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Easy Mods for Improving GM Pickups’ Steering Performance

Setting Things Straight

Bruce W. Smith
Aug 9, 2017
Photographers: Bruce W. Smith
Inconsistent steering response, drifting all over the road, front-end shudder when the tires spin during hard four-wheel-drive takeoffs, and excessive body roll are typical handling symptoms pickup owners experience when their vehicles’ mileage increases.
There are tremendous forces at work in the steering system, trying to keep everything up front on the straight and narrow, especially on lifted rigs fitted with larger tires. A little wear here leads to a little movement there, and eventually, play in the steering system makes a big difference in how a truck tracks on the road.
Just ask any owner of an ’01-to-’10 Chevrolet or GMC HD rig, be it two-wheel drive or four-wheel drive, with stock or lifted suspension. When mileage reaches about 150,000, the steering starts to loosen up a lot. The good news is there are easy fixes for those steering woes beyond simply replacing the ball joints and tie-rod ends with another set of factory parts.
Photo 2/17   |   Our ’04 Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD’s stock steering gear looks good for having 210,000-plus miles. But from the driver seat, the wear and flex of the components make the truck feel loose going down the road, with a lot of driver attention needed to keep it in its lane.
Cognito Motorsports has diagnosed the areas in the front end that contribute to poor steering, and the company has come up with four cool kits to bring handling back to better than new. Used together, the parts will keep a truck rolling on the right path.
The CMS Alloy Series Tie Rod kit (PN TRK100046) replaces an HD Silverado’s or Sierra’s original GM pieces with much beefier components designed to withstand forces generated on the front suspension in all types of driving conditions, particularly off-roading.
Likewise, the company’s Idler Pivot Assembly package (PN IPAWG8) replaces its stock counterpart with a beefy, cast-aluminum unit, with tapered roller bearings to reduce play and nix steering slop. It also features a weld-in gusset that prevents the original thin steel GM mounting bracket from flexing, which is an issue on trucks with lifts and bigger tires.
Photo 3/17   |   Cognito Motorsports’ tie rods and sway bar endlinks return the steering performance of older GM 2500 and 3500 series pickups to better than new and greatly reduce chances of breaking the front-end parts during heavy-duty uses and off-road driving.
On the opposite side, Cognito offers a support kit (PN PISK2008) for the Pitman and idler arms. The steel brackets mirror the arms’ contour and bolt to them for added strength. Again, it’s all part of the solution to reduce flex in the steering system.
Body roll is also addressed with the CMS Heavy-Duty Sway Bar End-Link kit. The polyurethane bushings, big endlinks, and thick-wall tubular steel connecting rod appear to be twice as strong as the stock components they replace, and the new bushings are far more durable and supportive than the original rubber pieces.
We put the four kits on an ’04 Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD that has logged more than 210,000 on- and off-road miles. The truck isn’t lifted, but it sees plenty of time in the sand, on mountain backroads, and occasionally shows off its “warmed up” 6.6L Duramax engine at the local dragstrips, running in four-wheel-drive mode. It also travels plenty of miles with a big toy hauler in tow. The steering was loose, requiring a bit of wheel sawing to keep the Silverado between the lines, along with some twitchiness in cornering.
After having the CMS upgrades installed at Mobile Diesel Service in Oakland, Oregon, the owner took it for a testdrive and gave us his immediate impressions on the difference the upgrade made for his rig. “I can’t believe I waited this long to have the steering fixed. She drives like a dream now. There’s no play in the steering wheel, no wander going down the road, and the front end doesn’t shudder when I put the hammer down in four-wheel drive. What a difference!”
Photo 4/17   |   A lot of steering play can be attributed to wear and deterioration at the Pitman arm’s idler pivot. Cognito’s Pitman Idler Arm Support kit eliminates that movement by using a machined aluminum idler with internal roller bearings and a weld-in gusset to support the stock mounting bracket on the framerail.
Photo 5/17   |   Components in the CMS Alloy Series Tie Rod kit are nearly twice as beefy as those found under ’01-to-’10 GM trucks. There’s no fear of breaking or bending these monsters.
Photo 6/17   |   Cognito’s Heavy Duty Sway Bar End Link kit replaces light-duty GM components with stronger hardware and urethane bushings. The upgrade helps reduce body roll and steering wander.
Photo 7/17   |   Reducing flex in the steering system improves handling and reduces chances of breaking parts. That’s what Cognito’s Pitman and Idler-Arm Support do for GM’s 2500HD and 3500HD pickups.
Photo 8/17   |   The Cognito alloy tie-rod assembly is about 50 percent larger than the stock components, making them far more durable. Installation is an easy, bolt-on process.
Photo 9/17   |   One trick Mobile Diesel Service’s Ruben Vilalobos uses to keep the truck’s front-wheel alignment close to accurate while working is to adjust the new tie-rod assembly to the same length as the stock part (right). He lines up the Zerk fittings on one end and the tie-rod end of the other. The truck will still need to have the front end realigned after the installation is completed.
Photo 10/17   |   The new sway bar endlinks and urethane bushings help improve body stability. These, combined with new shocks, make a considerable difference in the handling of older GM rigs.
Photo 11/17   |   It’s important to torque all the fasteners for the new steering components and recheck everything 500 miles later. Idler-arm nuts need to be torqued to about 85 ft-lb, the Pitman nut to 120 ft-lb, sway bar hardware to 60 ft-lb, and the idler-pivot-assembly’s hardware to 100 ft-lb, per Cognito’s instructions.
Photo 12/17   |   We removed the stock Pitman idler-arm-pivot assembly, which was showing some small signs of abnormal movement, indicating the type of excessive wear that contributes to sloppy steering.
Photo 13/17   |   Cognito’s answer to keeping the new pivot from moving under heavy steering loads is welding in this little gusset to the front bracket. The frame needs to be cleaned of all undercoating in the area before welding.
Photo 14/17   |   This is definitely the most colorful of the upgrade parts. Cognito uses the heavy-duty aluminum idler-pivot from Super Steer, which features roller bearings supporting the pivot shaft.
Photo 15/17   |   For added stiffening, we’re bolting on this steel idler-arm-support bracket (driver side), which includes a 5/8-inch Heim joint to keep movement unimpeded.
Photo 16/17   |   Cognito Steering Idler Lower Support
Photo 17/17   |   Towing heavier trailers can be taxing if the steering is even the least bit loose. Adding a lift and bigger tires and dropping the drivetrain into four-wheel drive magnifies steering slop. Cognito’s four steering kits tighten everything up for any surface you drive on.

Sources

Cognito Motorsports
Bakersfield, CA 93312
866-426-4648
http://www.cognitomotorsports.com
Mobile Diesel Service
877-421-3187
mobilediesel.co

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