Loose steering or front wheel wobble are common complaints on the CJ-3B Bulletin Board. There are a number of parts that can get worn to the point of needing replacement in a 50-year-old steering system. Here are some suggestions for diagnosing problems.
Oldtime: "This article is meant to address some common steering issues. It is for the shadetree mechanic. To be used in addition to the service manual, not to supercede it. Common sense rules here.
"First off I like my stock manual steering system. It may not be the best steering system ever designed but it works just fine if properly maintained with good components. A basic check of the complete system follows.
One CJ-3B with a specific problem belonged to Hollis Wooldridge: "So everything was fine until I towed the Jeep back and forth to hunting camp. Now, I have a pronounced wobble while driving the Jeep between 40 and 50 mph but it is no worse when I hit a bump or cross railroad tracks. I had another Jeep do something similar several years ago and new, balanced tires cured it. However, these tires are in OK shape and I don't want to replace them right now. Could this be as simple as throwing a wheel weight or does it sound like spindle bearings out of adjustment or some other?"
Steve in Pittsburgh provided another checklist similar to the one outlined by Oldtime above. He said, "It sounds like a methodical look at the steering system is in order. Since the problem cropped up after flat-towing, it is possible or even likely the front wheel bearings are trashed. I would look at the following items:
"Lots of folks have 'solved' the front end shimmy with a steering stabilizer, but a lot more have simply used one as a band-aid to hide bad components in the front end. If everything is right in the front end, you don't need one."
Wes Knettle: "Wheel wobble is left/right shake caused by loose parts. Wheel hop is vertical imbalance caused by poor or incorrect wheel/tire balance.
"Noticed you said this probably began after you had towed the jeep a
significant distance with a towbar. It would be wise when going
through Steve's excellent checklist to also check the steering gear
box for damage and wear. Flat towing jeeps at highway speeds is
usually not a problem but offroad towing will generate some shock
loads to the steering gear box that can be very damaging."
Jack: "My 1953 CJ-3A is running well. My problem is that at about 45-50 and sometimes when I hit a bump just right at lower speeds, the front end begins to wobble uncontrollably. I believe this is the famous 'Death Wobble' I have heard about. Where do I begin to find and fix the cause? I am not a mechanic, but I have all the manuals and have looked at the diagrams for hours. Just don't know where I should start."
Anon: "Bias ply lug tires on the front end of 4WD vehicles wear very unevenly and get cupped. The cupped tires, a bump in the road, along with any loose steering components, can and will add up to a wobble. Sagging springs will change the axle caster geometery, so it doesn't know which way to track straight. If you do everything others suggested above you will be able to tame the beast."
Patrick: "I'm a front end mechanic myself. Been doing it for two years now and probably have around 3000 alignments under me. Multiply that number by 50 and ya got how many tires and wheels I've balanced when I changed tires before that for 5 years.
"First step, get your tires and wheels balanced, and ask them to let ya watch the balance of them yourself, to look for warped wheels or separated tires. When the Jeep is jacked up, during the time before the wheels are unbolted, grab the tire at top and bottom and pull with one hand and push with other as if your trying to shake it. If it has movement here it's most likely a bearing, but a decent mechanic can tell you for sure. Occasionally it's something else. Then shake tire in the same manner from side to side. If it has motion here it can be anything from tie rod ends to idler and pitman arms. Do this with both front wheels.
"Most early model Jeeps don't have any manufacturer-installed camber/caster adjustment, but the only times I've ever seen alignment being the cause of a bad ride is when a part in the alignment process is not only damaged but damaged severly (as in getting ready to fall off). Camber/caster can most likely be adjusted if need be, by installing angled shims behind the drum brake assemblies. It's a pain in the butt to do, but can be done if you know the size of shim needed.
"A top quality tire/mechanic shop will check all of these things for you without question, but it's hard to find good employees for what they get paid. I admit that I'm the only employee in a shop with 5 workers that checks for all of these things on a regular basis. So it's a good idea to make sure everything I mentioned is checked by yourself just to be sure it gets done."
Rus Curtis: "On a stock CJ-3B, the caster and camber are preset by the way the axle is mounted on the springs, and are not meant to be adjustable. This means that if either of these measurements are wrong, something is bent, worn or not original. The toe-in is the only front end adjustment that needs to be done. After centering the steering wheel, set the wheels to zero toe-in (straight with the back wheels) and then turn the tie rods (to shorten them) 1/2 turn. If you have a manual, it will explain this pretty well. Good luck!"
Anon: "Changing front springs to arched springs for lift can change caster some, and extending your shackles will change your caster for sure. The only adjustment if some is needed, is with shims under the axle."
Sebastian Ruiz: "For correcting the angles, here is the way:
Glenn Smith: "The shims for camber would go between the knuckle and spindle. I've heard of them but most alignment shops say they're not available."
Note: steering and brakes on your vehicle are critical to life safety. The information on this page is general in nature; if you are uncertain where your problem lies or how to correct it, get professional advice.
See also some more specific Steering Tech Tips.
Thanks to all the contributors. Illustrations are from the Willys Parts List and Service Manual. -- Derek Redmond
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