The whole Steering thing has been the biggest surprise so far in the project (and the biggest pain). I’ve spent more time on replacing the steering system than replacing the engine. I had assumed it would not be a problem. I was wrong.

Typically, the Internal Combustion Engine is responsible for generating power that drives 4 other things on the vehicle that you will need to consider when converting to electric. In hindsight, I did not place enough importance on this aspect of the project. Replacing each of these sub-systems is a major undertaking just by itself.

  1. Heat
  2. Air-Condition
  3. Brakes  (Power Brakes)
  4. Steering (Power Steering)

This entry is just for steering.

Once upon a time, vehicles all had manual steering, and this would be one reason to convert a really old vehicle. I decided to go with a 2003 truck that had power steering, so the power steering had to be replaced. When I tried to collect information on how to do this, there was no readily available information on how exactly to proceed. If I called any parts store, they simply looked up the vehicle in their computer and told me that they didn’t make a manual steering box for my vehicle. Yeah, I know. (BTW: My S2000 has electric power steering.. go figure.. I suspect one day, all vehicles will have such).

After collecting lots of info, it appeared that one work-around would be to get an old manual steering box from an older vehicle that would bolt to my newer vehicle, and then go from there.. but it was not obvious how to determine what other steering boxes would fit my truck. Also, on one of the forums, somebody suggested that “Flaming River” made a “Vega Gear Box” (remember the Vega from the 70s) that would bolt to my vehicle.

Either of these seemed like potential fixes but no one could promise that either would actually work. Eventually, after many hours of online searching and phone calls, one of the parts guys at the local Chevy dealership, spent an evening doing research for me and called me the next morning to say that both choices would probably use the same bolt patterns that are on my vehicle, (I will have to leave him something in my will), since the bolt pattern had not changed in many years.

Note: There was another idea, which was to keep the power steering box, without using power. This would allow me to exercise my arms every time I needed to turn the wheels. The steering wheel would be a lot harder to turn than when using an actual manual steering box because the gear ratio would be smaller and the power steering fluid would have to be pushed through the lines every time I turned. That was a non-starter for me. I was going to win this battle.

So I decided to go with the brand new “Vega Gear Box” from “Flaming River” instead of the 16 year old manual gear box that I eventually located at a  junk yard that was 3 hours away. Keep in mind that the new gear box was 10 times more expensive than the junk-yard gear box, and in hindsight, I possibly made the wrong decision, but I will never know.

Here is the power steering box that I removed. The picture is from directly overhead, from the front of the vehicle. Its bolted onto the side of the truck frame. The steering shaft is connected under the blue shop towel. The “pitman arm” on the left, attaches the bottom of the gear box to the cross linkage that actually controls the movement of the wheels. The silver tubes route the power steering fluid from the reservoir that was attached to the ICE, into the actual power steering box, and then to a cooler in the front grill (which you can’t see). You can link here to learn what happens inside a power steering box that makes it easier to turn the wheel.

So when I received the new manual gear box, it was fairly easy (with the help of my brother-in-law) to remove the existing power steering box, and bolt the manual gear box into the same location on the side of the truck frame (using the same bolt holes). It looks like the picture below. At the taking of this picture, we still need to connect the steering shaft to the silver U-Joint… and the big “pitman arm” on the left, needs to be hooked up to the bottom of the box. I’m writing this 3 weeks later, and still trying to complete those two tasks.

Ok.. first problem is hooking up the steering shaft to the gear box. There was no obvious way to do this and there  were no instructions included, so I’m back on the phone to track down more information. I found someone at “Flaming River” who emailed me the instructions. The instructions were quite complex and involved drilling holes and welding stuff together. Lovely.. (BTW: Its amazing how many times on this conversion project that someone with a straight face has told me that I simply need to “weld” something… like everybody keeps a welding torch and mask right there between the screwdrivers and the socket set).

We decided against that, and instead decided to simply take the metal shaft that was included with the kit, and find someone that would make the end of that shaft, look enough like the shaft on the previous power steering box, so that it would hook back up the same way. What could be simpler?? So I simply called around to “machine shops” to find someone that would do this. As it turns out, “machine shops” are only interested in taking really large jobs and no interest at all in something simple like this. Long story short, eventually I asked Leo the metal works guy, and he was willing to machine the part. Once he did, we hooked up the gear box to the steering wheel, but it didn’t work very well..

In the picture below, the new gear box is on the right.. Moving to the left, it has a new “U-joint” attached to it.. then there is the “metal shaft” that I had machined.. so it would attach to the existing “rag-joint” .. which is the weird looking thing on the end of the existing steering shaft..

The problem was there was a lot of “play” in the system as the new U-joint and the existing “rag-joint” worked against each other. (If you want to see a video of what I’m talking about then post a comment and I will post the video). And (yet again) after a lot of discussion and phone calls, we eventually decided that we needed to replace the flexible U-joint that came with the kit, with a rigid “coupler”. And of course, a coupler is not the same length as a U-joint, so the shaft that I had “machined” to attach everything together, was now the incorrect length, so we would need to do that whole process again.

Its interesting, that I try to explain all this “problem solving” in isolation, but typically there are other problems that I’m working out, and they tend to affect each other. For this problem, I can’t decide if we need to completely fix this problem before I give the truck to Leo, who is going to weld in the battery box frame. It was not clear to me how having battery boxes will affect our ability to work on this problem. In the end, we decided to “bolt” in the battery boxes in the engine compartment so they could be removed if need be.

This entry could continue. Once we replaced the U-joint with the coupler and had a new connecting shaft made, the current problem went away (yeah!!).. but we had more problems.At the moment, we have not been able to tighten the “taper bolt” that attaches the “pitman arm” to the “cross linkage”.  I wouldn’t know where to start to explain what that means. In essence, its not a normal bolt, and to tighten it, requires some magic incantations that involve a super fast “air drill” (which most people keep next to their welding torch) which can spin the nut so fast that the bolt can’t keep up. If we try an air drill, and it doesn’t work, then my electric truck might have to do without steering.