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Drunken Pathfinder wandering down the road


Slartibartfast
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My Pathy has always had a bit of a wander to it. At speed I can steer a few inches back and forth with no change in the truck's direction. It's stable when I'm turning, but going straight isn't something it's good at. We've had the upper and lower ball joints, TREs, idler, and centerlink replaced, and it's got new strut rod bushings/cups and a recent alignment. The handling feels about the same as it did before, and seems to have gotten a little worse in the past month or so.

 

The tires are 31x10.5 Radar RLT-8s with less than 3k on them. Wear appears to be normal, no cupping/feathering/missing bits, but there's a fair amount of cracking going on between the tread blocks. They're well within their weight range. I did have them up to their max rated pressure (50 psi) for a couple weeks a year or two ago because I was an idiot, but now I keep them at 30psi, 35 today to see if it would help (it didn't).

 

My dad suspects the tires are the problem, either because they've got crappy sidewalls or because they're too wide. There's no way it was this wobbly from the factory (and I know a lot of you run bigger tires without issue) so I don't think the size is the problem, except if it's exacerbating something else that's flogged. We've had the TREs, ball joints, centerlink and idler replaced, and did the strut rod bushings a few months ago. I'm a little suspicious of the steering box, but it's tight when the truck's not moving. We did try adjusting something or another on it a while back, which made it feel like something was binding a bit but didn't change handling at all. I've read that a failing PS pump can make the box act up but I've had no other indication of pump issues (and the fluid looks fine, no idea when it was last changed though).

 

The rear end doesn't step out one way or the other when I get on/off the gas, so I don't think the rear link bushings are the issue. I guess the A-arm bushings could be the problem, but I'm not quite sure how to check them or even if this is the sort of thing they'd do.

 

Does all this point to a screaming issue that I'm missing, or is a different set of wheels/tires a good place to start? (Sorry for the wall of text btw.)

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Try this.

 

1) Park your Pathy and pop the hood

 

2) grab the steering shaft (next to your air box)

 

3) see if you have any play in it.

 

I say "try this" because the pinion gear in my steering rack was going out. I had some mad play in mine so I replaced mine with a steering rack from a Q I found in our local U-Pull-It. If you don't have any play, I can't help because the extent of my mechanical knowledge is limited to the problems I've had with my vehicles!

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if the center link, tie rods, idler AND upper/lower balljoints are all new and inspected to be in good working order, the only other thing it would be is the steering gear (box) or steering shaft. check the joints and the center section for wear. as mentioned above have someone rotate the wheel gently back and forth and inspect every joint in the steering starting at the top of the column. check the rag joint, check the sliding center section, check the metal u-joints at the bottom near the steering gear.

 

check the steering gear carefully itself. hold your hand on each side of the steering gear itself. one hand on the steering shaft, one on the pinion arm and have someone rotate the wheel back and forth slightly. the pinion arm should move IMMEDIATELY with the steering shaft movement, if the steering shaft moves a bit first and the pinion arm lags behind then your play is there. Even a small amount of play in the gear will feel like a lot more play on the road.

keep in mind the steering shaft moves many more times around than the pinion arm side moves so it is kind of difficult to feel the play there unless its bad.

you can adjust your steering gear but be very careful doing it. there is a procedure that you must follow or risk serious damage to the steering gears internals and turn them into powder.

 

are your wheel bearings loose? any noise going down the highway? a very loose wheelbearing will cause wander.

 

that would be all of the mechanical possibilities, other than that you just have the bushings. you said you did your tension/compression rod bushings and bushing cups so all that is left is the upper/lower control arm bushings. have you inspected them at all?

 

i have seen some control arm bushings (uppers usually on a pathfinder) that get REALLY bad and cause the alignment to change everytime the truck moves or hits a bump, very unstable at speeds. alignment is constantly changing which also causes wander.

 

check your upper/lower control arm bushings and the steering gear/shaft itself that's where I would look anyways if the other main stuff like tie rods and balljoints are already taken care of.

you can get a cheap replacement set of polyurethane bushings for the upper/lower control arms. they are 30-40$ per set on ebay and contain replacement buhsings for both the upper AND lower bushings on both sides for the control arms. Prothane is the brand.

 

Hope this helps!

Edited by Nefarious
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Make sure to check your... the... damn it! The bushing on the rod that goes from the frame to the rear of the lower control arm as well. If that and your control arm bushings are shot, your wheels aren't firmly attached to the vehicle and that will make it wander a bit... ;)

 

B

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tension/compression rod bushing is the term you are looking for and I believe that is what he meant here: "We've had the TREs, ball joints, centerlink and idler replaced, and did the strut rod bushings a few months ago."

 

strut rod is the usual auto part name for the tension/compression rod. Nissan likes to make up fancy terms for their suspension arms. :)

 

my bet is the upper/lower control arm bushings, but i wouldnt rule out the steering gear/shaft(mainly the gear). I've had to replace all of these <<

Edited by Nefarious
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My vote is for the steering box, or the alignment just wasn't done right. When you adjust it you're not supposed to turn the screw more than 1/8 turn at a time before you try it out again. Small increments are key. If you overtightened it you could have damaged it and that could be part of the issue.

 

As for the alignment, did they set the camber/caster as well or just the toe. Your caster could be out causing the wandering, or the toe wasn't set right. It needs to be 3-5mm of toe-in according to the fsm. The shop I had mine at set it at 1/16" (they measured in inches) and it wandered.

 

There is a procedure in the fsm for measuring the steering box play. And you do it from the drivers seat, looks really easy.

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tension/compression rod bushing is the term you are looking for and I believe that is what he meant here: "We've had the TREs, ball joints, centerlink and idler replaced, and did the strut rod bushings a few months ago."

 

strut rod is the usual auto part name for the tension/compression rod. Nissan likes to make up fancy terms for their suspension arms. :)

 

my bet is the upper/lower control arm bushings, but i wouldnt rule out the steering gear/shaft(mainly the gear). I've had to replace all of these

Yep, thats what I meant, but I refuse to call it a strut rod since there is no damn strut. Sorry, I missed that they were replaced when I skimmed the post.

 

B

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Thanks guys, I've checked the rag joint already and it seemed sound, but I'll check it again with regard to the box. The wheel bearings are good and tight. I'll check the box and the UCA bushings tonight, thanks for the heads up on replacements. I'm not sure exactly how it was aligned but I'll keep the caster in mind. I'll take a closer look at the box, I filmed it a while back (bolted a flip cam to the frame) and didn't see slack in it but then it wasn't showing it in relation to the input shaft.

 

Adamzan, is this the bit on ST-4 about measuring from the wheel?

 

Before we hack into it we're going to try sticking two of my dad's R50 rims on the front of mine and see if it changes the handling for the better. He just got new tires put on his and he says the steering feels better, so who knows.

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What's this "steering box" you WD21 guys keep speaking of? We R50 guys are more civilized tan that. :lol:

 

 

mad3.gif Damnit! I posted this on my phone (which does not show member info) and assumed Slartibart had an R50. Now I feel like an ass.

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swapping tires is a good call. In my dad's shop I've seen tires balance perfectly but ran like crap on the road because of a broken internal belt. you wouldn't notice until there was weight placed on the tire.

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Agree with the others above, it the idler arm, cneter link, tie rods, balljoints, CA bushings, etc are all good, vehicle is aligned and tires balanced I would think about the steering rack.

 

 

there is also an adjustment bolt on the steering box. I took some slop out of mine this way, but it is a time consuming 'trial and error' adjument back and forth to get it 'just right'.

Edited by Alkorahil
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I think I'll leave the 'mystery of life' to the intentions of elderly drivers and the ingredients of deli food. :lol:

 

I haven't had a chance to try the other wheels yet, but I jacked it up and checked for mechanical issues today. I didn't see any slack in the UCA bushings when I jacked it up but then I'm not really sure the best way to check them short of tearing the suspension apart. I did notice a sort of knocking sound when I turned the wheel back and forth (with the engine off), and tracked this sound to the box with a redneck stethoscope. It doesn't seem like a huge amount of slack, but I imagine it becomes more significant at speed. I'm fairly sure it's not supposed to make a knocking sound, anyway.

 

To those of you who've done a box swap: how much of a PITA is it? The main bolts/banjo fittings look easy enough but I'll need a puller for the Pitman arm, correct? I considered grabbing a box from the junkyard, but I can't imagine it'd be in better shape than mine.

 

And just in case the alignment place missed the UCA bushings, any tips for checking those? I'm considering strapping a camcorder to the wheel well where it can see where the arm attaches and then driving with it in place, but if there's a non-Red Green way of doing this please let me know.

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Pitman arms can be extremely resist to removal, and by tugging/prying, you should be able to tell if the bushings are shot. Rule of thumb, no slop... ;)

 

MY1PATH had found a good shop for rebuilds in washington, Red Hat or something.

 

B

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Bad Bushings won't usually show up as loose play when shaking by hand. That rubber is used to taking massive amounts of load when the vehicle is rolling down the road, so you probably won't see much play by hand unless they are completely destroyed. Only real way to tell is by visually inspecting them. If they look kind of shrunk like the rubber doesn't fit super tight against the edges, of the metal sleeve/bushing housing. Also if its cracked all over. Either case the bushings need to be done. Uca Bushings are cake, super easy with some basic cheap tools. Lca involve a hell of a lot more work....

 

Swapping the steering box really isn't bad. Just find a steering box in the same year range to yours with no play and swap the whole box/pitman assembly. don't bother removing the pitman... junkyards boxes are usually sold with the pitman arm attached.

 

I swapped a 95 box with zero play to my 93 path that had major play and its been great ever since. Just find a low km granny driven donor and swap it in. You could buy new if u like but they are not cheap!

 

Find a nice and tight used one and if need be adjust it further (but carefully, you can ruin a box easy if you adjust it incorrectly!) If need be.

Edited by Nefarious
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Who knows? :shrug:

I don't think I have seen the site before and it hurts my eyes. The only reference to location I've seen is Valley of the Moon (childrens home), which is over the hill by Glen Ellen and Jack London's home IIRC. They do show a Santa Rosa PO box so yeah, he's around here somewhere. Hard to tell from the photos, but it is a white 1994 and no mention of customization that would be easy to spot.

 

B

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I jacked it up from the UCA, stuck a crowbar under it, and couldn't really make the wheel rock. I visually inspected the bushings and the rubber looks good, no cracks, but there might be a little shrinkage.

 

P1010019-3_zpsf9cc6e9e.jpg

 

Thanks for the link, I'll look at that with my dad later. I know he tried it once but maybe we'll do better with instructions.

 

Seems like all the junked Pathfinders out here have more miles on them than mine. I'll check them for looseness next time I'm at the yard, though. IIRC I'd need a 94 or 95 only box too, since the size of the hole at the end of the pitman changed (I think this came up in Tungsten's 2wd swap thread).

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if you look in that thread there are build dates I posted from my 2wd swap. after a certain month in 92' is when the pitman arms changed to the large taper. any 93-95 should be fine and SOME late build date 92s should as well. its easy to tell u pop the center link out of the hole. it will be bigger than the idler arm side.

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