable to turn.
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Great write up, I have rebuilt the steering on a 1952 roaster that had appalling steering due to poor
design and operational wear. Have installed Gemini top steering shaft.(Happens to be correct length)
Original steering shaft and housing solid from front of chassis to steering wheel, (Dangerous).
Installed uni’s top and bottom of lower shaft, (Double D fittings) to restored steering box Holden HZ.
2.5 turns lock to lock, 30 degrees steer left and right. Parallel steer.Did not have “Akarman” steering.
New tie rod ends and track rod ends. Seems very smooth, to be road tested yet ?
Thanks for the comment, Roadster!
Wow, cheers for sharing your story! Hope it all goes well with the rebuilt steering 🙂