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Steering Relay Origional Author: Alan Richer (OVLR)

What a miserable job. It damned near killed me at least twice.....8*)

This is not a job I recommend for the weekend warrior mechanic. It requires good mechanical skills, a willingness to deal with nasty dangerous mechanical components, and ingenuity to deal with compressing large springs and securing them while assembling other bits around them. In short, this is ugly work.

Why would you want to rebuild a steering relay? Honestly, that's not an easy question to answer. With after-market replacements running about $150 and a full kit of parts being about $60-70 with seals, bushings and a new shaft, it's partially economic. The other part of it is that replacing the relay's innards is much easier than replacing the whole relay, as you won't need tactical nuclear explosives to get it out of the frame. That's why I did it - start to finish 3 hours and no front-end removal.

The tools you'll need (except for the spring compressor) are no more than the basics you already have for Rover repair, with the addition of a few sections of 1.5 inch iron pipe for use as a hollow drift for moving the bushings around in the relay. Also, a small hydraulic bottle jack can come in handy for moving a stuck shaft in the relay when a little direct force is needed.

DISCLAIMER: This is not a simple job, and it can lead to you getting very badly hurt if the spring gets loose. Be extremely cautious in dealing with the main spring and the split bushings, as a 100-pound spring can inflict a LOT of damage on you. Be cautious, and use the information in the manuals as a guide. If you get burned, zapped, stung bitten or whomped by the spring it's not my problem...

Well, now that we have THAT out of the way let's begin.

Put the Rover's wheels in the direct-forward position and remove the upper and lower arms from the steering relay. Don't forget, the bolts go through the shaft edge and have to come out completely to release the arms. Now, the relay's ready to come apart.

First thing in disassembly, make sure you pull the bottom mount ring - you can't get the bottom plate off otherwise. With that, I pulled the top and bottom plates, exposing a world of rust. Ick. I expect you'll find the same, so don't be surprised. The top seals on these often died, letting water and crud in to eat up the bushings.

If your relay is in half-decent shape, you should be able to tap the shaft out the bottom into a box padded with rags. The box will cushion the landing of all the bits as the tension comes off the spring. If not, as mine certainly wasn't, then you'll have to be more persuasive.

In disassembling mine, I hammered the shaft down for 5 minutes or so, basically doing nothing but bouncing the spring about. The bushes were so worn and rusted in place that NOBODY wanted to move. I ended up putting a jack under the lower bush set to get it to move, and hammering down the top one with a bar to do the same there.

Then, with the jack, I pushed the shaft up and out - not gradually, but all at once. I didn't mean to do it that way.....


I don't recommend this method if you value your peace of mind. If you need to push the shaft out the top, put the box over the relay to restrain the pieces coming out, and collect them once the spring's lost tension.

After retiring to the house to change my shorts, I collected all of the parts and retired to the workshop to clean them up. ICK.

The thrust washers were OK, as was the spring and the thin spring washers. The bushings were shot, and the shaft was an absolute mess.

In my case, being lucky enough to have a lathe I re cut the oil seal races and the cones and managed to salvage my shaft. I wholeheartedly recommend replacing the relay shaft as a matter of course - the steel isn't terribly hard in these and the seal races wear very badly. The spring, thrust washers and flat washers in mine were entirely reusable with a bit of cleaning up on the wire brush. Yours will no doubt be similar.

To recompress the spring I used a method recommended to me by Bill Maloney, of list fame. It involves inserting a small drill rod through the cross-drilling on the older relay shafts and using this as a fulcrum to "screw" the spring down against one of the split bushing sets. It works well, but is nerve-wracking in practice.

The newer types with no cross drilling really do need the Rover tool for compressing the spring or an equivalent, as there's no easy way to get that thing tight and get the bushings on and secured. There are other methods, like pressing the spring and tying it with nylon line, but if you care to attempt these, you're on your own - I recommend the Rover tool or an equivalent.

For those with a cross-drilled shaft (a bolt in the top of the shaft to put oil into is a good identifier), here's the method I used.

I oiled and mounted the lower set of the bushings with a hose clamp, put one of the narrow spring washers into place, put a drill rod through the crossover and attempted to wind the spring down.

First off, don't use a nail or something like that. It's too soft, and could give way. I got halfway through winding it up with a nail and stopped 'cause the nail was bending. Drill rods are cheap and easy to get in a good tool supply. Worst-case, use a thin screwdriver - you need something with respectable steel.

Also, this will NOT work if you are holding the assembly in your hand.

The only way I managed to make it work for mine was to clamp the shaft in the lathe with the headstock locked so that I could get both hands on the spring to wind it on. Even with this, it was a nerve-racking business. If you don't have a setup like this, I recommend a bench vise or the like with wooden blocks in the jaws to keep from deforming the splines on the end of the shaft.

Wind the spring on until the top of it clears the top cone of the shaft. Now, put on the other thin washer and a set of oiled bushings over the top cone and secure them with a 2" hose clamp, FIRMLY! You don't want them popping loose.

I finally got it all secured, then replaced the seals in the end caps (simple job - drive out the old ones and seat the new ones with a bit of sealer) and headed back outside to put it all back together.

I cleaned out the case with a wire brush on a drill extension shaft, then oiled the dickens out of it to get the bushings to slide (also having been oiled inside and out).

      Bevel the top edges of the top bushing set with a file. The inside of the relay is line-bored at the ends to give the bushings a good fit, but the center is wider and the bushes expand as they go into it. You will spend a LOT of time pounding to get them into the second machined area if you don't bevel them to ride up into it.

After large amounts of pounding (see above) I got the silly thing back in. Once the shaft is in place and centered, all that needs to be done is to replace the top and bottom covers and refill the relay with oil.

    2 things to note:
    • The hardware on the case is not SAE - it's BSF! Don't confuse the bolts, and for pity's sake don't lose any. they're not easy to replace - don't ask me how I know...

    • Secondly, it's easier to get the top plate in first, then use it to finish-align the shaft. the bottom one will then push its thrust washer up into place nicely and seal it all up. Use Hylomar or the equivalent on the gaskets - they're leakers for sure if you don't.
What do I think of it?

It's holding oil now, it's no longer filled with rust, and it's a lot more solid than it was. I think I need to loosen up the steering box on my 109, but we'll see how that goes after the work and back run tomorrow.

The steering feels much more precise, somehow....


Copyright Dixon Kenner, 1995-2011. Last modified March 15, 2005.
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