General Diagnosis and Repair of Your Imperial's Steering Gear

Imperial Homepage -> Repair  -> Steering -> Gear Adustment

Tip from Brad (1966):

The steering gear adjustment screw (at least for my 66) is on the top of the steering gear, fwd of the fluid outlet hose/line.  Look down at the unit and you'll see this adjustment screw looking up at you. The screw is held securely by a lock nut. To adjust the screw, make note of where the screw is oriented, "/", "_", " \", "|". Loosen the lock nut and make sure the screw didn't move from where is was. When the lock nut is loose, turn the screw clockwise (tighten) 1/8th of a turn and retighten the lock nut. Test the steering for free-play. If it's still too loose, try another 1/8th of a turn. BE CAREFUL, and not too critical of "looseness".  Tightening the adjustment screw too much will cause premature failure of the steering unit. Just tighten it enough to get rid of some of the play in the wheel. A little play, 4-7 inches is "normal" as far as I know. 10 -15 is too much.

Tip from Brad (1972):

I agonized about swapping out the steering gear due to my believing the lower casing seal had let loose. The thing puddled steering fluid under the car wherever I parked. I'd priced a rebuild kit and found it cheaper in the long run (including labor) to buy a rebuilt steering gear, and found the cheapest one I could find, $129.00. Before I forked out that much I bought a can of engine degreaser and sprayed the whole can on the steering gear area; pressure-washed it clean. The leak wasn't coming from the main housing seals at all, it was coming from the fluid return port. The 72 unit has the return port on the top front of the unit. The port isn't tapped into the unit, it's held on by two small 7/16 bolts. There's two small O-rings sealing the port to the housing. My seals had given up a long time ago. They were flat and hard. I took the port to the parts store and matched up some O-rings, reinstalled it and presto, no more puddles. Total cost of the repair was 20 minutes of my time, $1.99 for the degreaser and fifteen cents for the O-rings. Total savings over my original estimate, $126.86. I think I did quite well on that one.

Tip from Bob (1981 - 1983):

I've just read the FSM on steering gear removal and here is the heart of the text. Disconnect the negative battery cable. Remove the Steering Column from the car, I'd suggest you disconnect the coupling and under dash mountings and slide the column into the car. Remove the flow and return hoses from the steering gear and tie up and away from the area.  From under the car, remove the steering arm nut and washer, and with a special tool, pull the arm off the splined shaft. Remove the three bolts from the steering gear to frame mounting and drop the gear down. You can probably rent the tool to pull the pitman arm off. You should have the steering wheel in dead center location, then shut off the key to hold it in that position. Look for alignment marks on the sector shaft serrations and the steering arm splines. I don't think that you need to remove all the parts in your message, but I haven't done that on my '81. 

Question from Philippe (1957):

I need some advise about the adjustment of my '57 Coaxial power steering (maybe '56 are the same). I've some play when the engine is running (and twice more with engine off but i think it's normal). With engine on, I've approx. 5 to 10 play at steering wheel. There's an adjusting screw (w. lock nut) on top of steering case. This screw adjusts the "gear lash" as said in the FSM. But the FSM describes adjustment with steering removed (but connected to pump and engine running..). I don't want to remove steering link from pitman arm so does someone knows how to adjust ?

Note that the steering works perfectly except this little play. I don't want to jam the steering.


From Norm:

If it were my car, I would not touch it.

From Bob:

I adjusted the play in my '58 with no problems. It had about 6" when I purchased it, and drove it home 450 miles that way. That was kind of scary. Now it only has 1.5".

Follow-up from Norm:

Consider yourself very fortunate to have found a competent mechanic who understands the operation. Most do not. Few even realize that this is a very critical adjustment meant to be done as the book specifies-not until no further travel can be felt in the adjusting screw.

Lots of play is often a result of a bad idler arm or worn tie rod ends or center link. I would carefully examine all of those "bolt-on, bolt-off" pieces before I would mess with a critical adjustment on the hydraulic heart of your steering system.

Question from Dietmar (1960):

My Imperial has every link and bushing new underneath, has a new idler arm bushing with new bolt, was controlled optically with computer, has every angle as indicated in the shop manual, but it still drives to the right.  Air pressure is controlled, height is perfect and equal front and rear, shocks are new, rims are new, tires are new... Who had same experience and how to solved it?



From Simo:

It sounds like someone has touched the steering gear valve on the steering gear box. (Small item where the hoses are connected to). If this item has been removed and put back again it is very hard to get the car to ride straight again! Drive - adjust- drive ......  Check "power steering" on your Service manual.

From Mark:

I think Simo's on to something here, Dietmar. This valve is on the top of the box, where the hoses attach, and is held in place with two bolts. There is a little bit of play/adjustment here. If it is out of adjustment in even the slightest bit, the car will pull to one side or the other. The way I've set this adjustment is to loosen the two bolts, move the aluminum housing containing the valve (this is the piece the hoses are connected to) either up or down, re-tighten the bolts, then drive the car and see if it's better or worse. If better, I loosen the bolts again, and move the housing a little more the same direction. If worse, I move it the opposite direction. I keep doing this until it's set to my satisfaction. A small adjustment on this valve makes a big difference at the wheel.


From PEN:

What you need to do to keep your car from pulling to the right is to adjust the valve body on top of the steering gear, where the hoses go in. Loosen the two bolts that hold the valve body onto the steering gear very slightly, then gently tap the valve body until it moves a bare fraction of an inch up or down the steering gear housing. Up or down will move your steering wheel right or left, but there is a center point you need to find, and then your car will go straight ahead even with your hands off of the wheel.


From Steve:

A place called "Rare Parts" specializes in steering and suspension parts.  The address is:

Rare Parts

621 Wilshire Avenue

Stockton, CA


(209) 948-6005


From Tony:

Why don't you just rebuild your existing steering gear?. The kits are still available. That way you will know that there are no nasty surprises waiting for you. I have just had mine rebuilt and now it is as good as new.

From Norm:

In order to check whether the pull you are experiencing from your Imperial is from the box or the alignment, perform this simple test:

Park the car and turn off the engine, note the position of the steering wheel with the engine off, now start the car and notice the position of the wheel-especially if it jumps as the car is started. If it does not, don't touch the valve body on top of the box-it is adjusted correctly.

As for slop in the box, here too I would only attempt an adjustment on the box if you have ruled out all other causes: poor alignment, bad idler arm or tie rod ends or center link or other bent or broken suspension parts. Also, a broken rear spring will cause the car to pull or behave irregularly.

Then, there is always tire pressure and set. Sometimes a light pull can be "corrected" by switching the front tires-right on left, left on right. They can take a "set" which causes a pull. I have seen this work countless times.

If all these things are checked and are ok, THEN and only then would I attempt to adjust the box. Do not expect miracles from the adjustment, most often it will just lead to a small improvement.

Follow-up from Dietmar:

I did what Norm said: had the steering wheel straight - started the engine and IT TURNED RIGHT, stalled the engine, took a needle, marked the position of the  valve, loosened the valve, pushed it upwards as the SM said less than a millimeter, fixed the valve, started the engine and IT TURNED LEFT.  Did it again until it did not move when starting the engine.  Went on the road and enjoyed my Imperial!!

Question from Greg (1961):

I adjusted the valve on top of the gear box, which we hoped would adjust the steering wheel from going all the way to the right. When we started the car to try it today, the reservoir cracked. Apparently this was due to the pressure that was built up. Monday I am replacing reservoir and will again attempt adjustment to the valve. If this does not work, we will replace the steering gear box unit as I found a rebuilt one from NAPA. I also have a spare power steering pump, if needed.  I would appreciate any additional thoughts if anyone on the List thinks this is a good plan to solve the problem?



From PEN:

In a '61, when the steering wheel turns all the way to the right by itself, the valve housing on top of the steering gear has been bolted on too far down the steering housing. The solution is to loosen the two bolts and tap it upward on the housing, perhaps an eighth of an inch. If you tap it too far up, the wheel will turn all the way to the left. The goal is to find the exact center, where the valve actuating lever is perpendicular to the steering housing. To find a place to start, loosen but do not remove the two bolts and move the valve housing up and down the steering housing with your fingers, observing the movement with a flashlight in order to estimate the middle position. Tighten it down there slightly, just for adjustment. Do not jack up the front wheels of the car, as when you start it, the wheel might rotate, hit the end of travel, spike the pressure and perhaps blow out the high pressure hose. Keep your hands on the wheel when you start the car, and just feel which way the wheel wants to turn. The more you turn the wheel, the more it will want to keep going if still out of adjustment. If it steers left, move the housing down, if it steers right, move the housing up, gently tapping the housing until you reach perfect center. Then torque the bolts to 15 foot pounds to maintain this setting. For fine fine tuning, road test and readjust. When the exact valve position is attained, the car will tent to steer straight ahead, by itself, no hands on the wheel. Use correct power steering fluid, do not use transmission fluid as the high pressures will cause the system to overheat.

From Norm:

The adjustment of the steering effort via the valve on top of the steering box is EXQUISITELY SENSITIVE and should not , IMHO, be attempted by the uninitiated. The slightest movement in an up or down direction will result in an observable change in the steering pressure one way or the other. You almost have to "think" it up or down using the very slightest tap and then tightening and observing the difference. I did one on a Cordoba some years ago and it took many cycles of trial and error to get it right. Fortunately, I had read that the adjustment was super sensitive and so I just got to the point where the wheel would move in one direction slightly when the car was started. This was eventually eliminated and a completely neutral feel was established. It took about an hour and a half of careful trial and error to accomplish properly.

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