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Well, I decided to change the ball joints on my ‘82 CJ7 a few weeks ago and am stuck now. I have tried to install the knuckle to the axle, but the top ball joint has a pretty big gap. 
 

I’ve attached pictures for reference. I initially installed Alloy USA heavy duty ball joints and thought that was the issue, but it wasn’t. I tried a set of Moog ball joints and have the same issue. 
 

Any thoughts or suggestions?

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jordan89oak...I'm a stickler for using a factory workshop manual for a reference.  From what I see in your photos, comparing that to the FSM for 1981-86 models, the steering knuckle "Upper Ball Stud Split Ring Seat" (component #12 in the illustration below) could be your issue.  If the new upper and lower ball joints are the correct application for an OEM Dana 30 front axle housing and knuckle (verify the part numbers), the Upper Ball Stud Split Ring Seat could be riding too low in the steering knuckle.

There is a specialty tool made specifically for rotating and tightening the split ring seat.  The split ring seat should be removed, cleaned and able to thread readily into the knuckle to get a correct ball-joint preload setting.  I have the OTC 7080 tool in my box:  https://www.amazon.com/OTC-7080-Joint-Spanner-Wrench/dp/B0002SRDEG.

Omix-ADA offers a similar tool at Amazon.  Part is Omix-Ada 18039.01 Spanner Wrench.  There is also a MOOG version at Amazon.  You will often find this split ring "frozen" in the knuckle.  Do not ruin the tool;  soak the ring with a quality rust penetrant (WD-40, Sea Foam Deep-Creep, etc.) before attempting to loosen the ring.  The ring is always readjusted when new ball joints are installed.

I remove the split ring seat before torquing the lower ball-joint stud to specification.  After the lower ball-joint is properly secured to the knuckle, I thread the Upper Ball Stud Split Ring Seat into position with the tool.  The upper ball-joint stud's taper will cinch to the split ring seat's taper as the ring threads into position.  The ring is adjusted/tightened to factory specification to set the correct preload on both ball joints.  Then, after the split ring is adjusted to factory specification and preload, the upper ball-joint's castellated nut is tightened to specification.  This secures the ball stud and locks the split ring into position.  The cotter pin gets installed after the upper nut is tightened to specification. 

1981-86 Jeep CJ Front Steering Knuckle Schematic.jpg

Let us know if this is the issue...

Moses

 

 

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  • Moses Ludel changed the title to Dana Front Axle Steering Knuckle Install Issues

Hey Moses,

I actually have a copy of the manual and the tool. I followed the directions, minus using the specialty tool to pull the knuckle up. I even tried installing the old split ring to see if that was the issue, but I still got the same result. Somehow, the upper ball joint does not want to budge and go all the way in. 

Honestly, all of the issues that I have been having with this Jeep have made me regret ever getting it. The issues just will not stop. I haven't updated the old thread about the engine, but I haven't even gotten that running because the fuel tank had a crack in the front and a hole on the upper corner of the tank. I think someone drilled a hole straight through the tub and into the tank. Being that this is the 20 gallon plastic tank, I welded the crack and the hole.

After the fuel tank issue, I decided to just go to what I thought was going to be an easy suspension job that has turned out to be a nightmare. There were SO MANY missing bolts throughout the suspension components. I will have to give the ball joints another try to see if I can get this issue resolved.  

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jordan89oak...Pleased that you have the manual, glad we're working from the same book!  Suggestion:  If you have the original ball-joints, compare the standing height of the ball studs with the new ones.  The upper ball joint standing heights or stud lengths could be wrong.  Also, the ball stud tapers or taper diameters may be different.  If the new ball joint taper is incorrectly machined or not a match for your split ring taper(s), the upper ball stud may not be able to reach far enough into the split ring taper.  Compare the taper angles.

Given the vehicle's history and dubious work by the previous owner(s), take the time to verify whether the knuckle casting and front axle housing are OEM CJ-7 for your model year range.  Is this an original Dana 30 front axle?  Or did someone swap a 44 into this Jeep?  Is the axle even Jeep?  It could be from an I-H Scout II or other light truck application.  The axle housing end yoke spread is a concern.

Compare the ball-joint profiles with the joints that came out of the knuckles.  If there is not an obvious ball joint stud problem, it's time to work through the axle housing and knuckle casting numbers.  We can explore OEM and Dana part/casting numbers for Jeep, Scout II and other light truck beam front axles.

I searched eBay for a used CJ knuckle for your vintage Jeep.  If this used knuckle is accurately identified, compare this knuckle with the knuckle you have on hand:

https://www.ebay.com/itm/114775235049

Yep, this is frustrating as hell.  I understand your chagrin at this point, we've all been there with higher mileage vehicles mishandled by previous owners with slipshod work.  However, you're heavily invested at this point and, fortunately, have the acumen and drive to follow through.  Finding time with your school schedule must be challenging, I'm sure.  The Jeep was supposed to be a wholesome, rewarding outlet, not a string of obstacles.

My caveats when buying used vehicles, especially light truck/SUV 4x4s, can be summed up as:  1)  as close to stock as possible, 2)  unmodified and 3)  previous owner history and service information available if possible.  (This is unlikely when a vehicle has changed hands several times.)  I'll perform my own restorative work, upgrades and modifications, thanks!  It's a bit late for your CJ, but you can turn this around.

Moses 

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  • 1 month later...

Hi Moses, 

I am back with an update on this situation. This is the original Dana 30 axle for this Jeep. After comparing ball-joints and purchasing a new set of Moog ball-joints, I was left with little hope. I had been looking for a replacement knuckle, but they are hard to come by. I finally came across a used knuckle on e-bay and purchased it. I got a feeling that the knuckle that came out of my Jeep was bent. Lo and behold, it was!

It was a struggle to get the new knuckle in because I was sent the wrong one at first, and had to return it and wait for the correct one. But after I received the correct one, I got to measuring and comparing, and immediately noticed a big difference. I took the ball-joints off of the old knuckle and pressed them onto the new one. The knuckle dropped in! The knuckle, as measured in the picture, came in at 6 15/16" (For future reference, as this information was hard to come by), and the old knuckle was around 6".

As for the next headache/head-scratcher, There seems to be a small gap between the axle shaft seal and the tube, as seen in the third picture. I have checked to make sure that the bearings are properly seated and that everything else is in the right place, but I am not sure what is going on there. Any thoughts?

For now, I have proceeded with finishing off the suspension work and added a heavy duty steering gear box to the Jeep.

CJ7 Knuckle.jpg

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IMG_2659.jpg

IMG_2641.jpg

 

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Hi, jordan89oak...The knuckle looks like a much better fit.  The gap you notice at the outer end of the axle shaft (at the tube entrance) is normal.  That's not a seal, it's a deflector to keep grit out of the housing tube.  The axle shaft seal is at the inner end of the axle shaft, just outboard of the differential carrier and bearings.  The deflector needs that slight space to allow for axle shaft movement during the steering knuckle swing and ball-joint movement.

Also, any gap at the top of the MOOG ball joint seal should not present a problem as long as the ball joint seats properly in the steering knuckle and the tapered ball stud seats properly in the axle housing's "C" end.  If so, your only concern would be the ball joint seal offering a reasonably good fit around the ball stud, snug enough to contain grease and act as a moisture and debris barrier.

It's not unusual for a ball-joint seal to expand once in service.  It is likely that once the vehicle is weighted on the ground, any gap will close.

Glad to see that you're making progress again...I see the heavy duty steering gear (nice).  Does the pitman arm require "drop"?  When you have the vehicle weighted on the ground, how does the steering linkage align?  Is that straight pitman arm intended for this gear in this CJ installation and chassis ride height?

Moses

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Hey Moses,

Thank you for the clarification on the gap issue. That’s a relief, and good to know! 
 

As for the pitman arm, the lift kit came with the correct pitman arm. I haven’t gotten to installing the new one because the old one is on there good. I might have to apply some heat to it. I left it soaking with PB Blaster. If that doesn’t work, I’ll try something else. I’ve got upgraded heavy duty steering linkage to go with it, as well as a dual steering stabilizer system from Skyjacker. 
 

Hopefully it’s smooth sailing from here because I really want to take this Jeep out for a drive with the family. I’ll keep you posted. 
 

Thanks Moses!

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You're overdue for the drive with the family, but the home stretch is within sight. 

Before applying heat to the pitman (which could damage the steering gear's sector seal), I would use a pitman arm puller and this technique:  With puller pressure applied, hold the steering sector shaft downward with a pry bar to prevent driving force against the sector adjuster cap and screw.  Rap the stem end of the pitman arm puller and reapply puller stem pressure.  Again hold the sector downward with the pry bar and rap the puller stem with the stem under load.  The "shock" will usually break the tapered splines of the pitman arm loose with one sharp rap.  Be sure to protect the sector shaft and sector adjuster by localizing the hammer force to just the puller stem and pitman arm.  That's the purpose of the pry bar. 

The aim here is to protect the sector and sector adjuster by prying downward on the sector/pitman while rapping the end of the puller stem.  Avoid damaging the steering housing.  (Some attempt to remove a pitman arm with a pickle fork, which can damage the steering gear housing and internal steering gear parts.  Use a pitman arm puller.)  While isolating force with the pry bar, one sharp rap on the loaded pitman puller stem end with a weighty sledge is usually enough to break the pitman arm loose. 

OTC-7314A.jpg                OTC-8150.jpg

At left is a common pitman arm puller, the OTC 7314A.  At right is a "conical" style puller, OTC's 8150.  I like the conical puller for its stout wall design and resistance to spreading.  When resistance is high, like jordan89oak's pitman arm, the standard two-jaw design can spread under load.  Regardless of type, look for a stout shoulder design.  

You'll want to torque the pitman nut to specification when installing the new pitman arm.  Keep the steering gear in the straight ahead (on center) position when tightening the nut.  Do not tighten the pitman nut with the gear/sector turned off center to its extreme—the internal steering gear parts can be damaged

When the steering gear is already installed in the chassis, I attach the steering linkage and tighten the pitman nut with the front wheels in the straight ahead position and the steering gear on center.  Make sure the steering gear is on center when the wheels point straight ahead.  Align the steering wheel with the on-center position of the steering gear.  When aligning the front end, use the tie-rod adjusters to align the front end/wheels and also to center the steering wheel.  Do not reposition the steering wheel once on center with the steering gear's center point.  The gear must be on center when you're driving straight ahead.  The over-center steering gear mesh is approximately halfway between lock-to-lock.  This is felt as the "high point" mesh (zero backlash point) between the sector teeth and power piston teeth.

Servicing a steering gear on the bench, I place the pitman arm in my large bench vise, slide the steering gear and sector splines into position, install the lock washer and  pitman nut then torque to specification.  The pitman arm is held stationary in the vise.  The steering sector is close to center while the gear rests in the pitman arm.  There is no load on the gear mechanism.

Moses

 

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Thank you for this great advise Moses! I have the puller on the left and slightly bent one of the prongs trying to get the pitman arm off. I am going to try it again, along with the pry bar, and if that doesn't work, I'll try the conical type puller. 

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Hey Moses,

What is your opinion on doing a "tie rod flip" modification? I've read through a number of forums on the subject, and seems like you would gain some clearance, and some even say gaining back steering radius, on lifted Jeeps. 

I ask because I will be installing the Rugged Ridge heavy duty tie rod and drag link, and thought that it might be something to look into. I know that some choose to go with reaming the top, and some go with inserts.

 

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jordan89oak...The aim with the tie rod flip is to eliminate bump steer caused by a sloping draglink (short tie-rod from pitman to right side).  The usual solution for milder lifts is a dropped pitman arm.  The dropped pitman arm must have the correct center-to-center measurement for a proper steering ratio.

The correct dropped pitman is usually the fix for lifts to 4", sometimes stretched to 6" lift applications.  I've always used the dropped pitman method, though many boast about the flipped tie-rod.  In either case, the closer the draglink slope matches OEM, the less issue with bump steer.

There are other bump steer solutions used for extreme lifts, including cross-over K-linkage, Steinjager and "High Steer" steering linkage.   The overall goals are countering bump steer and also getting the steering linkage out of harm's way for severe trail/rock crawl use.  OEM style linkage rides vulnerably low at the front of the axle housing.

If you do the conventional dropped pitman arm, there is more leverage working radially against the steering sector shaft and bearings.  Considering the oversized Saginaw gear you have, that would not be an issue for a long time.  The lighter stock Jeep steering gears (like my XJ Cherokee with a 6-inch long arm lift and the dropped pitman arm that came with the kit) are sometimes vulnerable over time to sector bearing wear or at least lower sector seal leaks.  After 80K miles of running this lift kit, I recently did a minor steering gear rebuild and resealed the OEM gear.  That was at 170K plus miles, likely the point this work would be required on a stone stock Jeep/Saginaw power gear. 

Trail use in rocks with large tires will increase the steering gear wear risk.  I'm easy on my equipment, both on- or off-road, and do not use a Saginaw gear as a "hydraulic power ram" in rocks.  I sense when the tires are bound up and the gear is under high load.  I back off the steering wheel pressure...I've seen these power gears rip from the frames of stock Jeep 4x4s.

Moses

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Great information here Moses. I was also asking because the Rugged Ridge heavy duty tie rod/drag link instructions mention something about it not working with some stock Jeep wheels. I've read about some folks flipping the tie rods to remedy the issue. I placed an order for three inserts, but will try fitting them in the original location with the  wheels on. If that works, I will just go that route and install the 4" drop pitman arm that came with the lift kit. If that doesn't work, I will probably flip them.

I just finished installing both knuckles and painted the driveshafts. I will put the brakes and everything back together tomorrow. I'm converting it over to power brakes, but the booster and master don't get here until next week, so I will work with what I have. I hope to get done with the suspension work this week (fingers crossed). 

As for actually getting the Jeep started, I have to finish the fuel system and do the exhaust. I will update my other thread with this information when I get all of that information gathered. 

Thanks Moses!

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You're welcome, jordan89oak...Make sure your steering linkage pieces clear each other and do not bind.  When testing steering linkage positions and clearance, articulate the suspension to its maximum travel, up and down, at each side.  In each axle position, turn the steering wheel lock-to-lock.  Make sure there is adequate steering linkage clearance.  While your aim is to minimize bump steer, this is always relative with a beam axle and longer travel suspension.  Make the Jeep as safe and drivable as possible...

Moses

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  • 2 weeks later...

Well, I finally got the front suspension and all new brakes installed in the front. Thank you for the advise on the pitman arm, I managed to get it off thanks to your advise. 
 

It’s standing on its own now, and I still have to torque the suspension components. I noticed that the passage side tire Rod is not straight, so I’ll have to assist that, but the suspension is on. 
 

Next things after torquing the suspension is the fuel tank. I had it up last time, but hasn’t noticed that the steel tub is dented in the bottom, pushing the plastic tank up, so I’ll have to pull the tank out of the tub and straighten it out. The electric fuel pump is mounted and wired. I purchased a power brake conversion booster and master, so that’ll be going in too. I also installed a dual stick setup for the Dana 300. 

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jordan89oak...You've really stepped up the game on your CJ-7.  Looking back, you transformed this Jeep into a trail worthy, heavy duty vehicle.

I like your attention to detail:  The wire tying of the free-wheeling hub bolts, notorious for loosening on this five-bolt style hub, is very smart.  The steering linkage and steering gear should be bulletproof.  When you do the final front wheel alignment, make sure the steering gear is on its over-center position with the wheels pointed straight ahead.  If this is a variable ratio steering gear, all the more important.

You'll really value the twin-stick conversion on the Dana 300.  This is a solid transfer case to start with, helical gears are a big plus, a good low range ratio.  The twin-stick modes make the Dana 300 even more versatile.  Good call...

I'm impressed!  You'll be thrilled when you can take advantage of all this work and the upgrades investment.  Thanks for sharing your experience with us.  The photos have been valuable, too!

Moses

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