“Why is there play in my steering wheel?”
“Why does my Jeep wander all over the road?”
“Why do I have the dreaded Death Wobble?”
These are the typical questions that Summit 4×4 Company receives when a customer is having issues with the steering on their Jeep 4×4. Not only are we able to answer these questions easily, we also have great solutions to our customer’s needs and concerns!
Don and Michelle are the owners of RPM Steering in Tempe, AZ, the purveyors of steering solutions and upgrades for your Jeep 4×4. RPM Steering has over 25yrs of experience in the automotive service industry, with the last 8 years specializing in the off-road industry as a builder and manufacturer. Their main focus as a family-owned and operated business is on steering and suspension products for the off-road industry. For many years, they watched the off-road community bend steel steering products, so they decided to base their product’s designs off of USA sourced 7075 T6 solid cold finish aluminum that has a “spring back” to it. While no product in the off-road industry is unbreakable, RPM Steering is so confident in their products that they offer a lifetime bend or break warranty on all of their center sections! They want you to have enough confidence in your vehicle to take it on the most difficult trails on the weekend, while still being able to put a suit on and drive to work on Monday!
So, why should you upgrade your steering?
To help answer the questions of “Why?” your Jeep 4×4 could benefit from upgrading its steering components, we decided to ask Don of RPM Steering in the following Q&A session:
Q: What’s the difference between Steel and Aluminum steering?
- A: Typically steel steering is made from DOM materials, and there are also Chromoly steel kits on the market. DOM has little to no elasticity to it, while Chromoly has much more elasticity. This means that DOM will bend and stay bent with a hard enough impact, while Chromoly will take much more abuse before it will bend. Aluminum in a 7075 T651 cold finish has greater elasticity than both. An aluminum steering component that is properly sized for the application and weight of the vehicle will take much more abuse than both DOM or Chromoly without permanently bending.
Q: Why did you choose 7075 T6 Aluminum for your kits?
- A: There are many grades of aluminum round bar. We use only a USA-made round bar and more specifically we chose 7075 T651 cold finish bar. These are Aerospace quality bars. They provide the strongest aluminum material and the cold finish specifically provides more elasticity than 7075 T6 extruded finish.
Q: What are the determining factors for choosing 1 ton vs 2.5-ton steering?
- A: Honestly, the 1-ton kits are far better than stock and provide a budget-friendly upgrade. When a customer’s budget allows, the 2.5 Ultimate kits are a better choice. They have more space and fluid bends in the tie rod ends with top-tier internals. Basically, the 2.5 Ultimate kits are just that, the ultimate steering setup!
Q: Should I only replace my steering when it’s worn out? Or when I install larger tires? Can a stock Jeep benefit from a steering upgrade? and why?
- A: In our world, larger tires and lift kits determine the need for quality steering. Basically, any Jeep with a larger tire than the factory-installed should consider an aftermarket setup. Simply put, the OEM steering was meant for a maximum of a 32″ tire. The JL and JT present an entirely new realm of issues that an aftermarket steering kit can solve. Bottom line, if you lift a JL or JT, we recommend that steering be replaced at the time of the lift installation. The factory JL and JT steering linkage are not even really able to properly manage stock tires. These are known issues and we have actually helped a Jeep Dealer solve some buy-back issues on stock units.
Q: What causes Jeep steering to wear out?
- A: For starters, the factory linkage is awarded to the lowest bidder for production. These parts are cheap by nature and use weak internals. Add to that a 35-40″ tire and some light off-roading and the steering parts are one of the first items to experience premature wear. Usually, the drag link’s Tie Rod end at the knuckle will be the first to show significant wear due to the sideload it gets by design.
Q: Who makes your rod ends and why did you choose them?
- A: Last year we had the opportunity to work with APEX chassis to design an incredible set of tie rod ends. They have been making our 1-ton ends for 6 years. We felt the opportunity to be involved in the design and testing on our own Jeeps would allow us to control things we had not been able to in the past. The team at APEX has spent many hours back and forth with us until we had the right rod ends to put through testing. We are very happy with the results!
Q: Is there ever a situation where it is necessary to flip the drag link and raise the track bar? If so, why?
- A: The Jeep JK requires more lift to fit the same tire size than its predecessor the JL/JT. There are two main reasons to flip a drag link: 1) To return the “Roll Center” lost from lifting the Jeep. 2) When the Jeep is lifted, the steeper steering angle of the drag link causes a loss of joint movement as the joints are at a more significant angle rather than being closer to factory neutral. Returning the drag link joints back to as close to neutral as possible achieves the correct parallel geometry of the track bar and drag link at the vehicle’s new ride height. The Jeep JK requires more lift to fit the same tire size than its predecessor the JL/JT. On the JK we suggest flipping the drag link at 3.5″ of lift or higher with proper bump stops. The JL /JT however has a higher up travel and we suggest flipping the drag link at a minimum of 4.5″ of lift and even then, making sure to test for the proper bump stop length, so the drag link does not hit the frame during full passenger side upward axle articulation.
Q: What separates RPM steering from the other steering companies?
- A: Experience, Customer Service, Quality Parts, and more steering options than any other steering company in the Jeep market. We have bolt-in kits for stock axles and a few aftermarket axles such as Dynatrac axles, Currie axles, Dana Ultimate 60 axles, Dstrac axles, and Super-Duty axle swaps. We come from a background of building Jeeps, from basic lift kits to 1-ton axle swaps and V8 swaps. Over the years, steering and suspension issues have been our main focus. We study and learn constantly so that we can properly advise customers on solutions. Many times, we have advised customers that we never sell a part to, as we simply want every Jeep owner to experience the best performing Jeep they can whether or not they buy our parts or someone else’s. Lastly, as stated before, all of our aluminum is USA sourced and hand-turned in-house by our team. This equates to the flexibility that no other steering company can achieve.
In addition to all of the great information that Don has given us, steering is not only upgraded when components fail, it is also upgraded as preventative maintenance! If you plan to lift and add larger tires to your Jeep 4×4 in the future, it is a great time to upgrade steering components at the same time, even if they are showing no signs of premature wear or failure. The additional lift and larger tires can magnify the wear and tear on factory steering components to where they may need to be upgraded sooner than later!
A great item to add to the list of components to upgrade along with steering is an HD steering stabilizer. A steering stabilizer’s job is to help reduce bumps and jolts felt in your steering wheel and also to help reduce bump-steer. An HD steering stabilizer upgrade is a necessity when installing a lift and larger tires, as your factory steering stabilizer may not be as effective with the additional strain imposed on your vehicle’s steering. The upgraded steering stabilizer will be rated to absorb the bumps and vibrations by handling the additional forces that a larger lift and tires cause. While a steering stabilizer is not a cure for death wobble, it can vastly improve the steering and drivability of your Jeep 4×4!
If you find yourself struggling to turn your steering wheel in tight situations off-road with or without your lockers engaged, your factory power steering pump may not be up to the task! It may then be necessary to upgrade to a PSC Hydro-Assist Steering Kit to handle the additional stress added to your steering system imposed by larger tires. A PSC Hydro-Assist Steering System can help increase torque output by making your steering wheel easier to turn in tight situations, especially improving turning capability when locking differentials are engaged. In addition, it can also eliminate electro-hydraulic pump overheating, as well as eliminate excessive on-center play in the steering wheel.
In conclusion, the overall benefits of upgrading your Jeep’s steering system include better handling, tighter steering feel, as well as the ability to run larger tires. You will also have more confidence in your vehicle’s ability to perform problem-free on the trail, thus decreasing its downtime and increasing your level of fun!
PS – If you find yourself interested in giving your new steering system a customized look, you can also have the components powder coated in custom colors prior to installation!