Pitman arms are a critical piece of linkage between your steering wheel and your tires. More precisely, a pitman arm links the steering box to the drag or center link. This helps turn an angular motion from your steering wheel and box into the linear motion used to turn the wheels back and forth.
A failing pitman arm can lead to “sloppy” steering (i.e., extra play in the steering wheel) and a sense that the vehicle is wandering or not responding to normal driving methods. A broken or missing pitman arm would cause all steering to fail completely. Replacing a pitman arm takes a few specialty tools and less than a day to complete, depending on your level of experience.
Part 1 of 2: Removing the old pitman arm
- 1-5/16 socket (or similar size)
- Breaker bar (if desired)
- Jack stands
- Mechanic’s grease
- Needle nose pliers
- Owner’s manual
- Pickle fork (if desired)
- Pitman arm puller
- Replacement pitman arm
- Rubber mallet
- Socket set and ratchet
Note: New pitman arms should come with castle nut, cotter pin, and grease fitting. If yours did not, you will need to gather these items as well.
Tip: Any specialty tools you do not own may be available for rent at your local autoparts store. Before you spend extra money purchasing tools you will potentially use only once, attempt to rent or borrow first as there are many stores that have these options available.
Step 1: Raise the vehicle and remove the appropriate tire. Park your vehicle on level ground. Locate the tire next to the pitman arm you are replacing and loosen the lug nuts on that tire.
- Tip: This must be done before you raise vehicle.Trying to loosen the lug nuts with the vehicle in the air allows the tire to rotate and gives you no resistance to break the torque applied to the lug nuts.
Using your vehicle’s owner’s manual, locate the lift point at which you want to place the jack. Have your jack stands ready nearby. Lift the vehicle. When you have the vehicle slightly above the desired height, place the jack stands under the frame. Slowly release the jack and lower the vehicle onto the jack stands.
Remove the lug nuts and tire next to the pitman arm.
- Tip: It is a safe practice to place another object (such as the tire you removed) under the vehicle in case the stands fail and the vehicle falls. Then, if someone is under the vehicle when this occurs, there will be less chance of injury.
Step 2: Locate the pitman arm. Looking under the vehicle, find the steering linkage and narrow in on the pitman arm. Observe the placement of the bolts on the pitman arm and plan out the best way to position yourself to remove them.
Step 3: Remove the retaining bolt. The large bolt connecting the pitman arm to the steering box can be the first to be removed. These bolts are typically 1-5/16”, but they can vary in size. It will be torqued and will most likely need to be removed with a breaker bar.
Step 4: Remove the pitman arm from the steering box. Insert the pitman arm puller into the gap between the steering box and the retaining bolt. Using a ratchet, turn the puller’s center screw until the pitman arm releases.
- Tip: If needed, you can use your mallet to help in the removal of this end of the pitman arm. Gently tap the arm or puller with the mallet to pop it loose.
Step 5: Remove the castle nut and cotter pin. On the other end of the pitman arm, you will see a castle nut and cotter pin. The cotter pin holds the castle nut in place.
Remove the cotter pin with a set of needle nose pliers. Remove the castle nut with a socket and ratchet. You may need to cut the cotter pin to remove it depending on its condition.
Step 6: Remove the pitman arm. Use a pickle fork to separate the pitman arm from the center link. Insert the tines (i.e., the tips of the fork prongs) between the pitman arm and the center link. Tap the tines deeper into the gap with your mallet until the pitman arm pops off.
Part 2 of 2: Installing the new pitman arm
Step 1: Prepare to install the new pitman arm. Apply grease around the bolt that attaches the pitman arm to the steering box and down around the steering box.
This will help to protect against dirt, grime, and water which can prevent the steering linkage from working properly. Apply liberally around the area, but wipe off any excess.
Step 2: Attach the pitman arm to the steering box. Install the new pitman arm onto the steering gear by screwing in the retaining bolt which you removed in Step 3 of Part 1.
Line up the notches on the pitman arm to the notches on the steering box as you slide them together. Look for and line up the flat marks on both units.
Make sure any washers are in good condition or new when you install them. Assure they remain in the same order in which they were removed. Hand tighten the bolt and torque it with a torque wrench to your vehicle’s specifications.
Step 3: Attach the pitman arm to the center link. Attach the other end of the pitman arm to the center or drag link and hand thread the castle nut into place. Tighten it down with your ratchet or with the torque wrench if you prefer (torque to 40 ft-lb).
Take a new cotter pin and cut it to the size of the cotter pin you removed previously with the old pitman arm (or about 1/4-1/2” longer than the castle nut). Thread the new cotter pin through the castle nut and twist the ends outward to keep it in place.
Step 4: Replace the tire. Reinstall the tire you removed in Step 1 of Part 1. Hand-tighten the lug nuts.
Step 5: Lower the vehicle. Remove all tools and objects from under the vehicle. Use the jack at the appropriate lift points to raise the vehicle off of the jack stands. Remove the stands from under the vehicle. Lower the vehicle onto the ground.
Step 6: Torque the tire’s lug nuts. Use the torque wrench to finish tightening the lug nuts onto the wheel hub. See your owner’s manual for torque specifications.
Step 7: Test the new pitman arm. Turn the vehicle’s key to the accessory mode to unlock the steering wheel. Turn the wheel clock-to-clock (all the way to the left, then all the way to the right) to test if the steering is functional.
Once you know the steering is functional, drive the vehicle to test how well it steers while in motion. Testing at both lower and higher speeds is recommended.
- Warning: Cranking on the steering wheel with the tires stationary puts extra stress on ALL steering components. Only turn the tires while they are in motion when at all possible, and leave the extra stress for rare testing (such as above) and extreme driving conditions.
Pitman arms convert the rotation from your steering wheel and steering wheel box into linear motion used to push the tires left and right, and they should be replaced after 100,000 miles. Though this part is vital to a vehicle’s functioning, changing one can be done in less than a day using the steps outlined above. If you would prefer to have a professional perform this repair, however, you can always contact one of the certified technicians at YourMechanic to come and replace your pitman arm for you at your home or office.