Mustang MonthlyHow To Chassis Suspension
How To Replace a 1979-1993 Upper Steering Column Bearing
Rid your aging Fox of sloppy steering wheel syndrome
Fox Mustangs make great daily drivers. They’re cheap and easy to find and are very reliable with decent performance right out of the box. The dozens of aftermarket parts suppliers that cater to the Fox Mustang can help you in any area you want to improve, be it braking, horsepower, suspension, or even body and interior. That being said however, the youngest Fox Mustangs are just over 20 years old with the earliest Fox Mustangs being nearly 35 years old! That’s a lot of time on the road and a lot of mileage on the odometer.
For example, something as basic as starting your Fox, let’s say twice a day—for a ’93 Mustang that’s approximately 15,000 times you’ve twisted that ignition key. Getting in and out of your ’93 Mustang (again, twice a day) means you’ve opened and closed that car door 30,000 times. The numbers go higher the older the car gets. No wonder we’re constantly feeding our Fox Mustangs TLC items to keep them happy and on the road. From ignition switches to door lock actuators, and more, the Fox needs some simple repairs from time to time to keep them in top running condition.
For our own ’90 LX 5.0L hatch we recently experienced a need for a new fix we’ve never had to deal with on a Fox before (after 23 years our hatchback has seen three sets of door lock actuators, one window motor, three sets of door opening weatherstrips, three sets of headlights, and more). It all started with the blinking glow of a warning light on our dash. The airbag warning light illuminated recently and blinked six times.
Code 6 is related to the airbag clockspring, a device directly behind the steering wheel that makes contact with the column wiring and the airbag wiring and allows the wheel to turn (think of the horn contacts on a steering wheel). However the warning light was intermittent, usually only lighting up once a week or so. Upon further inspection of the issue it turns out the upper steering column had a bunch of play in it, causing the clockspring to sometimes be misaligned. We’re going to dig and see what’s what, but we’re expecting a worn upper column bearing and have already picked up a new bearing and bearing sleeve from the fine folks at National Parts Depot.
01. Before starting any work disconnect the negative battery cable. You’ll be working with the horn circuit (and airbag on ’90-’93 models) and you don’t want power in the steering column. For airbag cars remove the four 10mm retaining nuts from the rear of the steering wheel. Earlier cars the horn pad simply pries off.
02. Unseat the airbag from the steering wheel and carefully disconnect the airbag’s wiring connector. Set the airbag somewhere safe, facing up, where it will not be susceptible to static electricity.
03. In the base of the steering wheel you will find a second connector for horn/cruise buttons. Disconnect this connector as well, being careful not to break it.
04. Remove the steering wheel retaining bolt and then remove the steering wheel. Sometimes a late-model steering wheel will come off with a few back and forth jerks of the wheel, but it is best to use the right tool for the job—a steering wheel puller—to remove the wheel from the steering column shaft.
05. While not 100 percent necessary to access the bearing, we opted to remove the column shroud trim for more working room. You’ll find two Phillips head screws underneath. On earlier tilt wheel cars there will be a third piece; a snap on collar at the very top. It simply pops out and slides off.
06. For airbag equipped cars you will find the clockspring under the steering wheel. Use a couple of pieces of masking tape to secure the inner portion of the clockspring to the outer. This will prevent damaging the switch during removal. A T-20 Torx will remove the three mounting screws.
07. Once we removed the clockspring we found the three mounting areas had significant plastic cracks and missing pieces. The ’90-’93 airbag clockspring is obsolete from Ford, so we’ll have to make some shade-tree repairs here.
08. Underneath the clockspring is this metal backing plate with the slip ring contacts. Non airbag cars will have this plate as well. Remove the two T-20 Torx screws retaining the plate and set it aside.
09. Retaining the bearing to the upper column shaft is an external snap-ring. Remove the snap-ring with a pair of snap-ring pliers and set it aside for reuse.
10. Under the hood you’ll need to remove this 11⁄16-inch bolt and nut that secures the upper steering column shaft to the steering rack’s U-joint. Once the bolt and nut are free this will allow the upper column to be pushed up into the column tube for bearing removal.
11. Once the column shaft is pushed up (it’ll move about a ¼-inch) use two flat blade screwdrivers to pry the bearing off of the steering shaft. You will find two cast-in beveled locations where to insert the screwdrivers and pry from.
12. The replacement bearing and bearing sleeve from National Parts Depot are our saviors here. The bearing is an actual Ford part and the bearing sleeve is made by Daniel Carpenter, so we know the bearing and sleeve will fit like they are intended.
13. Carefully insert the new bearing into the bearing sleeve and slide it down the steering column shaft as far as it will go.
14. The Ford shop manual calls for a ¾-inch ID pipe to be used with the steering wheel bolt to press the bearing into place. We ended up using the old bearing and a large deep socket to seat the new bearing. It doesn’t take much force, but you’ll need someone to reinstall the steering shaft bolt under the hood and hold the U-joint with a pry bar against the engine’s header to prevent steering shaft movement while seating the bearing if you don’t use the tubing and bolt method.
15. Once the bearing is fully seated the original snap-ring is reinstalled in the column shaft’s receiver groove. Ensure the snap-ring is fully seated too.
16. We found a few bits of the clockspring’s plastic in the column and on the carpet. Enough for us to use some plastic epoxy and bond the pieces back in place. One of the three mounting points was too far damaged and we had to use a longer screw with a washer under the screw head (seen at the right) but it works.
17. At this point all that is left is to install the column shroud trim, the steering wheel, connect the horn/cruise wiring connector, and install the airbag or horn pad and reconnect the battery and you’ll be back in business with no column slop!