Quit Whining: Ford Power Steering Fix And More

Editor’s Note: Guest article by Mike Ingalsbee

One thing that is synonymous with OBS (Old Body Style) Fords is their weak and noisy power steering pumps. To make matters worse, they all seem to leak as well. I had a noisy pump on Autonomous 4×4, so I set out to solve the problem.

I set out to build out the entire steering system to give it better strength and performance. I completed a whole host of upgrades to the steering and proceeded to put several hundreds of miles on the truck without issue.

Crew cab 4WD trucks have long wheelbases like on Autonomous 4×4. You need as much steering angle as possible to help maneuverability off-road.

Digging In To Find The Issue

Just when I thought I was finished, a new product from Barnes 4WD caught my attention. They now have offset heim joints for steering applications. The factory tie rods and ends were replaced with fabricated linkage using chromoly tubing and heim joints, all for increased strength.

Non-Saginaw Ford steering pumps are noisy and prone to leakage (left). Although well used, I have had no problems after doing substantial steering upgrades to Autonomous 4X4 (right).

The problem with a straight tube going in front of the axle is that it comes very close to the front differential cover. So close that it actually limits your turning radius because the linkage will make contact with the cover at full lock.

These new offset heim joints from Barnes 4WD are the solution to your steering clearance issues (left). With the offset heim joints from Barnes 4WD, our steering travel was restored and there is now ample clearance between our straight linkage bar and the front diff cover (right).

The offset heim joints from Barnes 4WD give you the clearance you need to clear the cover and gain the steering angle lost. On a long wheelbase vehicle such as mine, you need as much steering angle as you can get.

Starting at the beginning of my steering project, the factory Ford power steering pump was squealing horribly. Years of leaking fluid had the front end of the truck soaked with fluid and covered in sludge. I had purchased the vehicle used, and the previous owner had been simply refilling the leaking reservoir instead of making repairs.

A Ford pump that was leaking for years left the front end of my F-350 a mess. Take the time to de-grease the front end before starting work. It took me several attempts to remove all the sludge.

If you plan on doing this same upgrade, you will avoid a lot of grief if you thoroughly clean the gunk off the front end before starting the project. I used degreaser and a hose, but so much was caked onto the front end that it would have been much better to have it steam cleaned before starting. There were several times during the conversion when I had to spend additional time cleaning the frame and components on the front of the truck; it was a mess.

A popular conversion on Jeeps for decades, the Saginaw steering pump is a much quieter and more durable option than the factory Ford pump. With that said, Saginaw pumps did come from the factory on many Ford trucks. Heavy duty vans, cab & chassis, and ambulance models have all been offered with Saginaw pumps. If you can find the factory accessory mount for your particular engine, it’s a direct bolt-on. Sources would be a dealership with new old stock (NOS) parts or an auto dismantler.

The factory bracket was clearanced to allow room for the reservoir on our new Saginaw power steering pump. You will also need to drill new holes for the Saginaw pump; it has a different bolt pattern than the factory Ford part. Take careful measurements before you modify your pump mounting bracket to ensure your belt maintains proper alignment. I measured .567 inches from the face of the bracket to the face of the pulley before modifying. The pulley gets pressed onto the pump shaft.

Our engine is the gas-powered 460. The only Ford vehicles we could find near the shop with Saginaw pumps were diesel-powered and the dealerships had been picked clean of NOS brackets years ago. Your area might be different; it’s worth a quick look to save you the trouble of modifying the factory bracket. I got my pump from the local Napa Auto Parts store. It was for the same year (1992) E350 Ford van.

If you are going to modify your factory bracket like I did, your first step is to make careful measurements from the pump mounting surface of your bracket to your belt pulley. You want to make sure that your belt will line up perfectly with the rest of your accessories when you are done.

Side loading your belt causes premature wear on the belt and the pulleys in your system. Mine measured .567 inches which I wrote directly on the bracket so the vital measurement would not be lost. You will have to remove material from the bracket in order for the Saginaw pump’s reservoir to clear. Use your choice of available tools – I used an air grinder with an abrasive cut-off wheel.

9_Copyright_Mikes_Race_Photo_IMG_9681

This adapter is for a different application. It was too thick for our 460 gas motor, but it did provide a good template for locating the new bolt pattern to our factory bracket.

Make sure to leave a generous radius in the corner so it does not create a stress riser and crack. Once the bracket has enough clearance for the reservoir, you will need to drill new holes for the Saginaw’s bolt pattern.

I ordered an adapter bracket from PSC Motorsports that had both the factory and Saginaw bolt patterns to make it easy to mount, but the bracket was for a 351 engine. It was too thick to work with the 460, as the pulley would not locate in the correct position. However, it did make a good template for locating new holes in the bracket.

Once the holes were located, I fabricated a 3/16-inch thick spacer that located the pump at the correct distance to match the .567-inch pulley distance I measured previously. Actually, I made two matching plates; one that went on the back side as a spacer, the other one I used on the front side to sandwich the factory aluminum bracket with steel for added support. Make sure you have enough room so the bolts head clear the pulley.

Make sure and spacers and/or mounting hardware clears the pulley. I added a 3/16-inch thick plate to reinforce the front of the factory bracket.

Looking Past The Pump

With the pump addressed, I was just getting started. I am running 37X12.5R17 Falken Wildpeak tires on Trailready beadlock wheels. The substantial weight and contact patch of the tires would put a big load on the new pump, so plans were made to include hydraulic ram assist to the system.

The steering box would need additional ports to provide pressurized fluid to the ram. I sent the Ford steering box to Power Steering Solution (PSS), where they rebuilt it and added the ports in the housing that were needed. PSS also built a two-inch diameter ram with the necessary travel I needed to cycle the steering linkage.

10_Copyright_Mikes_Race_Photo_IMAG0525

Our steering box was rebuilt and given additional ports for ram assist by Power Steering Solution.

Many people mount their steering ram onto the axle housing so the force is applied directly to the steering linkage. I wanted to keep the ram and the fluid lines up out of harm’s way so I came up with a different configuration. My ram is bolted to the front of the factory crossmember with a fabricated bracket. The shaft runs to a specially constructed, dropped pitman arm. This design reduces unsprung weight and keeps the ram and fluid lines away from rocks and sand. The downside is that it can put a side load on the sector shaft in the steering box.

To protect against this, I also fabricated an assembly that supports the end of the sector shaft, holding it in double shear. A bracket that bolted to the front cross member included an adjustable heim joint.

Instead of mounting the PSS ram cylinder on the front axle, it was bolted to the front crossmember on a custom bracket. The ram acts on the dropped pitman arm (left). A custom bracket with a heim joint is used to support the sector shaft in double shear. The dropped pitman arm puts additional load on the shaft (right).

A pair of the correct size nuts were welded together, taking care to make sure they were accurately aligned. The double nut was tightened onto the sector shaft to attach the dropped pitman arm. A bolt wass then slid through the heim joint support and tightened into the other end of the double nut.

Two nuts were welded together to form a double nut. One end held the pitman arm to the sector shaft (left). The other end of the double nut allowed a heim joint to be bolted on to support the sector shaft in double shear (right).

Care was taken to make sure that the ram was located parallel to the steering linkage. It is also important that the ram bottoms out on its own internal stops. You don’t want the hydraulic assist pushing against the hard stops on the steering knuckles, as it might bend or break the steering linkage.

I fabricated the custom mounting brackets myself, but when it came to critical components like the custom pitman arm and steering linkage, I sent the components out to Jason Lafortune Race Cars to be professionally TIG welded. The fabricated pitman arm uses the splined end of a forged pitman arm and laser-cut quarter-inch thick steel plate. The linkage is constructed from 1.5-inch, .120-wall chromoly tubing with welded tube bungs on each end.

The ram needs to run parallel to the steering linkage. It’s vital to use the internal stops inside the cylinder at full lock. You don’t want hydraulic pressure pushing against the hard stops on the knuckles (left). Here is the dropped pitman arm before tig welding. We used the splined end of a forged pitman arm to locate on the steering shaft (right).

15e_Copyright_Mikes_Race_Photo_IMG_9643

Strong, F-911 bolts from Foremost Threaded Products were used throughout. Delrin spacers were made to keep the linkage from twisting at the heim joint.

Heim joints articulate on spherical bearings so they can flop up and down when used in horizontally. In order to keep them flat, I fabricated spacers from a solid block of Delrin. I pressed steel tubing into the bores so that they could be tightened to the necessary torque without crushing the Delrin. They held the linkage parallel without grinding against the heim joints.

15d_Copyright_Mikes_Race_Photo_IMG_9641

Delrin spacers were made to keep the linkage horizontal. Steel sleeves were pressed into the bores so that the heim joints could be tightened securely.

With the hard parts taken care of, it came time for the lifeblood of the system – the fluid. The factory system uses a coil of tubing that is attached to the front crossmember. I was using that real estate to mount the ram, so a remote cooler was plumbed into the system. The cooler is an extruded aluminum, heat sink style that is mounted to the front suspension crossmember by more fabricated brackets.

A custom mount was fabricated to hold a pair of extruded aluminum coolers; one for engine oil, the other to cool our Maxima synthetic power steering fluid (left). The extruded coolers are very durable and a built-in rock guard provides additional security without compromising air flow (right).

The extruded style filters were more durable than sandwiched plate-style coolers, and the mount also incorporated a rock shield for protection. The mount was designed to be rotated up or down to create more or less air flow across the cooling fins.

16c_Copyright_Mikes_Race_Photo_IMG_8260

The modified steering system was designed to increase strength and provide superior performance over the factory parts.

The system was plumbed with aircraft hose and fittings by Lance Barron at Performance Vehicle Plumbing. Lance prefers to work on race vehicles, but did this job as a personal favor. Like the TIG welding, I wanted the plumbing done by a professional. I didn’t scrimp on the fluid either; Maxima synthetic power steering fluid was used for its superior performance under increased loads and elevated temperatures.

17_Copyright_Mikes_Race_Photo_IMG_8250

Aircraft-quality line and fittings were used to plumb the entire system.

With all of these upgrades to my steering system and full motion restored with the offset heim joints, I look forward to trouble-free operation in the demanding conditions I regularly see covering off-road racing events.

Copyright_Mikes_Race_Photo_IMG_8688

Harley Letnar blasts a berm in Parker, Az. Project Autonomous 4X4 has to navigate the same terrain while shooting photos at desert racing events!

You don’t have to go as highly modified as I did, but if your steering pump is making a racket, stop the whining and go with a Saginaw pump conversion on your Ford.

About the author

Mike Ingalsbee

For more than two decades, Mike Ingalsbee has worked as an automotive writer and photographer and covered just about everything that burns fuel or throws dirt. His writing and photography has been published in over 20 magazine titles and websites in North America, Europe and Australia. He has worked as a design engineer for several manufacturers in the automotive aftermarket and is a founding member of the Association of Motorsports Media Professionals, (AMMP), an organization that consults with racing sanctioning bodies on safety and media issues.
Read My Articles

Everything Off Road in your inbox.

Build your own custom newsletter with the content you love from Off Road Xtreme, directly to your inbox, absolutely FREE!

Free WordPress Themes
Off Road Xtreme NEWSLETTER - SIGN UP FREE!

We will safeguard your e-mail and only send content you request.

Off Road Xtreme - The Off Road Magazine

We'll send you the most exciting Off Road articles, news, truck features, and videos every week.

Off Road Xtreme - The Off Road Magazine

Off Road Xtreme NEWSLETTER - SIGN UP FREE!

We will safeguard your e-mail and only send content you request.

Off Road Xtreme - The Off Road Magazine

Thank you for your subscription.

Subscribe to more FREE Online Magazines!

We think you might like...



Diesel Army

Hot Rods & Muscle Cars

Engine Tech

Off Road Xtreme - The Off Road Magazine

Thank you for your subscription.

Subscribe to more FREE Online Magazines!

We think you might like...

  • Diesel Army
  • Hot Rods & Muscle Cars
  • Engine Tech

Off Road Xtreme - The Off Road Magazine

Thank you for your subscription.

Thank you for your subscription.

Off Road Xtreme - The Off Road Magazine

Thank you for your subscription.

Thank you for your subscription.

Loading