Need a social distancing project? Fix that wonky steering wheel
I needed a win. The last couple of projects on my 1987 Porsche 911 Carrera were the replacement of a cruddy oil pressure line and a worn-out clutch slave cylinder, both of which left me covered in muck and everything that sticks to it. I wanted a nice, clean project for once—it was time to fix that wobbly steering wheel.
The bouncy, loose-feeling steering wheel hadn’t made the car undrivable by any means, but it gives enough play in the steering column that you notice it is out of place. This isn’t something I want to be distracted by if I hit a bump in the middle of a corner. Fortunately, this problem is a pretty known one. There is a plastic bushing inside the steering column that basically turns to gooey dust over the years, and I’m sure mine was the original 33-year-old item. I had already bought the part, so let’s see if my guess was correct.
Getting this job done didn’t take any special tools I didn’t already own, and hopefully you have the same experience. You’ll need a 13mm wrench, a 27mm socket with an extension, plus the ratchet. A pretty long, small flathead screwdriver too—and, most importantly, have your magnetized extension handy. You’ll thank me later. I also had a bright LED flashlight to really see what I was doing. That’s really about it; just a few steps to do and we’re ready to go.
The first thing I did was disconnect the battery. Anytime you’re working with a steering wheel, the worst thing is to keep hitting the horn and making your neighbors crazy with the BEEEEEEEPING as you fuss with getting the horn pad or button off. It’s just a good place to start in general, so there you go. Another thing I always do on my cars is have a little piece of tape marked on the battery with the size of the wrench needed to remove the terminal. It saves doing the “was that a 12mm or a 13mm?” dance back and forth to the toolbox the next time you need it. So, battery done. Now to the inside.
On a 911 of this vintage, the horn pad is a rectangle that can be removed by gripping the outer corners and popping it off. I had never done this on this car before, so I was surprised how much gusto I needed to apply, but maybe it was just stiff. I was really trying not to crack anything, and fortunately it came off as designed with a pop. There is a small wire connected to a tab on the back of the horn pad that you’ll need to remember to reconnect, but that’s it. For the photo I am using one hand, but you’ll want a hand on each side.
With the horn pad off, it’s easy to see the big 27mm nut holding the steering wheel on. Using the socket and extension, I did not have to use gargantuan force to get it off, but it was tight. I did move the wheel to the steering locked position, and then with one hand on the rim and other on the ratchet, the nut came loose no problem. You can brace the spokes some other way if the nut is really frozen on there, but this worked for me just fine. Luckily, the steering wheel slid off the shaft easily, so I didn’t even need to get the puller out of the drawer. I always keep a table off to the side for project parts, and the pieces were now finally accumulating.
With the steering wheel out of the way, you can really start to see what you’re doing. Right away, I could see the broken bits of old plastic all over the inside of the plastic housing and around the lip of the bearing. The play was now very easily seen in the space where that plastic had once existed, so it was a nice confirmation I had been on the right track.
I tried to get a close up photo. Most of the grease in here was still present, and the bits of shaved plastic were stuck in it. What also tends to happen is that what’s left of the bushing will just disintegrate and fall down the shaft, which I am told isn’t a problem. I couldn’t see anything left of the bushing other than these little pieces, so I didn’t worry about trying to pick anything out down in there. I took my trusty shop-vac to it, and with that and a rag I got all the debris out. Keep in mind that the grease you pick up can get on your interior, so be careful where you drop that rag afterwards.
Here is the little sleeve bushing just before I put it in. I put some graphite grease on it before sliding it down the shaft into place. You’ll also notice a pretty large C Clip that needs to get pried out of the way, I just used a screwdriver carefully—it wasn’t a big deal, and I put it right back in place after sliding it past its mounting point. You’ll also notice in the photo that I had removed the plastic clamshell around the column. This isn’t necessary to replace the bushing, but I also wanted to investigate my brights/turn signal mechanism on the left side of the column, which seemed loose. Nice to see it all apart and clean the dust out of it, regardless. There are a couple versions of this bushing out there, I “paid up” for the official Porsche part that was made of metal instead of plastic. I imagine that over time this is the improved, superseded part. It had a “928” part number (928.347.739.02, to be exact), which tells me it’s probably the same bushing they used for all production models. Slide it on, tap it in, done. That’s it!
Here’s where the little magnetized tool came in handy. When putting the little clamshell halves back in, there are four little screws in there that hold it together. This kept me from fiddling around and dropping them into the housing when I was putting it back together. It’s very straightforward, and then the horn contact at the top gets its two screws as well—easy!
After I mounted the steering wheel back on, even sitting still it was obvious all the extra play in the steering was gone, and my test drive confirmed it. Nice and smooth, and no up-and-down out of the wheel if you hit a bump. I also tightened the mechanism for my bright light/turn signal mechanism, so that feels better also. It makes a big difference to me that the things I touch and feel in a car work right—this was a fun little project that was very satisfying. If you have a couple of hours on a Saturday, this is very attainable, and it has a nice reward at the end—a long drive.