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Thread: How To, Inspect For Front End Play

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    How To, Inspect For Front End Play

    This is my approach to inspection of our straight axle front ends.
    You'll need two people for the first test. On a hard floor like a driveway or garage floor, have one person inside and another under the front of the van. Of course make sure that the rear wheels are blocked, van in park or in gear, engine off, parking brake set. Have the person inside rock the steering wheel back and forth while the other person looks underneath. The person inside only needs to move the steering wheel enough to just move the tires left and right a little. Move the wheel back and forth at a rate of about one second per direction. Continue this steering wheel movement while the other person checks for play. I will typically place my hand at various points to feel for play but be carefull you don't get your fingers caught in anything. Work from the steering box down. Not all play inside the steering box is not checked at this point.

    Check for movement where the sector shaft comes out of the steering box and connects to the pitman arm. The pitman arm is held onto the shaft by a large nut. The sector shaft should only move on it's axis. There should be no other perceptible play which would be caused by bad bushings that support the sector shaft inside the steering box.

    Check for play between the pitman arm and the sector shaft. (This is rare.) There should be no perceptible movement between the sector shaft and the pitman arm. This would be caused by worn splines on the sector shaft or pitman arm or a loose nut holding the pitman arm on.

    Check for any play, from loose mounting bolts, where the box mounts to the frame. There should be no movement between the steering box and frame.

    At any time while you are under there checking for play and the steering wheel is being rocked back and forth, listen for any clicking or other indication of movement. Identify the location of any clicking or similar sounds.

    Check for play at the drag link which attaches to the pitman arm and runs front to back underneath the driver's floor area. There should be no play at the two drag link attachment points. The ends on the drag link have a ball and socket that allows the shaft to pivot. There are more of these ball and socket connections and later each one will be checked properly when the weight is off the wheels. There should be no movement felt except the rotating at the ball and socket. In my experience, these drag links are pretty stout and not as prone to wear and play as other steering components.

    The person inside will get a workout going back and forth on the steering wheel and it's important that they are consistent in the distance they move that steering wheel in each direction. If not, they vanner underneath may put their hand on a component to check for play and get a hand pinned when the steering wheel is suddenly moved more than anticipated. (We've had enough pinned vanners lately).

    Check the tie rod ends (ball and sockets) for play in the same manner as the drag link. The tie rod ends are the threaded mounts on the ends of the long shaft that runs from left to right along the straight axle. They connect to the spindles on the left and right wheel area.
    Proper inspection of these ball and sockets will occur later. Here we are checking for gross play.

    Check for play where the axle bolts to the springs. Place your hand at the connection between the spring and the axle while the steering wheel is rocked. There should be no perceptible movement. Check the tightness of the nuts holding the U bolts at this connection. Your nuts should be tight. (Don't say it Gregg..)

    Check the springs for bad bushings. At this point you can only do a visual inspection of the spring bushings. It's less likely that bad bushings would be detected from any movement during the current test. You're looking for rubber coming out of the area where the spring bolts to the frame.

    Check for movement at the top and bottom of the king pins. There should be no perceptible movement outside of the rotation axis. More king pin checks later.

    Time to give the "Rockin VCVanner" inside a break.

    Raise the front end, place on jack stands or if you've got the facilities, up on the vehicle hoist goes that sweet VCVan..

    With the weight off the wheels, recheck the ball and socket connections at the drag link and tie rod ends. This is done by squeezing the ball and socket with one or both hands. You are looking for movement up and down along the same direction as the mounting stud that has the cotter key installed. Do not use channel locks or pliers to squeeze this connection, hand compression only. There should be no perceptible movement by hand. Some texts say that there is a tolerance of 1/16" of play during this test. I disagree. IMHO, there should be no perceptible movement at any ball and socket connection when checked by hand.

    Check for movement at the wheel/tire. While positioned at the side of the van and the wheels pointed straight ahead, grab the top and bottom of the wheel and rock it back and forth. (You are moving your hands along the line of the straight axle.) Have someone underneath looking at the back of the wheel for play at the king pin. There should be no perceptible movement.

    Check for movement at the wheel bearings. There will be some perceptible movement here but no more than 1/16". The allowable amount of play is more difficult to quantify since the amount of movement at the wheel bearings will feel different depending on if you have 14 or 15 inch rims. I would think there should be no more than 1/8"(?) movement at the top and bottom of the wheel but the best way to check the wheel bearing adjustment is to pull the hub, inspect, repack and properly adjust the bearings. That is not covered here. If there is any doubt, plan to pull the hubs for a wheel bearing inspection. If you can't remember when the front wheel bearings were repacked, plan to pull the hubs for an inspection and repack.

    Lower the vehicle and hop inside.

    The steering box shaft is connected directly to the steering wheel so if there is no movement at any other point, the steering box rates a closer inspection.

    The steering wheel is connected to the splined shaft and held on with a nut. Pull the horn button and observe the shaft and steering wheel connection point. There should be no perceptible movement except the intended axis of rotation. Of course the nut should be tight.

    If all other points are checking OK then the steering box is suspect. I don't have a specification on how many degrees of steering wheel movement is allowed before the sector shaft should turn (anyone?).

    I wish I had some pics to add to this "How To". Hopefully I'll be able to add some later. Hopefully I'll be able to cover other front end subjects later like.

    Comments, suggestions and constructive criticism are invited to improve this thread.
    108VanGuy...
    1969 Chevy Panel, 250 CID, 3 Spd.with OD, 3.36 "WedgieVan" Daily Driver
    1967 Chevy Panel, 230 CID, 3 Spd. 3.36 "UtiliVan" 292 TFI coming. Owned since 76
    1964 GMC Panel, 194 CID, 3 Spd. "CrunchoVan"
    1965 GMC HandiBus Custom, 194 CID, 3 Spd. "MilkVan" Seized Engine
    1965 Chevy Panel 350 CID, 3 Spd. "RustoRoof" Runs but wiring bad
    1969 Chevy 108 Display 307 CID THM 350 Power Brakes 3.73 Posi
    1965 Chevy Panel, V8, 3 Spd. "Gold Hills Van" Best body of my 65s
    1965 CamperVan, V8, 3 Spd.

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    I haven't read it all yet, but thanks for typing that up!

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    Thank you, Mark! Itís great to have your thorough articles available for everyone to reference.
    1966 Chevy Display, "Southern Belle"
    1968 Chevy, "Blue Overdose"

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    VCVC Member panelmanrd's Avatar
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    Top that one off with some pics and you have an awesome detailed procedure
    to check any early van for front end play, couldn't have said any better.
    I see some teacher there. Nice write up.
    54 chevy panel truck 355 tpi 700r4 325/9in
    64 chevy 90 5.7 tpi 700r4 336 8.2
    69 chevy panel van 5.7 tbi 700r4 336 8.2

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    Thanks

    Quote Originally Posted by panelmanrd View Post
    Top that one off with some pics and you have an awesome detailed procedure
    to check any early van for front end play, couldn't have said any better.
    I see some teacher there. Nice write up.
    The next time I have the van on the lift, I'll snap some pics then add them to the write up. It seems that every so often a member would have front end play issues but no methodical approach to diagnosing and prioritizing them. I'd hate to see a member pull and overhaul a steering box when the main cause of play was loose wheel bearings.
    108VanGuy...
    1969 Chevy Panel, 250 CID, 3 Spd.with OD, 3.36 "WedgieVan" Daily Driver
    1967 Chevy Panel, 230 CID, 3 Spd. 3.36 "UtiliVan" 292 TFI coming. Owned since 76
    1964 GMC Panel, 194 CID, 3 Spd. "CrunchoVan"
    1965 GMC HandiBus Custom, 194 CID, 3 Spd. "MilkVan" Seized Engine
    1965 Chevy Panel 350 CID, 3 Spd. "RustoRoof" Runs but wiring bad
    1969 Chevy 108 Display 307 CID THM 350 Power Brakes 3.73 Posi
    1965 Chevy Panel, V8, 3 Spd. "Gold Hills Van" Best body of my 65s
    1965 CamperVan, V8, 3 Spd.

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