Buying Used and  Getting Back to Basics

We’re coming up on a year of ownership with Project My2k and have really turned this thing around. What started out as a worn out one owner run of the mill Super Duty has slowly morphed into a great looking and dependable daily driver. No, it won’t make the low end torque a brand-new truck will, but with the right list of aftermarket upgrades the old 7.3L can still be quite effective at getting any job done. With some elbow grease and time, we’ve been able to improve drivability with a little more power, improve the look with a better stance, and now we’ll work on some of the steering system.

After getting our lift and larger tires installed, it became even more apparent that the front end and steering system needed some attention. Upon further inspection, it was determined that the tie rod had been replaced at some point, but the slop we were feeling in the steering came from a worn out steering gear box. Step in the experts from Blue Top Steering Gear of Stanton, ND.

After installing our BDS suspension lift, Fox shocks and the big 35” Toyo tires, the extra rotating mass up front has really brought out some shortcomings in our 170,000 mile truck. The front end had serious movement and slop to it, but inspection showed tight tie rod ends, which led us to the steering gear box. Sure enough, major slop coming from the original gear box prompted its replacement with an aftermarket reman unit from Blue Top Steering Gears of Stanton, ND. Their rebuild process offers custom fit worm and piston assemblies. The crew at Blue Top also takes the time to machine their own oversize ball bearings, in .0001” increments, to offer the perfect setup within the box. Along with custom sizing the ball bearings, they also use OEM style seals and Timken, Torrington, and Ina bearings. Only the best parts go into these boxes to ensure years and thousands of trouble free miles without slop or wonder on the highway.

Blue Top has been rebuilding steering gears since the 1980’s and specializes in light duty truck offering services and a quality you won’t find in mass produced parts store remans. Taking the time to custom fit each worm and piston assembly with precision made ball bearings, the Blue Top steering gear will offer tighter steering feel and drivability than a brand new factory box can. Their full service machine shop allows quick turnaround times and the ability for them to keep the most popular steering gears on the shelf ready to ship. Balanced valves, and bench tested for leaks, with proper alignment marks made before shipping ensures an easy install with trouble free miles down the road.

Working out of a brand new facility in 2019, the Blue Top team takes pride in producing the best steering gear they possible can, their in-house CNC machines and trained techs bring every gearbox to perfect specifications, which keeps everything tight and leak free. Each and every gearbox, valve, and cylinder are bench tested for leaks, power balance and internal bypass. Balancing the valves within 1-/34 PSI with air before assembly and testing hydraulically means better drivability and consistent steering feel, even on a big lifted truck with 35+ inch tires like ours.

On our Super Duty pickup truck the factory steering gear box actually isn’t too tough to change, but it will take some specialty tools, like a pickle fork to break the tie rod loose, a really large wrench or socket to get the pitman arm nut off and of course a pitman arm puller to remove the pitman arm from the steering gear shaft. The caked on dirt and debris also leads us to believe the factory box has been leaking for quite some time as well.

Moving onto the electrical side of things, we had started experiencing some inconsistent battery charging, and intermittent batter light on the dash, and even some slow cranking on a cold start up. Assuming it was batteries, we had them tested, along with the alternator which revealed our true culprit. The alternator on the truck has been installed for an unknown amount of time and was just a cheap reman unit from a local parts store. The alternator wasn’t offering a strong charge and needed to be replaced so we contacted Powermaster Motorsports of Chicago, IL.

With the steering linkage removed from the bottom side, it was time to move to the top side of the gearbox. Here, we’ll need to remove the inlet and outlet hoses using caution not to bend or kink the lines (it was later determined to replace the lines while we were this far into the job).

The Powermaster alternator for our 7.3L application would offer better amperage to support any aftermarket electrical accessories we add all while maintaining a healthy set of batteries. A common misconception is that more amperage can hurt a truck, but the truth is, it’s the voltage you need to limit, not the amps. Powermaster uses the example of water. Amperage is equivalent to the volume of water, and voltage is equivalent to water pressure. More amperage is like having a larger pool of water to draw from. So, your batteries can just support added load better with the right alternator feeding them.

With the power steering lines removed from the steering gear, its time to disconnect the steering shaft from the steering box. With the steering wheel and tires centered, you can remove the one bolt used to clamp the steering shaft end to the worm gear protruding from the end of the box.

Powermaster builds their units from all brand new parts, meaning no cores to deal with and no concerns over faulty reman parts leaving you stranded somewhere. They obviously test every unit before it ships out the door, and they also improve the performance by adding an additional ground strap to run to your engine block.

With he bolt removed, you can use a small pry bar to gently pry the steering shaft back away from the gear box. As you can see, twenty plus years of salty winter roads and outside contaminants have made for corroded surface areas, so some patience and persistence to get it apart was needed.

The new steering gear box made a massive improvement in overall drivability of this old truck. We no longer feel like we’re herding it own the road, as it tracks true and straight without any play in the steering wheel. At 170,000 miles, the big tires and truck drives as nice as any new truck we’ve been behind the wheel of recently. In upcoming parts of the build, we’re going to turn out attention back to the power side of things and pump some more out of this 7.3L Power Stroke. We need to replace some leaking up-pipes, which means we’ll have the perfect opportunity to upgrade to a 63mm turbocharger from KC Turbos for added airflow and EGT control while towing. We’re planning a mild injector upgrade, an intercooler change and then we’ll need to focus on some transmission modifications. We’ve even considered upgrading the factory leather seats and beefing up the looks with a new front bumper. So, stay tuned as we continue with this old Ford truck project, it’s only going to continue to get better from here.

This shot shows the lines and steering shaft removed so we can move on to unbolting the box from the frame rail. The new Blue Top box was shipped to us with some threaded plugs in the hose ports, so we opted to move them from the new box to the old box to help prevent any fluid from leaking out while we wiggled the box out of the truck.
On the 1999+ Ford trucks, the steering gear is held onto the frame with these three large bolts that run through the frame and thread directly into the gearbox case. This makes it super simple to change, as you don’t have to worry about a nut on the backside spinning. We were able to do this hole job without the help of anyone.
Laying on the ground, you can now turn the box upside down and remove the pitman arm nut and pitman arm. Unfortunately, in this specific case, that nut had become one with the shaft and even our largest impact gun and some penetrating oil couldn’t break it free. So, we jumped online and order up a new replacement pitman arm and nut for next day delivery. With twenty years and 170k, that pitman arm was due for replacement anyhow.
The brand new replacement pitman arm installed on the Blue Top Steering gear and ready to go into the truck. Be sure to torque that large nut to proper specs. The new box is just a remanufactured original, so this all goes back together in the opposite order it came apart. We were able to reuse all our original hardware as well. Just be sure that the marks they put on the case and the end gear are lined up before installing your steering shaft, as this ensure the box is in its true center.
While we were under the truck working on the steering gear box, we thought we’d better check one of the most often overlooked service items on a four wheel drive truck. The transfer case is lubricated with just two quarts of Automatic Transmission Fluid, and is a super simple job to complete, since we’re unsure if or when it’s ever been done, we took the opportunity to do it.
To service the t-case, simply remove the lower plug on the backside of the case itself. You’ll see the transmission fluid start rushing out, lucky for us, the fluid didn’t look to be in too bad of shape. But for less than $10 worth of new ATF, it’s worthwhile preventative maintenance. Reinstall that lower plug, then remove the plug located above it and start pouting in fluid until it starts running back out upper port. Thread your plug back in and you’re done.
This month we randomly started having some intermittent low voltage dash lights triggered and found the alternator was failing, not offering a strong consistent charge through the system. This is also a quick and simple job that even a novice mechanic can accomplish. The serpentine belt will need to be removed, both batteries disconnected, and then the charge wire and wiring harness from the backside.
The Powermaster line of alternators was an easy choice for us and this project, as they are built from all brand-new parts, meaning no chance of a failed reman from the local parts shop, plus we don’t have to worry about core charges.
Powermaster takes the time to evaluate each alternator once it’s built to ensure it will support the load and charging demands of a big diesel powerplant. Powermaster also takes things once step further by using an additional ground strap included with the alternator so we can make sure the system works flawlessly.
The new alternator uses the exact same outer shell as our original unit, so installation was a breeze and it bolted right back into place. Now we have no issues keeping a consistent charge to the batteries, which has proven to be beneficial when trying to start on a cold February morning. The 7.3L Power Stroke has always been known for being cold blooded, so every ounce of voltage helps.


Blue Top Steering

Powermaster Motorsports

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