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Sloppy steering

MarcoMarco Posts: 1,430 Crazy Baller
edited January 2015 in Boat Talk
I have an '01 Malibu Response, and over the past several years the steering has gotten a bit of play in it that makes it a challenge to drive, especially at slower speeds. The problem is not in the cable assembly, as I have replaced it recently and it did not fix the problem, so I am guessing it is in the linkage where the rudder meets the cable. It is under the gas tank with very limited space and very hard to see, so I can't exactly tell where the play is coming from. I assume I am going to have to remove the gas tank to access the problem. Does anyone know ( @jody_seal ) what I should expect to find at the linkage location? I am hoping it is just a worn bushing that can be easily replaced. Any feedback is greatly appreciated!
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Comments

  • oldjeepoldjeep Posts: 3,793 ★★★Triple Panda Award Recipient ★★★
    Before you go digging in the back, have you checked the tilt unit and the helm? When the bearing gets wore out on the tilt unit it can really make the wheel feel sloppy. I replaced the worn out tilt unit in my father in-laws LXI this fall and it took all the slop out of the steering.
    Chuck P
    Not a mechanic but I play one at home
    kstateskierMarcoBulldoginland
  • eleeskieleeski Posts: 3,977 Infinite Pandas
    Check if the rudder wobbles. If the rudder wobbles too much it gets hard to turn and the tracking gets loose. I've had several rudder bushings wear out. Replacing the housing and rudder is the proper fix.

    Of course I did it a bit differently. I machined a groove in the old housing, machined an acetal bearing ring to go over the rudder shaft to yield essentially new tolerances for rudder movement.

    I have had one arm to rudder connection get squirrely. Tightening the bolts made it OK - unless I reverse too hard with the rudder cranked. More parts to replace.

    Linkage to cable usually just needs proper torque but those can wear too.

    Replacing parts piecemeal in an old system gets challenging to make it feel new. Sometimes just an entire new system fixes it best. Maybe cheaper if you are paying your mechanic a lot to troubleshoot. Good luck.

    Eric
    kstateskierMarco
  • kstateskierkstateskier Posts: 524 Solid Baller
    I agree with @oldjeep‌ the play is most likely in your tilt column. When I bought my 04 LXI last summer it had the same issues. I replaced the tilt column assembly and the wheel and play is 100% eliminated. Then I went ahead and changed the steering cable which brought the ease in steering back as well.

    While in the back attaching the steering cable I went ahead and added 2 washers where the cable attaches to the tiller arm. Everything is snugged up and tight.
    KStateSkier
    Bradley Beach - Lone Rock Ski Club, Missouri
    2004 Malibu Response LXI, 2014 D3 Helix 66"
    Marco
  • MarcoMarco Posts: 1,430 Crazy Baller
    Thanks for the input!

    @kstateskier @oldjeep - Is there a way to test if the problem is in the tilt column? Also, when I replaced the cable, I replaced only the pinon gear, not the rack. Maybe a worn rack is the problem???

    @eleeski - Not much wobble in the rudder. There is about 1/16" play in the rotational plane of the rudder itself, which I doubt is enough to make the steering feel sloppy. No play in the vertical plane. To check the rest of the assembly, I think I still need to remove the tank to get access.

    I think I'll look at replacing the rack first (since I have one in my garage), and hopefully that will take care of it. Wishful thinking?
  • eleeskieleeski Posts: 3,977 Infinite Pandas
    I did have one helm that was a problem. The tilt Ujoint was the problem. Difficult to diagnose and fix. What started as a loose bolt ended up needing a bunch of new parts. So you might not doing wishful thinking but it might not be that easy.

    Lots of lubrication helps. Perhaps if everything else is OK, try some waterproof grease in the rudder shaft (hopefully you have a xerk fitting - I've had to drill and install xerk fittings on some). That rudder shaft can get sticky - especially with old grease. WD40 sprayed liberally in the linkages can loosen things up too.

    When you take things apart, check which individual parts go smoothly. Turning the rudder by hand should be easy push the cable in and out. The helm should turn freely with the cable removed. If things are like new, you should be able to steer things by just pushing the cable in and out. Whatever is hard even when detached will isolate the problem.

    Eric
  • oldjeepoldjeep Posts: 3,793 ★★★Triple Panda Award Recipient ★★★
    @Marco grab the steering wheel and see if you can push it up and down, there should be no travel. To visually check it you need to remove the steering wheel so that you can remove the rubber boot that covers the u-joint. Once you do that then turn the wheel/shaft side to side and see if there is a delay in when the helm shaft starts turning.

    I'd definitely replace the rack if you took a new pinion out of a new rack and put it in an old rack.
    Chuck P
    Not a mechanic but I play one at home
    kstateskierMarco
  • oldjeepoldjeep Posts: 3,793 ★★★Triple Panda Award Recipient ★★★
    If it does wind up being the tilt mechanism, this was the cheapest source I found when we replaced it. You just replace the whole thing, don't need to mess around with trying to do any of the sub parts.

    http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B001IUVYX8/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o09_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
    Chuck P
    Not a mechanic but I play one at home
  • MarcoMarco Posts: 1,430 Crazy Baller
    The tilt mechanism seems to be sound, no up or down play at all. I'll start with replacing the rack, and if that doesn't fix the problem, I'll check the rudder end of things. I do have a xerk fitting on the rudder, so I'll hit that with grease again. Thanks for the advice!
    Lovell
  • kstateskierkstateskier Posts: 524 Solid Baller
    I wasn't aware you could buy the steering cable without the rack?
    KStateSkier
    Bradley Beach - Lone Rock Ski Club, Missouri
    2004 Malibu Response LXI, 2014 D3 Helix 66"
  • oldjeepoldjeep Posts: 3,793 ★★★Triple Panda Award Recipient ★★★
    Sounds like he bought one with the rack and then disassembled it and only installed the new pinion/cable.
    Chuck P
    Not a mechanic but I play one at home
  • kstateskierkstateskier Posts: 524 Solid Baller
    Interesting. My old rack was gummed up and stiff on one side. Just replace it all and be done!
    KStateSkier
    Bradley Beach - Lone Rock Ski Club, Missouri
    2004 Malibu Response LXI, 2014 D3 Helix 66"
  • DWDW Posts: 2,307 Mega Baller
    @Marco: Two options to check the helm linkage - 1. simply have someone watch the rudder end of the cable as you move the wheel back and forth lightly to the point of rudder cable end movement or 2. lock the rudder solid (you could do that by full left lock and then wedging a correct length 2x4 against the rudder and trailer bar and then do the wheel movement process. You can also see if it is in the tilt mechanism by watching the u joint with the bellows flipped back. Also check the helm attachment screws to the dash.
    kstateskierMarcoSkoot1123
  • MarcoMarco Posts: 1,430 Crazy Baller
    Thanks @DW - great ideas for isolating the problem.

    @kstateskier - @oldjeep is correct. When I installed the cable, I didn't bother to install the rack that came with the cable. At the time, my focus was on fixing a bound up steering cable that was making the wheel really hard to turn. I didn't connect the rack to the sloppy steering issue because I assumed the problem was at the rudder.
  • MarcoMarco Posts: 1,430 Crazy Baller
    edited February 2015
    Well, I replaced the entire steering column end of things, which included the mounting plate, tilt mechanism, and the back mount rack system (helm), but that did not fix the problem.

    The play in the steering is definitely not in the rudder end of things. The tiller arm does not move when the steering wheel is moved within the limits of the play.

    When I checked the gear on the new helm, it moved with no play with the wheel, so the new tilt/helm interface is tight. When I installed the flat rack attached to the cable to the new helm, the play in the wheel surfaced again, which tells me that the play is in the gears between the helm and the cable rack. The cable is only a few seasons old, and when I replaced that a few years back it didn't take care of the slop.

    So, relatively new cable, brand new tilt and helm, and still about the same amount of play in the wheel as before. Could it be that the play in the gears between the rack and helm is just the nature of the beast because the manufacturing tolerances are loose? I don't remember it being that loose when I first bought the boat in '01. The play in the wheel is about an inch or so each side of center, which makes it very difficult to drive straight, especially at slower speeds. I'm not that excited to spend the time and $$ on another cable if it is not going to fix the issue, so I'm kind of stumped on my next move.
  • eleeskieleeski Posts: 3,977 Infinite Pandas
    I'm still betting on a worn rudder or rudder bushing.

    Play in the system is needed to keep the steering comfortably loose. That's why a grind is needed to put a small amount of torque to take up the play.

    If the boat is rattling or steering weird something else is wrong. Rudders do wear and generate slop. The shaft of an old rudder will gradually wear against the bushing and move enough to affect handling. Maybe your boat isn't there yet and the new cable, helm and a touchup of the grind has cured the problem. If not, the rudder and bushing are just about all that's left.

    Unless your hull warped?

    Eric
  • MarcoMarco Posts: 1,430 Crazy Baller
    It doesn't appear to be on the rudder end of things. Everything there is tight. The steering wheel can move without the cable moving at all, so it is at the helm end of the assembly. I've checked that multiple times.
  • eleeskieleeski Posts: 3,977 Infinite Pandas
    The rudder won't rattle in torsion. It will rattle a bit side to side. A small amount is proper tolerance. A lot indicates wear. None could mean things are gummed up in the rudder shaft. Drop the rudder down (an easy fix) and clean the shaft and bushing and lube it up well. Normal maintenence (do that instead of an OCD extra oil change).

    The rudder grind should put a dynamic load on the control system. If the boat tracks straight hands off then you will have twitchy steering. With a little pull to one side, the slop will be out of the system. The trick is to get enough torque to make slalom feel good while making tricks and slow speed cruising nearly hands free. The entire system must move freely to get the load to the wheel - the rudder must be lubed and not binding under load.

    Next move is to test your fixes on the water. Maybe you've taken care of the problem with all the reasonable replacement parts. Hopefully for the sake of the snow ski season you'll have to wait to test for a while.

    Eric
  • MarcoMarco Posts: 1,430 Crazy Baller
    The rudder moves freely, not too loose, not too tight. Good call on grinding the rudder. My boat does pull right slightly, but not enough. I did file it down by hand many years ago, but did not take off enough to make a difference. Now that it's on the trailer, maybe I''ll hit it with a power grinder. How much should I take off? And I should grind on the starboard side for a Malibu, correct?

    If I cant get the play out of the rack and pinion, greater rudder load should improve tracking at least.
  • DWDW Posts: 2,307 Mega Baller
    @Marco: Is the spacing between the gears incorrect (too much) allowing slop in the system? Perhaps the incorrect cable to helm interface not providing the correct tooth mesh?
  • oldjeepoldjeep Posts: 3,793 ★★★Triple Panda Award Recipient ★★★
    @DW - good thought. His cable and rack came as a set, but he used the new cable/pinion with the old rack for some amount of time. Would be worth inspecting the pinion to see if it was damaged/worn by the old rack.
    Chuck P
    Not a mechanic but I play one at home
  • MarcoMarco Posts: 1,430 Crazy Baller
    @DW - The old helm did not look worn, and both cable and helm were Teleflex, so I assume they were compatible. It is hard to tell if the rack on the cable has any wear. The new helm and tilt mechanism I just installed were supposed to be Teleflex, but they showed up labeled as SeaStar Solutions. They look identical and have the same part #'s as Teleflex, so I assume they are manufactured by the same company.

    Your description of too much space between the gears is exactly what I think the problem is, but the cable only has a few summers on it and the helm is brand new, so I am stumped. Maybe @oldjeep is right, and the older helm made the rack on the cable wear funny. Maybe I should replace the cable again (will be the 3rd time in 5 years) just so all components are brand new.
  • DWDW Posts: 2,307 Mega Baller
    @Marco: I wouldn't just throw parts at it because you may just go in circles (or you could hit it the first time). I would look at the gap between the gears by (1) looking at the grease marks on the gears to see how much engagement they have (look for too much root space), the other method would be using some machinist blue to see the imprint, you could also put some clay between the gears to see the imprint. Another possibility might be the bond between the cable the rack gear, if that is loose, it would feel like a bad gear mesh.
    oldjeepMarco
  • JASJAS Posts: 309 Crazy Baller
    Under dash about 3/8 inch of shaft extends out of helm. Grasp this and hold with vice grip. Now turn steering wheel and check for slop. Make sure that Allen Bolt that connects tilt with helm is tight. If you have same amount of slop it's not the gears. U joint in tilt can wear due to dynamic forces introduced by rudder loading.
  • MarcoMarco Posts: 1,430 Crazy Baller
    @DW - I like the imprint/clay idea. I'll try to do that this weekend. The bond between the cable and rack is tight, as is the helm/tilt/steering wheel, so it almost has to be in the gear interface

    @JAS - I already checked both the old and new helms and tilt mechanism, and they were tight, with no slop. Pretty sure it is between the rack and pinion gears. Will check for sure this weekend.
  • DekeDeke Posts: 403 Baller
    @DW if there winds up being slop/space between the gears, what next?
  • DWDW Posts: 2,307 Mega Baller
    @Deke: I would look at two possibilities, worn steering gear or rack gear where replacement would be the fix or possibly a mismatch of parts that spaces the gear center lines farther apart than design, which would also require a replacement (with either a good part or a different part number part) or perhaps a simple machining step to fix. Seems weird but it could be the issue.
  • eleeskieleeski Posts: 3,977 Infinite Pandas
    @Deke In my MC the rack is held to the gear by tabs on a metal housing. If those tabs are bent it is possible that there is too much clearance between the gear and the rack. It might be possible to mess with the housing and tabs to adjust the clearance. I've never had to do that - just assure that the bolts were properly torqued.

    If the gear is worn, it may be possible to get a less worn portion of the gear to contact during straight driving. Reassemble with the logo upside-down? I don't know if these patches apply to a Malibu steering. If not, nevermind.

    @DW has the proper solution - identify the worn or bad parts and replace them.

    Eric
    kstateskier
  • DekeDeke Posts: 403 Baller
    Thanks @DW and @eleeski . I have the same issue with my '99 RLX and like @marco have looked at everything else and it seems to be something in the rack and pinion. In my case all parts, including the cable are still original and working smoothly. Extra play is about the same as Marco's at about 1" left and right and it makes sense that to get that much movement it would be in the gears. That much slop anywhere else would be really easy to see.

    It will be months before I get to look at this again, but I am following this thread closely.
  • Jody_SealJody_Seal Posts: 3,239 Mega Baller
    Check and see if there are 1/4" flat washers sandwiched in-between the the cable rack and steering helm pinion Assy. if their are take them out.
    Hobby Boats can be expensive when the hobbyist is limited on their own skill and expertise.


  • MarcoMarco Posts: 1,430 Crazy Baller
    @Jody_Seal - Unfortunately there are no washers between the housings for the rack and pinion. I'm going to get some machinist blue or clay per @DW 's suggestion to check the imprint of the gears today, hopefully. The strange thing is that this problem has persisted even though I have replaced the cable several times and the helm last week and it didn't cure the problem.
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