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There is some play in steering wheel (precisely in steering gear box) and I have power steering. Its saginaw unit, and I've found that it has some adjusting screw on top of it and that by adjusting that screw I can reduce play. On the other hand, I've read that this should be done only after rebuilding complete unit and that adjusting it without rebuild could make elements inside bind and damage the unit. Can it be done or I need to rebuild it first? It has some 180.000 miles on it and no visible leaks on it nor on ps pump.

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zidodcigalah...This is a wise question to ask.  Since the late 1960s, I have rebuilt all types of steering gears, including Saginaw manual and power units.  I will gladly share my views.

In addition to the tooth sector backlash between the ball nut (manual Saginaw) or power/rack piston (Saginaw rotary valve integral power gear), play in a Jeep/Saginaw steering gear can be caused by worn or damaged worm bearings, cross/pitman shaft bearings or the ball nut bearings.  If the gear is slightly loose at 180,000 miles, there is a possibility that the play is backlash between the sector and power rack teeth.  It could also be loose worm bearing preload, which can be roughly tested by trying to move the Jeep gear's stub shaft sideways and up-and-down to check for worm shaft play.  Pitman/cross-shaft bearing wear can also be tested:  move the pitman arm sideways and note any out-of-center or lateral movement of the pitman shaft.

If there is wear at the worm bearings, the cross-shaft/sector shaft bearings or the recirculating balls and ball races of the ball nut or power rack, you should not attempt to adjust the gear.  Adjusting out the play could jam up and bind the already worn bearings, races or hard parts.  This is an unsafe practice that can result in gear bind and steering seizure while turning.

When play is nothing more than normal wear between the rack piston teeth or ball nut teeth and the matching sector teeth, minor adjustment is possible.  (This should not be done if there is worm bearing looseness, suspected wear at ball races, worn balls or worn cross-shaft/pitman bearing wear.)  The only way to know whether there is bearing or hard parts wear is to disassemble and inspect the gear.  However, if the worm shaft shows no radial/lateral (side) movement and the same is true at the sector/pitman shaft, and if the ball nut or rack piston moves freely without any roughness when the steering is rotated lock-to-lock with only a slight load on the gear (front wheels off the ground), you may have minor sector/tooth wear that can be adjusted.

One test, if the bearings and hard parts (shafts, ball races, etc.) seem okay and do not feel loose, is to push the pitman arm straight up into the gear and pull it straight down.  This will indicate play between the teeth.  (Again, be sure the worm and ball nut or rack piston bearings are intact without play.)  Sector play can be adjusted by using the factory method.  Disconnect the tie-rod/draglink from the pitman arm before performing any adjustments.  You would be setting the over-center, very slight load to restore the gear.

For insight and details on the Saginaw power gear, I created a rebuild how-to video for the magazine.  It is free to viewers.  The video follows factory/OEM procedures for the common Saginaw 800-Series gears found in Jeep, G.M., Ford and I-H light trucks.  Click here to access the article and video.


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