DT Install - One Finger Turning

The ultimate steering upgrade

December 2012 Feature

Have you ever asked yourself why manufacturers have always equipped trucks with such stupid-looking wheel and tire packages? Yes, there are some decent-looking wheels that are available, but why do the tires have to be so small? Don't the Big Three realize that it's kind of ridiculous to make a bad-ass looking truck only to throw a set of pizza-cutter wheels and tires under it and call it good? Yeah, they understand. But they have some good reasons behind this ironic behavior.

Here are just a few: Big tires make the truck harder to stop. Stopping ability affects the hauling capacity. Big tires are more difficult to get rolling. This increased resistance negatively affects fuel economy and hauling capacity. Big tires add weight, resistance, and greater force against suspension and steering components, which will reduce the life of parts like bushings, ball joints, tie rod ends, steering gear. So rather than fight against physics, it seems the automakers have some secret agreement that they will not be competitive in the wheel and tire area of their offering to the market. This allows them to keep costs down and vehicle performance numbers up. But don't worry. All of this doesn't mean you have kiss your solid steering and good tow rating goodbye if you want good-looking wheels and tires. We've installed and have been testing what we think is the ultimate steering upgrade.

Chrysler started using a larger steering gear in 2010 that has improved the steering stability of their HD trucks. Still, after adding a 2.5-inch leveling kit, 20-inch wheels, and 325/60 20R tires, our steering had significant wobble after hitting things like pot holes or diagonal cracks in the road. It wasn't a death wobble by any means, but it would only be a matter of time before our steering components were worn enough to become a death wobble. So we set out to find the best solution we could to eliminate wobble. If our wheels don't wobble, the amount of wear that will occur to our steering components is minimal. If your truck has any steering wobble, it's best to stop it in its tracks. It's possible to round out the holes where the track bar mounts to the frame and axle if steering wobble is allowed to go unchecked.

In order to eliminate our steering wobble symptoms, we first installed a steering box stabilizer bracket that we ordered from PSC Motorsports. This bracket captures the end of the pitman arm in a bearing under the steering gear and ties the steering gear to both the passenger and driver side of the truck's frame. This helps isolate the steering gear from any movement or wobble that may feed back from wheels when hitting bumps or cracks.

The steering bracket kit comes with a new pitman arm retaining nut that has a shaft on the end which the bearing will go around.

This heavy bearing for the pitman arm has a grease fitting that should be greased when the rest of the truck gets lubed.

The new steering bracket will prevent any lateral movement of the steering gear, which will prevent steering gear wear by limiting wobble that translates from the wheels, through the steering linkage and to the gear.

In an effort to eliminate steering wobble near the source (at the wheels), we installed a hydraulic steering assist kit that we also ordered from PSC. We're going to remove the factory steering stabilizer shock and mount a hydraulic ram in its place. This location is perfect because it limits the lateral motion of steering travel from side to side, which is where steering wobble begins. The PSC kit comes with everything we needed: a steering gear that's been ported for left and right pressure hydraulic lines, hydraulic hoses and connectors, a hydraulic ram that is the correct length for our application, and steel tabs to mount the ram.

The hydraulic ram assists the steering gear by using hydraulic pressure to push the ram left when the gear is turned left and vice versa. This works well because the ram works more efficiently with the hydraulic fluid pushed by the pump because of its design and because of where the ram is positioned in line with the wheels. Because there is hydraulic pressure on the left and right side of the ram and the fluid inputs are different, the ram acts as a barrier to wobble from the wheels. The ram doesn't want to move unless the fluid from the steering gear dictates the action with fluid being pushed either to the left or right side of the ram. The power steering system on the truck will take about an extra quart of fluid, which keeps the system cooler. And the ram takes a significant amount of load off of the mechanical portion of the steering gear, which will help prolong the life of the gear.

The new steering gear has hydraulic ports that the factory gear doesn't. It's a good idea to keep these caps in the truck in case of a leak or broken hydraulic hose. Should that occur, we would just cap the ports like this photo shows and the steering system would perform like a stock factory steering system.

We removed both the steering stabilizer shock and its mounting bracket in order to make room for the hydraulic ram. The new mounts are nearly in the same location as the stabilizer.

We determined the mounting location for the ram by measuring the amount of throw travel that the ram has to the left and right. The ram has 8 inches of travel when fully extended, so we knew that the ram is at center when it's extended 4 inches. With the ram centered, and the truck wheels straight, we were able to choose a mounting location on the axle and tie rod.

We grinded the paint off of the tie rod and the axle where we needed to weld the mount tabs for the ram.

It's important to mount the tabs in a location where we've determined so that the ram won't contact the axle or pumpkin during any part of its range of motion. The tabs on the driver's side are welded to the mount for the OEM steering stabilizer. After the tabs are welded into place, we primed the bare metal with an acid etch primer and RustOleum paint to prevent rust.

After the paint dried, we mounted the ram with grade eight bolts provided in the kit and attached the hydraulic lines. When mounting the lines we were careful that the lines weren't going to be pinched by the track bar or tie rod as the steering moves and the axle moves up and down. Then we secured the lines with heavy zip ties.

After all of the plumbing is done, we followed the standard procedure for bleeding a new power steering gear and pump to purge the system of any air.

The final result is a steering wheel that you can turn from lock to lock while parked on dry pavement by effortlessly using only one finger. On the road, the steering is solid and wobble-free. Some feed back is felt on really large potholes, but there's no lingering wobble like we experienced with the stock steering system. Now the only noticeable difference between the large 34.5-inch tires and stock tires is a slight increase in road wander at freeway speeds, which we attribute to the open tread design of our mud/snow all terrain tires.

In order to keep our Ram's tow rating, fuel economy, and gear load in line with what the factory intended, we ordered our Ram with 4:10 gears in the axles. We did this because at the end of the day, we wanted this truck to drive and perform like it was riding on stock wheels and tires with 3:73 gears in the axles. After adding a 34.5-inch tire, the 4:10 gears compensate for the taller tires, which makes our final drive gear ratio almost the same as it would be if we had 3:73 gears with stock tires. The only thing we haven't addressed is added effort that the brakes require to stop the truck. However, the brakes on the fourth generation Ram are pretty solid and with the factory exhaust brake, it's even less of an issue. 

PSC Motorsports



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