Really weird problem with '84-up tilt column... fuggin eh!

Ellie Niner

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I just did the usual job of partially pulling down a tilt-multifucktion-automatic shift column to tighten loose screws, and managed to get just about everything back together... even got the dimmer actuator rod, ignition switch rack, and steering wheel lock pecker with its rube goldberg spring back in on the second try...

but when I went to reinstall the lock plate retainer clip, I found that the steering shaft had pulled itself down inside the column jacket about 1/2 or 5/8 of an inch, so I couldn't get the retainer on. The lower bearing was also pulled down out of its race, so I put the nut on the shaft, hooked it with some Vise-Grips and carefully pulled the shaft up until the bearing seated in the race again, and gave it another try. This time, the shaft slipped down about an inch, which was far enough to also pull the shaft out of the center of the upper bearing, leaving it just sitting in its race as half of the balls fell out of the cage and into the steering column jacket. I put some heavy grease in the upper bearing to keep the balls in place while I was trying to stuff the bearing back in place while pulling the steering shaft up through it. The steering shaft has spring tension pulling it down, so I don't have enough hands (or room) to hold it and the upper bearing in place while installing the lock plate, lock plate depressor, and retainer clip.

I don't work on columns enough to remember all the details, but I don't recall having to fight against a spring loaded steering shaft too while installing lock plate. Anybody else encounter this, know if it's a symptom of something else (like a retainer) that's broken down lower on the column... or maybe I'm doing something wrong here? The car I'm actually working on is a 1989 Buick Electra sedan (one of the shrunken head 1985-90 H/C body front wheel drive cars), but the guts in the column look identical to those in my truck.
 

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Been many years for Me of being in a tilt column.
Seems the last one I messed with that had this problem, maybe the lower bearing had fallen apart.
I have a 1988 Buick Century. Seems every time I turn around there is something messed up with that little pig.
 

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Ever get it figured out?

I can't picture what could be causing it.

One thought might be to wedge something down low to keep the shaft in place.

Or, if you have not already tried it, put the spring and lock plate on and then use the lock plate puller to keep the shaft up while you screw the wingnut down.
 

AuroraGirl

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I just did the usual job of partially pulling down a tilt-multifucktion-automatic shift column to tighten loose screws, and managed to get just about everything back together... even got the dimmer actuator rod, ignition switch rack, and steering wheel lock pecker with its rube goldberg spring back in on the second try...

but when I went to reinstall the lock plate retainer clip, I found that the steering shaft had pulled itself down inside the column jacket about 1/2 or 5/8 of an inch, so I couldn't get the retainer on. The lower bearing was also pulled down out of its race, so I put the nut on the shaft, hooked it with some Vise-Grips and carefully pulled the shaft up until the bearing seated in the race again, and gave it another try. This time, the shaft slipped down about an inch, which was far enough to also pull the shaft out of the center of the upper bearing, leaving it just sitting in its race as half of the balls fell out of the cage and into the steering column jacket. I put some heavy grease in the upper bearing to keep the balls in place while I was trying to stuff the bearing back in place while pulling the steering shaft up through it. The steering shaft has spring tension pulling it down, so I don't have enough hands (or room) to hold it and the upper bearing in place while installing the lock plate, lock plate depressor, and retainer clip.

I don't work on columns enough to remember all the details, but I don't recall having to fight against a spring loaded steering shaft too while installing lock plate. Anybody else encounter this, know if it's a symptom of something else (like a retainer) that's broken down lower on the column... or maybe I'm doing something wrong here? The car I'm actually working on is a 1989 Buick Electra sedan (one of the shrunken head 1985-90 H/C body front wheel drive cars), but the guts in the column look identical to those in my truck.
h/c cars in 91 could have been the same design, but I know what you mean by the body ,my first car was one :)

Anyway, I havent opened a tilt column on that car either. Something that comes to mind is this. Is the subframe mounts in good condition? If the steering rack is lower, the column may be tugged by the height difference. ALso there are no rag joints in them, so they must have a way to adjust the length of the column dynamically for purposes of it being on rubber mounts (steering gear) and the IP and unibody being solid. also if you have the subframe drop far enough it just pops off(fun fact)
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I have a 1990 service manual, want me to crack it open?
 

Ellie Niner

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Been many years for Me of being in a tilt column.
Seems the last one I messed with that had this problem, maybe the lower bearing had fallen apart.
I have a 1988 Buick Century. Seems every time I turn around there is something messed up with that little pig.
I know the feeling all too well. This car has 265,000 miles on it, and still runs and drives very well, but there's getting to be quite a few little niggles and (usually minor) stuff going wrong. 33 year old plastic bits getting brittle and crumbling when you touch them, dried out electrolytics in the stereo that cause the display to randomly go dark and the volume to go up and down on its own, leaks in the self leveling rear suspension. I have a 1991 Lumina with 237k that's suffering from the same type of problems. Both of the cars are well past their prime, but yet they run too well to get rid of... I'm pretty sure the basic mechanicals on both will easily make another 100k, but there's going to be a trail of increasingly hard to find parts falling off the whole way. And of course things that are still readily available (like powertrain components) never fail.

Ever get it figured out?

I can't picture what could be causing it.

One thought might be to wedge something down low to keep the shaft in place.

Or, if you have not already tried it, put the spring and lock plate on and then use the lock plate puller to keep the shaft up while you screw the wingnut down.
I haven't been able to tear back into it yet, as the car is being used for daily transportation during the workweek (it's my Dad's car), and can't be taken out of service except for short periods on weekends. He's having to drive it with no steering shaft bearings supporting the wheel. The spare car is laid up waiting on bodywork, so it's been a pain in tha ass trying to juggle everything.

Looking closer, I can now tell that only the main column jacket and guts are the same between my truck and this car; the car has a steering rack mounted behind the front wheels, so the steering shaft comes through the firewall, then immediately heads down to the rack at about a 75 degree angle. The steering shaft is sucking itself far enough down inside the tube that I can't get a nut on the shaft with the lock plate puller. Was hoping that somebody else mighta had this issue before and fixed it, so that I could line up the parts ahead of time instead of having to chase them down after I pull the column and disassemble it.
 

Ellie Niner

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h/c cars in 91 could have been the same design, but I know what you mean by the body ,my first car was one :)

Anyway, I havent opened a tilt column on that car either. Something that comes to mind is this. Is the subframe mounts in good condition? If the steering rack is lower, the column may be tugged by the height difference. ALso there are no rag joints in them, so they must have a way to adjust the length of the column dynamically for purposes of it being on rubber mounts (steering gear) and the IP and unibody being solid. also if you have the subframe drop far enough it just pops off(fun fact)
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I have a 1990 service manual, want me to crack it open?
Hmm... didn't think of that. We don't have rust here, but there could be some nasty rubber mounts on the subframe (haven't been under the car enough to remember how subframe is mounted). I'm going to tear into it again this weekend, and if we ain't got it figured out by then, mebbe I will hit you up on the shop manual.

P.S. I dig your Olds' strut tower brace!
 

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Hmm... didn't think of that. We don't have rust here, but there could be some nasty rubber mounts on the subframe (haven't been under the car enough to remember how subframe is mounted). I'm going to tear into it again this weekend, and if we ain't got it figured out by then, mebbe I will hit you up on the shop manual.

P.S. I dig your Olds' strut tower brace!
Lol.. thats the rear subframe mount LOL

Anyway, 6 mounts. the pattern is shaped where 2 are front left and right, the rear 4 are not inline front-back eachother but if standing at the front of car the rear most 2 are closer to the doors than the 2 in the middle betweeen that front 2 and rear 2
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this is a 95 lesabres, not the same but pretty much the idea. this is front-back top-down

my car the mounts/captured nuts yanked out of the rusted unibody. I have a 99 aurora(same concept) with a subframe that the unibody is fine, but the subframe rusted around a mount and pulled through on just one in driver side, even just one actually will drop it an inch or so and those later 90s had better mounts/design, so definitelly a good checking. make sure if you jack it up to use a pinch weld on the rockers meant for tire jack if you can to not lift the subframe itself (thus planting the body onto it)
 

Ellie Niner

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We finally got the issue sorted out yesterday. Not wanting to pull the column out of the car and completely disassemble it to see what exactly happened inside of it, and not being able to have it out of service for any length of time, we drilled and tapped a small hole in the center of the steering shaft, then screwed a long piece of 1/4-20 thread stock into it. Had one person pulling up on the threaded rod to hold the steering shaft in place and the lower bearing seated in its race, while a second person installed the upper bearing, spring, lock plate, lock plate depressor, and retainer (after sliding them down the threaded rod).

The whole thing probably sounds pretty Rube Goldberg-y, but it surprisingly worked very well. Unfortunately, I didn't get any pictures of this in action, as we needed all four hands to accomplish the job. I've always dreaded steering column repairs, as they're fiddly and have 15 pounds of parts stuffed into a 5 pound box, and you have to assemble everything in exact order and in a specific way. In fact, now that I'm thinkin' of it, GM probably crossed the 20lbs of sh¡t line when they went ahead and stuffed the wiper and dimmer switches in there... to the point that they had to remotely mount the dimmer outside the column and use fulcrums and plastic plungers and pushrods to operate it. I'm finally starting to retain some info so that diving into one isn't a completely foreign experience, but I don't do it often enough to get proficient at it... and then you have weird sh¡t like what happened with this car. The column on my truck needs a couple of things fixed, but I haven't run out of excuses to put it off a little longer.
 

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We finally got the issue sorted out yesterday. Not wanting to pull the column out of the car and completely disassemble it to see what exactly happened inside of it, and not being able to have it out of service for any length of time, we drilled and tapped a small hole in the center of the steering shaft, then screwed a long piece of 1/4-20 thread stock into it. Had one person pulling up on the threaded rod to hold the steering shaft in place and the lower bearing seated in its race, while a second person installed the upper bearing, spring, lock plate, lock plate depressor, and retainer (after sliding them down the threaded rod).

The whole thing probably sounds pretty Rube Goldberg-y, but it surprisingly worked very well. Unfortunately, I didn't get any pictures of this in action, as we needed all four hands to accomplish the job. I've always dreaded steering column repairs, as they're fiddly and have 15 pounds of parts stuffed into a 5 pound box, and you have to assemble everything in exact order and in a specific way. In fact, now that I'm thinkin' of it, GM probably crossed the 20lbs of sh¡t line when they went ahead and stuffed the wiper and dimmer switches in there... to the point that they had to remotely mount the dimmer outside the column and use fulcrums and plastic plungers and pushrods to operate it. I'm finally starting to retain some info so that diving into one isn't a completely foreign experience, but I don't do it often enough to get proficient at it... and then you have weird sh¡t like what happened with this car. The column on my truck needs a couple of things fixed, but I haven't run out of excuses to put it off a little longer.
since you got it fixed if you notice any steering wheel rubbing or have opportunity just to look under with a flashlight, You can check those mounts. if you also use a jack on the rear of the subframe you may be able to move up the subframe from worn mounts or if it barely moves they are likely good. over time those mounts being worn can wear out column bearings and put the wheel in a bind where it doesnt wasnt to rotate in a circle, but this is extreme sag concerns not normal wear
 

Ellie Niner

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since you got it fixed if you notice any steering wheel rubbing or have opportunity just to look under with a flashlight, You can check those mounts. if you also use a jack on the rear of the subframe you may be able to move up the subframe from worn mounts or if it barely moves they are likely good. over time those mounts being worn can wear out column bearings and put the wheel in a bind where it doesnt wasnt to rotate in a circle, but this is extreme sag concerns not normal wear
Since you mentioned that, I did check everything out under the the car pretty closely. With the exception of one rubber subframe mount (left rear) that has a tiny bit of wear... has compressed about 1/4", everything else looks almost new. Everything in the steering column went together well once we pulled the steering shaft up into place, and is operating smoothly. Also installed new struts up front and had it aligned, and the car is driving better than it probably should, though I guess 266k really ain't *that* many miles these days! :driver:
 

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Since you mentioned that, I did check everything out under the the car pretty closely. With the exception of one rubber subframe mount (left rear) that has a tiny bit of wear... has compressed about 1/4", everything else looks almost new. Everything in the steering column went together well once we pulled the steering shaft up into place, and is operating smoothly. Also installed new struts up front and had it aligned, and the car is driving better than it probably should, though I guess 266k really ain't *that* many miles these days! :driver:

do you have an air compressor under hood? And also, on the rear suspension, there is a inner/outer tie rod , it’s nla except for the outer part. But people often use it for a tie down or recovery. Id make sure the i boot is okay, maybe pump new grease, and check out the outer for wear.
recently came up for a 1989 Electra park avenue on forums and they found a junkyard part
 

Ellie Niner

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@AuroraGirl Yep, it does have the air leveling rear suspension. It still does work, though the compressor occasionally decides to take a siesta, usually when there's a heavy load in back. The air shocks are in bad shape and leaking oil, and there are a few minor leaks in the air lines running to the back of the car. The rest of the suspension components are in good condition and rear tires are wearing evenly. We're debating on whether to stick with the air setup or convert to a conventional one... sort of leaning toward keeping the air, as the car is frequently used to pull a small-ish futility trailer that ends up with a fair amount of tongue weight sometimes.
 

AuroraGirl

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solenoid exhaust valve on the left next to the intake/exhaust in that pic
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The drier has wear-out chemical to keep moisture out, and its also responsible for maintaining residual pressure. I also found that you cant replace it likely, BUT THEY make a rebuild kit for it. New chemical, seal, spring, and etc.
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there is apparently a PN for the hose but its NOS stuff

There is a chance the compressor is running too much and cutting off with a breaker kinda like how wiper motor has one . Power windows I think have one too.
The leaking is definitely something to address, I recommend keeping it in good order especially since it works. The location of the pump is nice for a few reasons. At best, you can make it an easy rig replacement with a 12 volt compressor and you just have to manually add air, at worst you have easy access to the bad pump haha!
 

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AuroraGirl

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Also if you didnt know the Air line follows the wiring harness into the cabin and then runs to the rear(good thing lol) and I included the diagram of how it runs

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Buick service info says if new line has to be run for whatever reason, to run it outside the car along the fuel lines and inside the cavities near exhaust components(to not melt)

Anyway, The pics I got are from this video, if you ever need to understand or diagnose the system.
xc_hide_links_from_guests_guests_error_hide_media

Also I learned today that the "same" or similar kit to redo the dryer for your car works for two of my cars(who have later compressor)

If you really want to live the YOLO SWAG life the 2006 Buick Lucerne air compressor is the most modern upgraded version following the lineage of your models. its a bolt in and plug in affair for a 95-99 but probably requires connectors+pinning on yours.

Also if you ever need to know the ELC brain center is the height sensor itself. If it dies, no air ride. Air ride is easily restored in this situation with a on-off- switch from switched ignition to the pump and a on-off switch to the exhaust solenoid to deflate.
 

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