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Super Moderator
1997 Thunderbird 4.6, 1998 Mark VIII LSC
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Discussion Starter #1
Okay, so my steering wheel always has about a half inch of free play behind it, regardless of speed. I was thinking maybe a loose rack and pinion could be the culprit. How possible is it that this free play might be related to the popping or thudding I get from my right front tire area? Is it also a possibility that my tie rod ends are going? I checked all the bushings for both front wheel areas when I replaced the shock towers, everything seemed okay. I also know the steering wheel itself is tightly secured to the shaft.

Also - how much of a pain is it to replace the rack and pinion etc. if I decide to tackle this?
 

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I'm having the same noises and it pretty certain that my ball joints are going, the lower passenger one is making the noise but they're all shot.
 

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Super Moderator
1997 Thunderbird 4.6, 1998 Mark VIII LSC
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9,562 Posts
Discussion Starter #3
I'm pretty sure the ball joints don't need to be replaced; both lowers and the left upper were replaced about 30,000 miles ago and I just recently replaced the right upper. When I did that I checked the others (the 30,000 mile old ones) and they didn't have any excessive play so I think they're still okay. But I will definitely keep the option of re-replacing the lowers in mind. The noise only happens when I go into a braking left hand turn, but the steering play is always there.
 

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13's or Mildly Broken
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2,671 Posts
Not sure how difficult it is, but I had similar noises and don't think I had quite so much play but the wheel wasn't tight. The tie rod ends and rack and pinion were replaced and all is better now :)

-Melon
 

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Super Moderator
1997 Thunderbird 4.6, 1998 Mark VIII LSC
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9,562 Posts
Discussion Starter #5
I think I'm going to look into the tie rod ends (both inner and outer) before I start to mess with the rack and pinion stuff. My girlfriend's dad has a '97 LX sport that's identical to mine (although mine isn't sport) in all respects except his has a CD player and no SATC. His wheel has about the same amount of "slop" in as mine does.
 

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Super Moderator
1997 Thunderbird 4.6, 1998 Mark VIII LSC
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9,562 Posts
Discussion Starter #6
Hey guys, just out of nowhere I decided to check under the dash at the steering shaft linkage to make sure everything was tight. Lo and behold, the bolt that holds the u-joint on to the first connecting shaft was loose and out about 1/2". I jiggled the wheel before I tightened it and the first half of the shaft (before and up to the bolt) was moving, the rest wasn't. So I tightened it up real snug and the steering wheel definitely seems (if anything, a little) tighter now. The wheels are moving with the wheel in that former "dead zone" instead of not moving at all. Hopefully that was my problem, I'll drop in later just to give a confirm. Now to figure out what that annoying sound is...
 

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Super Moderator
1997 Thunderbird 4.6, 1998 Mark VIII LSC
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9,562 Posts
Discussion Starter #8
Okay, I'm still working on this. I used some steel epoxy to really tighten up one place where there was a bit of slop and it's worked beautifully. I'm down to 1/8", perhaps 3/16" of play left. After a few minutes of looking around, I found that the last place where the steering linkage is "loose" is that u-joint under the dash. The bolts are tight, the joint itself has a tiny bit of play. Jiggle the wheel in this dead zone and the shaft turns ahead of and including the first section of that u-joint, the rest of the shaft doesn't budge. Once I get out of that dead zone, everything from there on to the rack and pinion is nice and solid.

Do you think it's possible to take it off and use a small amount of that steel epoxy I was using to build up the gap and get rid of that dead zone? It's the last culprit to get rid of and it's killing me.

Or, can I pick up a new one of these for cheap somewhere?
 

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Super Moderator
1997 Thunderbird 4.6, 1998 Mark VIII LSC
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Discussion Starter #9
Thanks for the suggestion. That's what my dad was thinking, but I don't think it's anything ahead of the firewall because when I move the steering wheel through its dead zone, the only part of the steering shaft that moves is before the u-joint above the brake pedal. Once I get the rest of the steering shaft to move, even the slightest bit, the rest of the linkage kicks in immediately and I can see the tires moving with the wheel... Maybe I'll try to make a short video clip of it tomorrow if the weather permits.
 
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