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Steering Column Disassembly

Glacier Explorer

Active Member
July 25, 2015
Reaction score
City, State
New Jersey
Year, Model & Trim Level
1998 Explorer XLT
Has anyone around here taken their steering column down to the point needed to replace the ignition switch actuator pieces within the column flange? My 98 XLT with tilt wheel recently became dead in the driveway due to a broken linkage of some sort inside the flange, between the ignition cylinder and ignition switch under the dash.

The parts in need of repair/replacement are labeled 16 (lower actuator), 17, 18, and 19 (upper actuator) in the diagram in the following link: http://parts.autonationfordwhitebea.../steering-cat/shroud-switches-and-levers-scat

I don't know exactly what is broken since I haven't made my way down into the guts of the column, but I know is is not my ignition lock cylinder (fairly common problem) or my ignition switch (replaced and tested). When I put the key in and turn it, I can see the upper actuator moving back and forth while the lower actuator that connects to the ignition switch does nothing. The key spins freely with no "spring" as there should be when you turn it all of the way from start to run. If I get a screwdriver or something, I can move the lower actuator easily. When I unscrew the ignition switch, I can push and pull the part that normally fits into the lower actuator (that seems to be connected to nothing inside of the flange) to turn the engine on and off. Since I can start it up by hand my pushing and pulling the ignition switch slide (but still have to have the key in the ignition for the PATS), I figure the wiring, battery, starter, etc is all sound.

So, my question: Does anyone know of any guides on how to properly take the column apart and reassemble it? I have looked all over, and didn't turn up with much. If there is anyone who has done this job, or something similar, what is the difficulty level? I would rather do this job myself and save the money, but if I need special tools or expertise, I might just have to find a shop to do it for me.

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I don't think it should be too bad to work on, with the column out so you can see how things work.

I looked into this thread because it points to a common weak link of these trucks, and all column shift vehicles. When you get into it, also replace the shift linkage parts. Those wear over such age and get much looser than new. While you are in there, I'd change those(2-3 parts) also, which run in the $40-$50 range total.

It sounds like there are other fragile weak points in the column. Good to know for future maintenance. I've done the linkage once, and need to do it again for my 99 truck. So it may be wise to get a spare column and rebuild it for use in my three trucks.

The more I think about it, the better it sounds to get a complete spare column from a junkyard. Trying to work with the springs that connect the upper and lower flanges sounds like a nightmare, and it might just be easier/cheaper to replace the whole thing instead of trying to dissect it to get to the actual broken bits. I shouldn't need any tools other than the basics and a wheel puller, right? I am on a tight budget since I just moved, and I need to get this explorer back on the road.

I don't know what trouble it is to deal with those ignition switch parts, but the rest of it isn't hard at all. So gauge how much trouble that ignition part will be. If it might be too much or take a long time, buying and swapping in another column might be smart. You would be removing a column twice, and once in a JY.

Thank you for bringing this subject up, people often forget about important systems that could be worse later on. I will look hard at my column when I get around to R&Ring it to do the linkage pieces.

Just a little update:
I found a shop who could do the work for $350 including parts and labor. They are replacing the column instead of trying to mess around with getting the inner broken piece(s) replaced. I think that the saved frustration and time is worth the cost of the repair. Plus the peace of mind knowing a professional is taking care of it instead of myself is nice.

But for anyone that might have this problem later and stumble upon this thread, check out these links: http://www.steeringcolumnservices.c...-rack06-actuator-replacement-instructions.php and to see what you might be getting yourself into. I searched everywhere for a PDF of the instructions, but couldn't find anything. The second link is just the inner parts, so you know what it all should look like (since most parts sites just have a rough sketch of the parts).

I did mine, it is easy. Save your money. Go to the salvage yard and pick a steering column you like, (one with the pats wiring), take there's off you will learn all the connections there are to the column and then repeat the process when you get home. Just remember to pull your lock cylinder put it on the newer column. You may have to drill out the salvage yard key cylinder as a few of them don't have the keys. Mine did not and had to drill it out. should only take about 3-5 hours depending on if your mechanically inclined or not.

I had to replace the same part on my 97 explorer sport. Took me about 4 hours to complete the job. I work in the auto body industry so I do have some knowledge in tearing cars/trucks apart. Never a steering column. But the part was less than 20 bucks and was fairly easy to install. There are youtube videos that give you step by step process. Although you will need a special tool to pull the steering wheel off, but other than that its just pulling bolts and nuts out to get to that actuator part. It would be more work and more money to get a whole steering column.