Steering gear looseness can be checked at two separate points: from the steering wheel at the beginning of the inspection procedure, and from under the car during the procedure. The first point gives an indication of whether or not play is present; the second check helps pinpoint the exact location of the free play. Steering gear clearance checks should be made with the tires in a straight-ahead position. A standard/conventional steering gear normally has a slight play in the turning positions.
Rock the steering wheel back and forth using a very light pressure, and feel for free movement. The engine should be running on power-steering-equipped cars. No clearance is acceptable; a very slight amount of play is tolerable. If it is difficult to feel any free play, watch the left front tire - a perceptible turning motion should be seen as soon as the steering wheel is turned.
On most cars, it is possible to reach up from under the car and turn the steering shaft while watching the linkage. Again, no clearance is acceptable, and a very slight clearance can be tolerated.
Check the steering shaft couplers and U-joints for looseness and wear; worn units should be replaced. Also rotate the coupler and steering shaft and try to move the shaft in and out of the gear; excessive play indicates the need for steering gear service. Courtesy of Moog Automotive, Inc.
If clearance is felt, observe the various parts to determine where the free play occurs - that part should be adjusted or repaired. On standard steering gears, you should also grip the Pitman arm and try to move it up and down as well as sideways in a steering direction; again, only a barely perceptible amount of play can be tolerated.
Also from underneath the car, check the security and tightness of the steering gear mounting bolts, and the condition of the steering coupler. Any faults should be noted and repaired.
Conventional steering gears of the manual type should be checked to ensure they have an adequate supply of lubricant. Lubricant level is checked at the filler plug at the top surface of the gear housing or by removing one of the sector gear cover retaining bolts. The correct level is normally even with the bottom opening.
The lubricant level of a manual steering gear should be even with the bottom of the fill plug opening; if there is no fill plug, check the level at the upper-most sector cover bolt. Courtesy of Ford Motor Company.