Play in the Steering Wheel | Ford Explorer - Ford Ranger Forums - Serious Explorations
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Play in the Steering Wheel


Well-Known Member
March 29, 2007
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Year, Model & Trim Level
92 Explorer
Ok so this is not a major problem for me but it's something I'd like to fix. Here's my situation...

While driving, I can turn the wheel about 2 inches left or right and the wheels won't turn unless I turn the wheel further, the wheel easily moves when you turn the wheel left to right like I described and you can feel it get harder (not hard but you feel when its starting to turn the wheels.)

Anyways, Ive never driven a truck before and only 1 car in the past. I don't know if this is just a problems with driving big vehicles or what. I mainly want to fix this because more safe and in control when theres not that play. It makes a big difference to me I think. I don't really know how to explain it lol.

Anyways, like I said I can do without fixing the problem, but if its a cheap fix or something I might as well do it. And I don't really feel comfortable driving on the high way with it because the truck sometimes wanders to the left (probably alighnment) and the steering wheel issue just makes it that much more awkward keeping the car straight. Any ideas or suggestions would be great, thanks

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mine is loose...just gotta get used to it.

This is either a worn out steering ball joint or just play in the steering gearbox (since you have a 1st generation). One way to tell if its the gearbox or not is to have some one turn the wheel within that 2" of play (so turn it like 1") and see if the pitman arm moves. If the pitman arm doesnt move, then the play is internal of hte gearbox. If the pitman arm moves, then the problem resides somewhere in the steering ball joints (also called "tie rod ends").

There also maybe an adjustment you can make on the steering box. I'm sure others will jump in here...

Ok thx, Ill look into that...

IS changing the gearbox expensive? What kind of adjustments would I have to make to tighten it up

Gearboxes are typically around $160 to $180 (USD) from most local parts store (not the dealer). But the labor is of course the killer.

But if you have a basic set of tools, the only additional tools you should need are flare nut wrenches (for the brake line fittings), a large wrench/socket for the nut that holds the pitman arm, and a puller for the pitman arm. You might get away with using normal wrenches on the fittings but if it doesnt budge easily, use a flare nut wrench.

Flare nut wrench:

Pitman arm puller:

hi, i had the same problem except my steering wheel would go about 4 inches each way, and i didnt know what the problem was and everyone kept saying it was the gear box.

after looking around under the hood while fixing up other stuff, i noticed my upper rag joint was almost gone, half of it was missing. you can buy a new one at your local auto parts store, they know it as the steering coupler, just make sure you get the same one, i looked at the one that said it fits ford vehicles and it was too small, but they had a universal one that was the correct size and fit.

so look at the rubber disc on the steering shaft, and if that is broken or shredded like mine was then here are some tips to really save you some time. it took me 2 days to figure everything out.

it took me a while to figure out how to replace it since i could not find any diagrams or any instructions on removing the steering shaft. it is actually rather easy to remove, you remove the bolt at the very top, then pull off the plastic cover at the bottom and there is a bolt there. remove that bolt and then pull the shaft out. now comes the hard part. if it is the original rag joint, you are going to have to take the shaft and put it in a vise, and cut all the bolts out as they are steel rods rivited on the ends, so cut them in the middle and then hammer them out. i used a dremel tool to cut them at first, which was a mistake because of how long it took, and then didnt have a clean cut, then i started thinking of an easier way and got out my sawsall with a metal cutting blade, and that worked great, clean cut and took about 30 seconds for each bolt.

now the other problem you are going to face is that the replacement bolts do not fit, so you have to buy new bolts and nuts, make sure they are automotive strenght bolts, you will need 4 bolts, 2 of one size and 2 of another, i dont remember exactly what i used, but i will see if i still have the boxes for them. also you will need 4 small bushings to fit on top of the steering coupler/rubber disc, you would think it would come with them, but it doesnt. the autoparts store didnt have any for this application so i had to get creative, and looked all around the store for anything that would work. i found 1 thing in the entire store, i dont know how long it will last, but if you go over by the battery accesories, you will see long metal bars in packages, i guess they are battery hold down bars, they are pretty cheap, i think 2 or 3 dollars for a set. just hear me out, your not buying them for the bars, but for the rubber bushings inside the package, they are pink and the perfect size fit for what you need. will have to buy 2 packages to have 4 bushings.

now just put it all together and tighten everything up before re installing the shaft.

my wife is out at the store right now, but when she gets back i will take pictures of everything to show the end results.

if this isnt your problem, then sorry for the long response.

p.s. steering is tight, like a new car now, no play. so from 4 inches to no play is a huge change.

hope this helps

same thing here.. too much play.. not a priority at the moment.

On my Cherokee there was a way to 'tighten' the steering box and that worked great - not sure if you can do the same thing to the ford.

i also had to hack together a new rag joint

Is the rag joint on a 91 Explorer a cylindrical unit about 3" long towards the top of the shaft? Are new ones available?

I've adjusted the screw on the gear box 1 1/2 turns and the steering is tighter but there is still about 2" of play in the steering wheel.

Gear box?

A rag joint looks like a quarter inch or so thick piece of rubber thats maybe 3" in diameter.

The pic below is from another vehicle (a Suzuki) but the rag joint looks the same as the one on the Explorer.


Rag joints are available at most parts store but are kind of pricey -- typically around $30-$45.

2" play is about normal on a 1st gen. The steering is sloppy by nature.

Sorry to jump on the thread, but do all explorers have this Rag joint setup? Have a 91 4x4 myself and looked for it on mine as per the pics and cannot seem to find mine. Have the same problem and for the wife to drive it, I need to fix it sooner rather than later. Where is it at exactly?

it by the exhaust manufold on the drivers side.
bullinerfamily- u should turn the bolts the other way ,that way if the nuts come off the bolts it will still be in place an u wont lose all steering.