One of the more common problems that come with C4 ownership is a steering wheel that feels loose. In most cases, the wheel will tug freely down and to the left, and perhaps even vibrate disconcertingly on rough roads. If that describes your Corvette, you’ve come to the right place.
The problem is related to the tilt-steering system and the knuckle behind the ball-socket pivot point for the steering wheel. Actually there can be two problems, and on a theoretical 1-10 pain-in-the-rear scale of diagnosis and repair, one registers a 9.0 and the other a solid 9.5—and you can’t really fix one of them without tackling the other.
Here’s the deal: The aluminum steering knuckle is attached to the steering column with four screws and a couple of side pins. Stress on the steering column caused by drivers using the steering wheel for leverage when pulling themselves out of the car causes either the screws or the pins to loosen, and sometimes both. If it’s just loose screws, they can be easily tightened, but getting to them requires an involved procedure of removing the steering wheel and disassembling many of the steering-column components. This includes dropping or removing the column on ’90-and-later models.
But finding only loose screws isn’t quite the victory it seems, because by the time you’ve dug into the column far enough to reach them, you’re only a couple steps away from the removal and replacement of the knuckle, so you might as well swap it out. Of course, that requires you to purchase a new knuckle and pins for about $140, and you want to have the new knuckle on hand when you start the project, because if you bet on the loose screws and you’re wrong, you’ll be, well, screwed.
The other thing to keep in mind about this project is the comparatively high difficulty level for the do-it-yourselfer. There are many small, intricate, and delicate components behind the steering wheel, and each must be carefully removed and replaced in exactly the correct position during the reassembly process. If you’re investing the time to tear down the steering column to fix the loose wheel, buy the new part and do the full repair. It’s comparatively cheap insurance, and more likely than not, stress on the knuckle has tugged the side-pin bosses out of round anyway, which is why the pins are loose. In our ’90 project car, the pins basically fell out, when they should have required some force to drive out with a hammer.
Since we weren’t comfortable attempting this highly complex job on our own, we turned to Cauley Performance, a former Chevrolet dealership (see sidebar) that is still home to some very knowledgeable and experienced Corvette technicians. We let them do the hard work while we photographed the repair process.
The experienced technician, who had a full shop at his disposal, took nearly four hours to perform the repair and get our Corvette steering straight. If you’re planning to attempt the project yourself, plan on taking the better part of a full day, because you’ll want to photograph just about every step to ensure the column’s components are reassembled in the correct position and order.
With the knuckle replaced, there’s a greater feeling of confidence over the road. The steering wheel doesn’t shake as badly over bumps, and that nerve-wracking looseness is gone. Owning and driving a C4 in an involving experience, and few projects are more involving than this one. The results, however, feel great. >hr>
Cauley Performance: Life After Chevy
It was about two years ago when dealer Jeff Cauley got “the letter.” It was the notice from General Motors that his Chevrolet franchise was terminated. Hundreds of other dealers around the country received similar notices, as GM reorganized after declaring bankruptcy. Cauley appealed the decision, but to no avail. He was a man without a bowtie—at least, officially.
The former Chevy dealership in West Bloomfield, Michigan, near Detroit, now houses Cauley Performance Automotive (www.cauley.net), a store specializing in the sale, maintenance, repair, and modification of high-performance and luxury vehicles. During our visit we counted no fewer than 10 Corvettes in the service department, ranging from a concours-appearing C1 to a C4 ZR-1 and several modified C5s and C6s.
“As a past Chevrolet dealer we always put a huge focus on performance cars, mainly the Corvette. As we moved away from the Chevrolet franchise and became Cauley Performance Automotive, we continued to follow the performance segment,” says Jeff Cauley. “Corvettes are still our number-one specialty vehicle for sales, service, and modifications. Whether we’re a Chevrolet dealership or not has nothing to do with our technicians’ experience or our commitment to our customers. After 40 years in business, customer service is still our biggest priority and [it] always will be—regardless of whether there’s a big bowtie on our building.”
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