Loose steering feel, excessive play, wandering, and drastic variations in steering response between low and high speeds have been an ongoing problem for Jeep Wranglers causing their owners much anxiety. The design of the Wrangler’s suspension and steering components has made it notorious for multiple steering-related issues. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, then you could find a solution in this article.
Jeep Wrangler’s steering woes can be a result of any of the following:
- Loose Steering Box
- Tire Pressure Too High
- Vehicle’s Inability to Track Properly
These symptoms have plagued Jeep Wrangler owners for years without any real solution from FCA until recently. They have introduced an upgraded steering box which seems to solve the play in the steering, however, it does not completely eliminate the tracking and wondering issues.
So, exactly how bad is the Wrangler steering?
Let’s look at the loose steering symptoms in a bit more detail.
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Jeep Wrangler Steering Wheel Feels ‘Loose’
Step into the Jeep Wrangler after driving any other make of SUV and you’ll immediately feel the difference in steering behavior. The steering is not as crisp and constantly requires minor adjustments to keep it straight. Drive it long enough and you might just get used to it, or it will drive you completely crazy.
Aside from that, we also have an excessive play with a ‘dead spot’ which results in very vague steering responses.
- Constant correction in the driving direction
- Steering slightly “twitchy” at times
- Loose steering sensation
- A Dead Spot
- Wondering steering
- Drastic Variations in steering responsiveness depending on your speed
In all fairness to the Wrangler, the mere shape and suspension setup, that being a solid front axle with a ladder frame chassis, will mean it’s never going to handle like a sports car or luxury sedan with an IFS (Independent front suspension). The Body on frame design with solid front axles is designed to be superior off-road and able to haul heavy loads under challenging conditions for extended periods. That’s why you find most heavy-duty trucks with this design. You can read more about the advantages and disadvantages of both chassis types here: Ladder Frame vs Monocoque SUV Chassis Pros and Cons
So, the Jeep Wrangler’s off-road superiority means it will suffer on-road. Unfortunately, you’re always going to have some correction at a higher speed, since the vehicle resembles a Lego Block on wheels. It’s just the nature of the beast.
But how much of the play and wondering is acceptable, and is there any way we can tweak this beast to have more acceptable on-road manners?
Fortunately, there are a few DIY tweaks you can implement to immediately alleviate some of the symptoms outlined above, and you won’t even need any specialized equipment. After implementing the below fixes, many owners reported a huge difference in steering behavior and felt satisfied.
Let’s look into some of the fixes in a bit more detail now.
- Manually adjust the slop on steering box
- Adjust Tire pressure. Many dealerships are infamous for overfilling tires.
- Adjust the alignment
- Fit an adjustable track bar
- Fit aftermarket LCA’s
Let’s now see how we can make manual adjustments to the steering box which will result in a significant difference in the centering feel and a decrease in the dead spot sensation.
Adjust Steering Box
Okay, from the outset, it’s important to note that you perform this procedure at your own risk! You have been warned. Jeep specifically states it’s not an adjustable box and many have been sealed with permanent Loctite, however many have successfully done so without any immediate side-effects. Jeep advises a replacement steering box is the only option. Obviously!
There are factory set points that are marked in green on the adjustable nuts to indicate its alignment setting. Over time this can shift. Not all Wranglers are set exactly the same so when making adjustments it’s recommended to do minor adjustments at a time, then test the heaviness of the steering and adjust accordingly or back off. The recommended adjustment is a clockwise turn of 1/8 of a turn.
The box is preloaded in the factory so it doesn’t chew up the gears.
There is a risk of over-tightening the factory set points which could result in damaging the internal gears and prematurely wearing out the steering box, so exercise caution when doing so. These steering boxes have to be set up with a small amount of clearance to ensure they don’t bind up under certain conditions. The box is preloaded in the factory so it doesn’t chew up the gears. Make sure you allow a slight amount of play in the steering.
The amount of play differs significantly from vehicle to vehicle and if you ‘wheel’ regularly, make sure you start with minor adjustments. The adjustment will affect the vehicle’s off-road steering behavior, making it more sensitive and ‘twitchy’ in off-road conditions.
The adjustment is done directly on the steering box by loosening the adjustment screw and locknut. The procedure is simple and should take longer than 10 minutes to complete. Simply loosen the locknut, adjust the screw clockwise 1/8 of a turn in small increments, and tighten the locknut.
You will need the following tools to complete the procedure:
- 1/2″ drive ratchet
- 16-inch extension
- 1/2 swivel
- 15mm socket
Most nuts will come loose without a struggle, however, there are reports of the threads being sealed with a Loctite, obviously to avoid the adjustable nut from working itself loose after it’s been assembled and set in the factory. If this is the case, you might have to use heat to loosen the Loctite and some extra force to break the seal. Be mindful not to strip the Allen head of the adjuster.
Fortunately, most boxes are exempt from Loctite and the screw loosens without much of a struggle.
Watch the below video
Adjustable Front Track Bar
Fitting an adjustable track bar will improve the centering of the vehicle irrespective of the articulation and movement of other suspension components. If you fit an adjustable track bar, along with Mopar LCA suspension components, you essentially allow more adjustment options to alleviate the problem. A steering brace will take up the slack in the steering quite a bit. The factory track bar is weak and slightly under-engineered. A beefier adjustable aftermarket track bar with an adjusted steering box will dramatically improve the ride quality. Owners report its handling and steering like a new vehicle and on par with other SUVs.
For improved caster angle adjustments and straight-line travel, the Mopar LCA is a fantastic solution. The LCA basically serves as a direct connection between wheels and steering. The LCA attaches the wheels to the chassis assists in handling, up and down travel, and keeps the axle centered when driving on uneven surfaces.
Fitting an Aftermarket LCA improves the following:
- Straight line stability
- Improves vertical stability and direction
Since an aftermarket LCA is designed from superior materials and more beefy build quality, it offers other advantages when going off-road as well as when fitting it in conjunction with an aftermarket suspension.
Something as insignificant as tire pressure can be the cause of much movement in the steering. Dealerships are notorious for overinflating the tires resulting in a very loose feel to the steering. Once you fit larger wheels and tires, you also decrease the sensitivity of the steering feel. Most Jeep owners recommend inflating to no more than 37 and as low as 32.
Depending on where you live, road surface, and the weather, these all influence the pressure that builds up inside the tires, so check them regularly. I wouldn’t rely 100% on the TPMS when topping your tires up with air, and it is recommended you invest in a good quality tire pressure gauge for an accurate reading.
Purchase an Adjustable Wrangler 07-18 JK Trackbar here
Purchase an Adjustable JK LCA here
Purchase a Quality Tire pressure gauge here
Purchase a 1/2″ drive ratchet here
Purchase a 16-inch extension here
Purchase 1/2 swivel here
Purchase a 15mm socket here
The amount of play experienced between Wranglers varies greatly. Certain Wranglers will only require a slight steering box adjustment and that will fix it, whereas others might need additional aftermarket components to get the same result. Remember to exercise caution when adjusting the steering box since over-tightening can cause catastrophic damage and will void your warranty.