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A steering box, as opposed to modern rack-and-pinion steering applications, is connected directly to the base of the steering column. From there, a pitman arm is attached to the steering box to send steering input to the front wheels via the vehicle’s steering linkage. Steering boxes are often bolted directly to the vehicle’s frame, whereas a rack-and-pinion style steering setup attaches to the vehicle’s crossmember or engine cradle. After years of use your vehicle’s steering box can develop leaks or various operating issues can arise necessitating its replacement. Here at Speedway Motors, we have a wide selection of steering box offerings, and we can steer you in the right direction no matter the application.

What Does a Steering Box Do?

A steering box is the link between a vehicle’s steering wheel and the front wheels. Unlike a rack-and-pinion steering arrangement, a steering box uses either a worm and sector, a worm and roller, or a recirculating ball system using ball bearings. Regardless of the system being used, the steering gear box takes input from the steering wheel using the steering shaft. This input shaft is machined to interface with the sector shaft and applies that effort to the front wheels via a pitman arm to steer the vehicle in that direction.

Where Is the Steering Box Located?

The steering gear box is mounted to the front frame rail on the same side as the steering wheel. The steering column runs through the firewall, then a steering shaft connects the steering column to the steering box. In some applications the steering column/shaft bolts directly to the steering box’s input. A pitman arm is connected to the steering box, and on the other end connected to the vehicle’s steering linkage going to each side. On the opposite side of the steering box and pitman arm, giving the steering linkage on that side its stability and strength, is an idler arm that is attached to the chassis or front subframe. In most steering systems using a steering box, there’s a center link connected to each side’s inner and outer tie rods, which are connected to each side’s spindle. All these components make up a steering system.

Can You Rebuild a Steering Box?

Yes, a steering box can be rebuilt, but the cost of rebuilding could equal or exceed purchasing a new one. With steering gear box parts and labor, if not rebuilding it yourself, a complete steering gear box replacement might be the less expensive option. However, with date-coded or “numbers-matching” concerns, we can understand how rebuilding a steering box might be the preferred route, but from a cost standpoint, it might not make sense. On the low side, a steering box can go for around $200, but most are $500-$1,000, with racing steering box applications going for close to $2,000.

What happens is over time a steering box’s worm gear and other components become worn out, or loose, and constant corrections must be made to keep the vehicle going straight. Worn or loose steering box components can also cause vague feedback, as well. If other steering components, like the inner and outer tie rods, pitman arm, and idler arm, are in order, the steering box itself could be the culprit. Another cause of steering box failure is fluid leaks. Much like an engine, proper lubrication is always necessary, and running a steering box dry will most certainly shorten its lifespan. 

What Are the Different Types of Steering Gear Boxes?

Regardless of if we’re talking about a power steering gear box or a manual steering box, a steering gear box assembly uses either a worm and sector, a worm and roller, or a recirculating system using ball bearings. Each arrangement uses steering wheel input to turn the pitman arm, accordingly. A power steering gear box enjoys the power assist from the power steering pump, whereas a manual steering box is all driver muscle, but they both use the same mechanical arrangement within the steering box.

A worm and sector arrangement works like a ring and pinion setup within a drive axle. The worm shaft inside the steering box is connected to the steering shaft, and the sector gear is attached the pitman arm shaft. When the steering wheel is turned, the worm shaft and sector gear turn the pitman arm shaft to turn the front wheels. A worm and roller is like a worm and sector arrangement, but its operation is smoother since it uses a roller gear for the pitman arm shaft. A recirculating ball system is also like a worm and sector system in that it also uses a sector shaft that attaches to the pitman arm. However, a recirculating ball system works by circulating ball bearings in and out to move the sector shaft.

How Do You Adjust a Steering Gear Box?

Most steering boxes feature an adjustment set screw and lock nut arrangement to allow for adjustment. You can adjust preload and/or adjust the steering box to provide tighter operation using the set screw and lock nut. Tightening or giving the steering box too much preload can cause premature damage to both a power steering gear box and a manual steering box, however. One thing to remember is if your vehicle’s steering wheel doesn’t return to center after turning the wheel in either direction, you have tightened the adjustment too much or given it too much preload. Overtightening or too much preload can reduce the life of a steering box’s bearings and seals.