Intro by the owner of the Autorepair Page:

This is a saga written by a good friend of mine who, up to a year or so ago, owned a screwdriver a pair of pliers and a set of lead wrenches. He and I have been good friends since he worked for the same company where I still work. Michel is a regular contributor to the DL at Xerox called Autorepair:All Areas and I hope he continues to contribute as I know you will enjoy reading his tales. Michel now has a compressor and a good start on a set of air tools, a gas wrench (AKA oxy-acetylene torch), a floor jack and jack stands and is well on his way to building a fine workshop. Here is his tale of replacing a power steering rack on his wife's Buick - ask him to tell ya about the water pump on the same car . . .

How I spent my weekend - AKA replacing the power steering rack on a Buick

Someone on usenet was asking about this and since I had just done it, I decided to tell my tale. Since virtually every GM J and A car in the mid-80's had the same power steering defect (hard steering on cold starts on cold days) this may be of interest to someone. I also want to give credit right up from to the dl's own Bob Hewitt, without whose frequent advice and encouragement this car (my wife's 84 Buick Skyhawk) would now be swimming with the fishes on the bottom of the Barge Canal.

The cure for the famous GM power steering problem is to replace all the internal O-rings in the steering rack. But this requires removing the rack and once you've done that, you might as well replace the whole rack. The whole job proved to be a *lot* harder than I thought.

The first major step is removing the tie rod ends. The nuts were all rusty but I had just bought a compressor and impact wrench. The impact wrench handled them with ease. However, then the tie rods refused to come loose. Banging on the steering knuckle didn't do anything, even with a backing sledge hammer. I tried a gear puller, but it couldn't get a good grip on the top surface of the steering knuckle and kept slipping off. I didn't want to use a pickle fork because I heard they will shred the boot. Finally I found a tool called a Pittman arm puller, which looks just like the J-whatever GM tool shown in the shop manual. That slid over the knuckle and fit just right. I still had to pull real hard on the forcing screw, but eventually the joint yielded (with a loud bang - I thought I had broken the tool). I would recommend *not* leaving the nut partially threaded during this operation. The force with which the tie rod leaves the joint could easily strip or distort the threads. The tie rod is securely anchored at the other end - it will pop up but it's not going anywhere.

Next step is undoing the flexible coupling that connects the steering column to the stub shaft on the rack. This is covered by a protective boot made out of some sort of alien plastic that is nearly impossible to flex. The manual says to bend it out of the way. Yeah, right. I finally took a pair of tin snips to it in a fit of pique and sliced it down the side lengthwise. Until then I couldn't even *see* the coupling bolts. Plus you have to do this part essentially standing on your head.

Then you have to remove the hydraulic pipes from the rack. These weren't rusted, but they apparently were assembled by King Kong. The impact wrench saved the day again here. You'll need an 18 mm. crow's foot wrench here. Don't turn the wheel once the fittings are off or power steering fluid will blat out the holes. Oh and empty the reservoir first too.

The next fun part was removing the two clamps that hold the rack to the firewall. The left side wasn't too bad since there's reasonable clearance and there was a nice layer of oil and dirt all over everything that had prevented rusting. The right side was a different story. No room for the impact wrench. No room for a u-joint. I used a 3" extension on a ratchet and banged on it with a mallet. Finally the bolt began to turn. I prayed it was really turning and not shearing. Eventually it got easier to turn ... and turn and turn and turn. This looked bad. Either the nut was stripped on the stud, or the stud had stripped (oh no!). Being in a bad mood by now, I decided I might as well try the other nut to see if I'd have any better luck. Same deal though. It loosened up, and then spun freely without coming off. Then I noticed something funny - the whole clamp was about 1/2" further away from the rack than when I started. I pulled on the top part of the clamp and surprise - it popped right out! I loosened the bottom bolt some more and then the clamp just fell off. On investigation, I discovered that the studs are *captive*! They have a little flange on the *back* of the clamp that keeps them from pulling through. I'll bet the boys at GM had fun designing this one "Hey Joe! Let's put a flange on this stud so when some poor dweeb comes along to remove it in 12 years he won't know what the hell's going on! Heh heh - heh heh." So nothing was stripped, although the studs had backed out of the firewall. But the manual anticipates this and gives the procedure (double nutting) and torque values for reinserting them.

At this point the rack is free. You just pull it (yeah "just") straight out the access hole on the left side. Make sure you have enough clearance to get it out before you start the job! Watch the trailing tie rod end to make sure it doesn't hang up on any wires or hoses. Getting it out required a certain amount of twisting and turning (and cursing). A crowbar helped push it along too. Then you remove the tie rods from the old rack and put them on the new one. Don't forget the lock plate.

Make sure your new rack came with new mounting bushings - the first one they sold me didn't. (I had to take it back). Then just slide the whole deal back in through the access hole and let it sit in the approximate mounting position. Now the real fun starts. You have to get the flexible coupling (inside the car) back onto the stub shaft of the rack (under the hood). The manual says to use a helper here. I decided to ignore this and wedge the rack into place with a couple of crowbars to keep it from moving. This was a very *bad* idea and just wasted a lot of time. I finally had to call my helper (she was inside watching TV, but hey it's her car). The main problem is that it's next to impossible to line up the coupling and the shaft. The manual says to spread the coupling opening with a screwdriver, but my coupling was made of Kryptonite and wasn't moving anywhere. I finally got the two pieces to line up and then pounded the coupling down onto the shaft using a hammer on the end of a crowbar. This was tough because I couldn't see the coupling as I was pounding and it kept slipping off. But on the 273rd try, it worked. Maybe there's some easier way to do this. I hope I never have to find out. Oh, and the damn rubber seal around the stub shaft kept slipping up into a position that it was nearly impossible to recover it from. I used a bent coat hanger to retrieve it.

Replacing the hydraulic lines was easy. Observe the torque values (20 ft. lb.). The left clamp was easy too. Mount the lower stud first. The right clamp was nearly as bad to replace as it was to remove, since you have to do it entirely by feel. There's no way to tell if you've found the hole.

Replacing the tie rods was simple, although I discovered the boot on the right side had ripped anyway, probably while I was tugging the old rack out. I had to call all over town to find a new one too, including one fool who insisted this car didn't have such a part, and another one who was positive I meant the ball joint. I finally found one at a Pontiac dealer - cost me 11 bucks (ouch). The whole rack was only $89.

So, with that out of the way, I filled the reservoir, turned the key and was pleased to discover the engine still ran. Then for the moment of truth - I turned the steering wheel and ... it worked! Nothing exploded, leaked, bound up, or cracked. I put the wheels back on, lowered the car and took it for a spin around the block which I managed to complete without crashing into anything or losing any important parts on the road. The job turned out to be a *major* pain in the butt, but it was a definite learning experience, and fun too in a perverted sort of way. At least now my wife can look forward to a winter of easy steering. And the GM guy who designed this steering rack had better pray he never meets me in a dark alley. ---

- Michel


Dear Bob, I have just finished visiting your site for the first time and I really enjoyed it. I am a proffessional mechanic from Toronto Canada and I think that I have a tip that might be helpful. On GM J body vehicle's such as Michels if you remove the brake booster first it makes the job much simplier. First you undo the two nuts holding the master cylinder to the booster and pull the master cylinder to one side {with the lines still atached} then remove the vacuum line. From under the dash remove the brake push rod from the pedal then remove the four nuts that hold the booster the firewall. Lift out the brake booster and you will be suprised at how much room you have to work on the rack. All the above takes 10 to 15 minutes with no special tools required. And that coupling that gave Michel so much trouble is a breeze. I hope that this is some help to you and your readers.

Thanks Robert Ball WJBall@IBM.NET

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