Prior to 1969, GM had tilt steering columns in production, but these were typically only available in their luxury models. From 1969 on up, tilt columns were readily available in most GM vehicles. These new tilt columns featured the ignition in the column rather than on the dash. Since then, hot rodders, street rodders and every one in between uses the GM tilt column when they build their cars.
However great these columns are, they do have some inherent problems. After several years of use and abuse they tend to malfunction. The tilt no longer has any tension and you can literally lift the column up and down with a pinky. Should one attempt to drive the vehicle with such a tilt column, it can make for some scary moments when suddenly you find the steering wheel in a completely different location.
I asked a friend who happened to be a GM master mechanic about the floppy column syndrome. He said they fix those columns all the time and that that particular repair is the shop's bread and butter (meaning these mechanics fix it in less than an hour, while the customer ends up paying the shop's basic hourly rate and the mechanic gets to pocket the difference). Bread and butter baby, bread and butter. Let's butter our own bread and save about 100 bucks by doing this repair on our own.
Our pals at Harrison's Restorations in Upland, California, gave us a step-by-step tutorial on how it's done without having to remove the column from the vehicle. The idea of breaking down a steering column can be a bit intimidating if you've never done it before. Keep in mind that the parts in these columns are layered like a cake. It might help to put them in the order in which you removed them, and if you have a digital camera, taking a snap shot of every part as it looks before disassembly is a valuable reference tool.
Before you start any work, disconnect the battery. The next obvious step is to start the process of removing the steering wheel.
After the wheel is gone, remove the wheel hub.
This is the horn relay and wiring; remove it and set it to the side.
This is where the lock plate tool gets used. The lock plate is compressed against the spring, which allows you to remove that little retaining ring. Notice the red arrow pointing it out.
Remove the spring and the canceling cam. Lay them out in order on a bench if it helps keep track of their order.
Don't lose that retaining ring. We don't think the guy at the local parts counter would ever be able to find this in his computer, especially when they ask questions like: Does it have air conditioning?
Remove the emergency flasher knob and the signal lever.
Take a break for a moment and go down to the base of the column and unplug the wiring. After that you will need to unbolt the bracket that holds the steering column against the dash. You will need to do this in order to create slack in the wiring harness, which is attached to the column housing.
Remove the buzzer switch and turn signal switch assembly next.
The column cover should be ready for removal at this point.
The tilt spring is held in place with a clip; use a flat tip screwdriver and compress the clip for removal.
Here's a shot of the tilt spring being removed. Should you feel so inclined, clean all the old packing grease off and re-lube it.
This greasy mess is the steering wheel lock and lock shaft, and-you guessed it-pull them out too.
One more tool you will need is a pivot pin removal tool. This tool should not run more than $4 at any parts house. Just don't ask the guy behind the counter because he'll probably ask you if it has air conditioning.
Lastly, remove the race and spring and this job is just about done.
Now slide the housing out of the way, and you will find the cause of this whole mess: four bolts. These four miserable bolts (two on top and two below) have a tendency to loosen up over time. Using a torx bit or a 11/44-inch socket, remove these guilty bolts, then slather them with some red Loctite. If all is done right, these bolts should never cause you another problem. But the job is only half done. Now we get to put all this stuff back together again. If a digital camera was used, now would be a good time to scroll through the photos and see how each piece fits.
See, that wasn't so bad. A short while later, everything should be back in its place and no one is the wiser. Now what do we do with all those extra parts we have left over? We're kidding, of course. There should be no extra parts.