Saturday, July 12, 2008

Tech Tip: Telescoping Steering Column

It might come as a surprise to some Classic Thunderbird owners that their 1955-57 Thunderbirds came equipped with a "telescoping" steering column. Yes, that steering wheel which has progressively inched up closer to the driver's seat each year and made you feel as if you might have gained a few extra pounds over the winter actually can be moved up or down on the column. With proper adjustment, you can adjust your steering wheel to accommodate your individual physical needs, within set engineering tolerances.

Your steering wheel can be moved by loosening the chrome sleeve located directly behind the steering wheel. The chrome sleeve has numerous grooves which run parallel with the steering column. By turning the sleeve in a clockwise direction, you will loosen the sleeve. Once the sleeve is loose, you can adjust your steering wheel, up or down, by pulling or pushing on the steering wheel. Be careful not to pull the steering wheel out of the steering column. There should be a stop which prevents you from pulling the steering wheel completely out of the column. My car, however, must have lost the stop during a prior restoration. I pulled the steering wheel out of the column with one strong pull. I was able to place it back in the column, but once the steering wheel is out of the column you run the risk of damaging the wires which run up into the steering column. Once you have adjusted your steering wheel, simply retighten the chrome sleeve. Your steering wheel should stay in its new desired position.

The above procedure sounds simple, and it is. The problem lies in the chrome sleeve that you are supposed to be able to loosen with a simple clockwise twist. Over the years, the threads on the steering column usually become clogged with dirt and road grime. Exposure to water in the form of dew, humidity, or the inevitable summer downpour, creates rust on the metal threads. The result is a seized steering column sleeve. Just ask any bruised knuckle on your hand how easy it is to loosen a seized nut from a rusted, dirty threaded bolt. The analogy is appropriate, except you can't apply a blow torch or hacksaw to your steering column sleeve. You can, however, do the following.

First, apply some WD-40 or other spray lubricant to the steering column sleeve. Spray the lubricant between the sleeve and the steering column. You should wait approximately twenty-four hours before attempting to loosen the sleeve. This will allow time for the lubricant to penetrate the threads. Be sure to clean up any overspray or drips immediately. You may want to wrap the area with rags to catch any drops. If you're lucky, this may be all you need to do.

If lubricant alone is not enough to loosen the sleeve, you will be forced to use physical force. The perfect tool to use to loosen your steering column sleeve is a large chain wrench. This tool is available at most hardware stores and should cost approximately $20.00 to $25.00. As an alternative, a trusty pipe wrench will work. Make sure it is at least fourteen inches or larger. Before using either of these tools, make sure you wrap the steering column sleeve with a good rag.

As a last resort you can use a 1" x 2" block of wood and a hammer. First, place the block of wood so its edge lies in one of the sleeve grooves. You should choose a groove that is easily accessible. By tapping on the block of wood with your hammer you should be able to free the seized sleeve. Remember to turn the sleeve clockwise. You should only need to use moderate force. Just be careful! One false move could mean a chip, dent, or sore thumb.

source: CTCC Tech-Tip Manual 1993-1997


Anonymous said...

Or... You can do what we used to do in New York to open the Fire Hydrants in the summer... First, wrap a towel around the entire steering column. Then take a heavy guage nylon rope and wrap it around the column (counter-clockwise) about 10 times. Then tie the end of the rope to a wrench or piece of pipe. Now, using leverage, pull the wrench or pipe counterclockwise and the column breaks free. It's all leverage...

Anonymous said...

i pulled the steering wheel too hard after loosing the sleeve and it won't return back to its normal position, what shall i do???

Willie said...

What's the set screw on bottom of adj.sleve