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Steering Shaft Type and Measuring Spline SizeSteering Shaft Type and Measuring Spline Size

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When building a hot rod or muscle car it is quite common for the steering column to not be installed until late in the process during the interior build out. This can lead to some issues trying to connect Point A (the column) to Point B (the steering box or rack-and-pinion). Engine offset, exhaust headers, brake lines, and more can all be hurdles to overcome, which is why we recommend fitting the column much earlier in the build process to determine the steering shaft U-joint needs; generally once the steering/suspension is mocked up and the engine with headers is in place. Certainly, before paint and final drivetrain installation. Using the correct steering universal joints, steering shaft, and support bearing is critical to a smooth steering vehicle with no binding or slop. We carry a large selection of top-quality steering U-joints from companies like Sweet Mfg., Unisteer, and AFCO for your project car.

What is a Steering Shaft U-Joint?

When building a vehicle, it is quite rare that the steering column and steering gear box or rack-and-pinion assembly line up exactly in a straight line. Due to the offset of these components, it is quite common to use a length of steel shaft with special steering universal joints at each end to help connect the column to the steering components. The steering universal joints and shaft often solve the dilemma of something in the engine compartment being in the direct line of connection, such as an exhaust header. The sections of U-joint steering shaft and U-joints allow the steering column’s output to the steering gear or rack clear these obstacles.

The steering shaft joints and steering shaft itself are available in a multitude of configurations to allow the connection of stock and/or aftermarket components together easily. So, whether it is a stock steering column to a stock gear box used in your custom hot rod build, or an aftermarket tilt column connecting to an aftermarket front suspension with rack-and-pinion conversion, there are specific steering shaft joints to make these connections happen. There are steering U-joints in specific sizes, spline counts, and shaft shapes/diameters that we carry that will make the job of connecting your column to your steering components easy, and quite often with just simple hand tools.

Why do Steering Shafts Have Double U-Joints?

The typical steering shaft U-joint is capable of approximately 35 degrees of angle. In some applications this is not enough to clear the engine compartment obstruction. Using a double U-joint allows for up to 70 degrees of angle. A double steering U-joint is usually used in conjunction with a standard single U-joint and a steering shaft support heim joint bearing and frame mounted support bracket for the heim joint. This allows for a wider option in selecting the steering shaft and U-joint routing, while supporting the longer routing with the heim joint bearing to retain smooth steering articulation without any binding felt in the steering system by the driver through the steering wheel.

The double U-joint can be had in several configurations to allow mounting the double U-joint directly to the steering gear or rack-and-pinion, directly to the steering column shaft, or in between two sections of steering shaft. We offer a wide selection of these double U-joints to solve steering shaft routing issues in muscle cars and street rod builds. So, if things are looking tight for using a standard steering shaft joint, do not worry, the double U-joints we offer will certainly solve your steering shaft routing dilemma.

What Steering Universal Joint Size Do I Need?

To determine the correct steering shaft joint you must first know what the shaft diameter and spline count are of your steering system components. While 3/4” diameter with 36 splines is one of the most common aftermarket U-joint specs, you will often need a different diameter and/or spline count for the U-joint to properly connect to your steering components. We carry a huge assortment of steering joints and couplings in various specs, many with different specs on each end of the joint, allowing the steering shaft joints to connect steering components from different manufacturers or aftermarket brands with a common double-D (DD) steering shaft. A U-joint steering column is common in aftermarket steering setups versus a direct connection from the steering column to the steering gear box. See our Steering Shaft and U-Joint Selection Guide linked at the top of this page for assistance.

How Can You Tell When Your U-Joint Goes Bad?

The steering shaft U-joint is like a driveshaft U-joint, just on a smaller scale. It features four sets of needle bearing caps that are encapsulated in grease for lubrication. However, these needle bearings can sometimes suffer a failure of the lubricating grease due to corrosion and excessive water intrusion. Once this happens the needle bearings become dry and begin to wear, creating slop in the steering universal joints. They can also become rusty and begin to grab or bind and even seize entirely. Generally, if the steering column has a tight spot or binding spot, or even locks up and stops rotating, you have a rusted steering shaft U-joint that needs servicing.

When the needle bearings wear due to lack of lubrication then instead of a bind there will be excessive play and noise in the steering joint, possibly even a rattle can be heard going over bumps and driving on rough roads. Play in the steering, requiring constant steering correction, is one symptom. Squeaking while turning the wheel is quite commonly attributed to dry, failing universal joints. If there is room in the engine bay to do so, quite often grabbing the steering shaft and giving it a good shake will reveal if the steering shaft U-joints have sufficient play to require steering shaft U-joint replacement.