Your Steering system is a very critical safety system on your Vanagon. Yet many people live with a van that has off-center or sloppy steering. If you detect a problem with your steering, there are a few things you can easily test before you take it to a local shop to get a front end alignment. A front end alignment usually costs around $99 but it can save you a bunch of wear and tear on your front tires, and keep your van going straight and smooth down the road.
Some times the steering problem you are experiencing is nothing more than a slack tire. Check your tire air pressures before you even take the van to a shop. The air pressure should be equal from one side to the other. At least 32 psi should be in the front tires. You can put more in if you have the proper 6 or 8 ply tires that are specified for you van. Check the side of your tire to see what it’s max psi rating is and then fill the tires to a number that is below that but equal on both sides and then take the van for a spin again. If it still pulls to one side then it is time to check out that side.
Checking the front wheel bearings is pretty simple. Jack the van up in the air on the side you want to check. Look at the face of the wheel as if you are looking at the face of a clock. With one hand grab the 12 o’clock position and with the other grab the six o’clock position. Now try to rock the wheel. It should have very minor to no movement in it. If it has any play in it then the bearings are probably going bad and need to be checked or replaced.
You can also check for play in your steering system while the van is jacked up on that side. Visually inspect your upper and lower ball joints and tie rod end. They are all located attached to the front spindel that your brake rotor is attached to. They have small rubber boots on them. If any of the boots are torn the the joint or tie rod end is bad and should be replaced. Now grab the tire again but this time grab it at the three o’clock and nine o’clock position. Your wheel bearings have to be good to do this test. Now try to rock the wheel again. If you feel play in the wheel get someone to rock the wheel while you take a flashlight under the van and try to spot what is moving. Whatever is moving is bad and should be replaced. You might have a bad ball joint, tie rod end or even the inner tie rod ball socket. If you see play in any of these replace them right away before you even try to get it aligned.
If your front end is tight but you still have some slop in the steering then it could be in the linkage between the steering rack and the steering wheel. The manual racks have a couple of rubber couplings and a steering box in the system that are suspect. If you check the rubber couplings and they don’t seem to have any play then I would replace the steering box. On a power steering rack you also have a universal joint that is prone to failure over many miles. You can have someone turn the steering wheel while you look at this joint with a light to see what is going on. If the rack boots are torn replace them immediately. If you see any wetness at the rack boots on a power rack then you have a leak and you should replace the rack as soon as you can.
If you have a leak at the rack itself then you are going to need to get a rebuilt rack. We carry a rack rebuilt by a company called Maval. It is a long rack which means that it has the tie rods, boots, and mounts installed. It does not come with tie rod ends however and if you are replacing the rack I would recommend getting these as well. I have installed many of the Maval racks for customers and never had any problems with them. Whenever you replace a rack or pump you want to also flush the system and put a new power steering filter. This filter is located in the power steering reservoir and you need to remove the cover to the top of the reservoir to gain access to it. Most folks don’t even know that it exists but if you look at the lower half of your reservoir you will notice that it is darker than the upper half. That is because this filter is inside.
Your power steering system is not very complicated. You have a power steering pump bolted to the engine with a belt drive, a reservoir for fluid, two long steel lines go to the rack in the front and that is pretty much it. If you are having a whiny pump or not much power steering action going on I would check your fluid level first. You can check the reservoir from opening the license plate door and looking to your right. There are lines on the reservoir that clearly say min and max. Only top off your fluid with Dexron/Mercron ATF fluid, do NOT use “power steering” fluid. I know this sounds strange but the Vanagon power steering system was made to use Automatic Transmission Fluid. Using power steering fluid will kill the seals in your pump and rack. If you fluid level goes down continually then you have a leak. If you didn’t see anything while you were inspecting the front end then you probably have a leak in one of the lines that delivers the fluid to the rack. Usually you will see a wet spot somewhere along the long that will give you a hint. I have a kit that replaces the two long metal lines that run the length of the van with high pressure hydraulic hose for $225. The other, shorter hoses, are available as well.
As always, Van-Again has you covered with all of the Vanagon steering parts you could ever need. Please feel free to call on us whenever you need parts to repair your van.
Copyright Van-Again 2015
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