Introduction: Jeep Wrangler YJ to XJ Steering Column Swap

Will an XJ column bolt in place of a YJ column? I have seen the question appear on numerous Jeep forums and often incorrect information is presented as fact. The correct answer is yes, mostly. This instructable is intended to clear up some of the questions regarding replacing your Jeep YJ Wrangler's steering column. As originally designed by AMC both YJ's and XJ's used a GM Saginaw steering column. They are a common failing point that can dramatically affect the safety and driveability of your vehicle. Replacements cost hundreds and the odds of finding another Wrangler in the local junkyard are slim to none. Whether you're interested in adding a tilt column to your YJ, replacing one that is worn beyond use, or in my case replacing one brutalized by a previous owner who lost the key; using an XJ steering column is a quick and inexpensive solution.

To complete this job you will require:

  • a basic socket set with at least a 10mm, 12mm, 13mm, 14mm, 3/8 and 1/2 sockets
  • a hammer
  • an angle grinder with cut off wheel and flapdisk

Step 1: Find an XJ (Cherokee) Steering Column

You are going to want to look for an earlier Jeep Cherokee in the junkyard. Anything before 1995 should be without airbags, and anything prior to 1991 should have an AMC style (Chevy) key. Obviously it is preferable to get a column and a matching key, but we all know that these jeeps can be started with almost any old Chrysler key. (I got lucky and the key from a Cherokee my parents totaled 10+ years ago fits perfect). I won't go into the specifics of removing the steering column because is five bolts and four plugs. I pulled this column myself in a junkyard in Phenix City, Alabama so it only cost me $50. I have been warned to grab the XJ's wiper module as well, and will update this if I notice any difference between the two.

Step 2: Make Note of the Differences

In these pictures the tan column is from the YJ and the grey column is from the XJ.

The differences I noticed are:

  • My 1990 YJ had an AMC style key this later column has a Chrysler key.
  • There is no key release on the side of the XJ column (It is connected to the shifter with a cable but we'll come back to this later).
  • The YJ column does not mount with a flange welded to the base of the column, but is instead bolted around the column in the vehicle.
  • The upper mounting bracket is different so we must reuse the YJ bracket with slight modification.
  • The overall length of the column is the same with only things like the ignition switch and dimmer switch being moved slightly (about half an inch)

Step 3: Cut of the XJ Column's Flange

I used a cut off wheel to score a line around the flange just above the weld and then after a few blows with a hammer if came right off. I then when over the remaining weld and lip of the flange with a flap disk till there was a relatively smooth surface (this will not be exposed). A quick coat of Rustoleum and you are done modifying the column itself.

Step 4: Modify the Upper Mounting Bracket

Though you will be reusing your original bracket you will still need to make a slight adjustment for the slots in the bracket to line up with the holes in your dash (less than 1/2 an inch). My solution was to use a hammer to break loose the slotted inserts that Jeep originally glued in place. This will be enough adjustment to bolt your column firmly in place.

Step 5: Remove the Key Lock Cable Bracket

If you pulled your column from an automatic XJ you will have a bracket that once allowed an cable to mount to your column. This cable connected the to the shifter and prevented you from removing the key while the vehicle was in gear. Since we are working with manual shift jeep and the bracket gets caught on the brake light switch it was necessary to remove it. A quick turn of a 3/8 nut and the bracket has been removed. You are now ready to bolt your new column in place.

Step 6: Reassembly

I have always hated this, but reassembly is the reverse of disassembly. It really is so simple that I don't think it requires explanation, but if have trouble just comment here. From the junkyard to driving again I worked on this from 11:00 AM to 7:00 PM and that includes a lengthy break for lunch and fishing. There is no reason to expect this to take more than an afternoon. Good luck and happy jeeping!