Author Options:

how do I know if steering box is bad? 1/4 turn adjustment left. 1970 cutlass Answered



In addition to what Steveastrouk says re: "more than 2" movement", look at the engine side of the firewall where the steering column comes through. There should be a rubberized fiber disk that can wear out. If it is worn, frayed or torn in any way, replace it immediately. Doing so made a world of difference on my 71 Nova. Also, check the rest of the suspension mounting points ( A-frame [control arm] bushings, ball joints, etc.) for play. Many extraneous connections can cause what you describe, in addition to checking alignment.

Just some other things to look at.


The rubberized fiber disc {steering coupler} has been replaced and it did help alot, but the problem still exists. the adjustment screw on top of the steeriing box has only 1/4 turn of adjustment left. All other connections seem to be fine. Should these connections be checked with the car sitting on the ground or lifted off the ground? thank you for your help

Off the ground so that everything is as unloaded as possible.

Is there a possibility that someone messed around with the tie-rod adjusters, getting them out of whack?

I'm throwing these things out to you because it is relatively rare that a steering box goes bad. It does happen, but not often. And if it skipped some teeth, as I suspect, then your car may have had some sort of accident or impact to the front wheels. Or, being 42 years old, it may just be worn out. Hard to say.

No fear though, you can still get OEM and aftermarket boxes.


Thank you for your input. I 'm going to let a pro look at it. Thanks again.

I worked at a shop rebuilding steering gears a couple of years ago and when a gear doesn't return to center it can mean a few things. With all that you're described I'm going to guess that the adjustment is to tight and the gear is binding. If you've tried loosening the adjustment (no more than 1/8 of a turn at a time) and it didn't help or did help but was sloppy then there are probably busted teeth floating around in their, especially if you tightened it too much at some point.
The other possibilities are a bad valve, which can cause bad centering, or a bad pump not circulating enough fluid. As quercus austrina said the steering gear is iften blamed for issues somewhere in the linkage. Although I do have to disagree that steering gears don't often go bad. Something as simple as hitting a curb hard enough with your wheel slightly off center can break a box, especially an old one. Also gear boxs don't skip teeth except on the rarest of ocasions, instead the teeth or shaft bend or break.
If I were you I would stop messing with the gear box, if you break something in it it will cost you more to replace, and talk to an expert. Do not buy just any off tge shelf replacment. Most of those only have new seals and new paint and you'll replace it again within a year.

thank you for your time and advice. I think i' ll turn to a pro

I will defer to you on the frequency of failure rate. It's just that I have never experienced actual steering box failure, either personally or via the numerous family and friends that work on vehicles (models from the early 30's to the present). Perhaps my circle happens to be a bit more careful in their driving.

As for the "skipped teeth", yes, it usually means replacement time as a tooth or more have broken off. And I wholeheartedly agree, if you need to ask the 'ibles community about something as crucial as this, it is time to find a professional. #1, it will get fixed correctly and in a timely fashion, #2, if anything fails after the repair, the liability (at least part of it) will be on the professional, not you.


I think that your advice about finding a professional is the best advice yet. I have owned the car for 4 years plus,it has always had small problems with the steering. Springs,shocks, 2 front end alignments, steering coupler and all new upper and lower bushings.The steering-wheel is still very tight and the car feels like it is {riding on rails}. I think this calls for a pro. Thank you for your time and advice.

Pretty well for any steering linkage problem you get under the car, and get a trusted assistant to move the steering wheel, while you look at ALL the links from the steeringwheel/box to the wheels proper.

If your assistant can move the steering wheel more than about 2" on the rim, and you see no movement in the rest of the linkages, you have a bad steering box.


After making a turn, the steering wheel wheel does not return to straight{or center} also the steering is very tight. I have tried adjusting the adjustment screw but i have only 1/4 turn of adjustment left. this leads me to believe that the steering box is bad. Thank you for the information that you have provided