Pitman arms are a critical piece of linkage between your steering wheel and your tires. More precisely, a pitman arm links the steering box to the drag or center link. This helps turn an angular motion from your steering wheel and box into the linear motion used to turn the wheels back and forth.
A failing pitman arm can lead to "sloppy" steering (i.e., extra play in the steering wheel) and a sense that the vehicle is wandering or not responding to normal driving methods. A broken or missing pitman arm would cause all steering to fail completely. Replacing a pitman arm takes a few specialty tools and less than a day to complete, depending on your level of experience.
If you notice your steering has lots of play while you are driving, such as the wheel turns more than it should before the wheels engage, then chances are your pitman arm needs to be looked at. Since this is part of your steering and is critical for proper operation of the steering system.
Wandering to the left or right while on the road:
Is your vehicle pulling to one side or the steering seems difficult It is time to have your pitman arm looked at. A bad or failing pitman arm can cause your vehicle to not respond appropriately when you turn the wheel. Not only can it have lots of play, it can be highly inaccurate or seem to have a mind of its own while you are driving down the road. This can be especially dangerous during hazardous weather conditions or on a busy highway.
Removing the old pitman arm:
Step 1: Raise the vehicle and remove the appropriate tire. Park your vehicle on level ground. Locate the tire next to the pitman arm you are replacing and loosen the lug nuts on that tire.
Using your vehicle's owner's manual, locate the lift point at which you want to place the jack. Have your jack stands ready nearby. Lift the vehicle. When you have the vehicle slightly above the desired height, place the jack stands under the frame.
Step 2: Locate the pitman arm. Looking under the vehicle, find the steering linkage and narrow in on the pitman arm. Observe the placement of the bolts on the pitman arm and plan out the best way to position yourself to remove them.
Step 3: Remove the retaining bolt. The large bolt connecting the pitman arm to the steering box can be the first to be removed. These bolts are typically 1-5/16", but they can vary in size. It will be torqued and will most likely need to be removed with a breaker bar.
Step 4: Remove the pitman arm from the steering box. Insert the pitman arm puller into the gap between the steering box and the retaining bolt. Using a ratchet, turn the puller's center screw until the pitman arm releases.
Step 5: Remove the castle nut and cotter pin. On the other end of the pitman arm, you will see a castle nut and cotter pin. The cotter pin holds the castle nut in place.
Installing the new pitman arm:
Step 1: Prepare to install the new pitman arm. Apply grease around the bolt that attaches the pitman arm to the steering box and down around the steering box.
This will help to protect against dirt, grime, and water which can prevent the steering linkage from working properly. Apply liberally around the area, but wipe off any excess.
Step 2: Attach the pitman arm to the steering box. Install the new pitman arm onto the steering gear by screwing in the retaining bolt. Line up the notches on the pitman's arm to the notches on the steering box as you slide them together. Look for and line up the flat marks on both units.