Pitman Arm (Meaning, Functions, Symptoms & Replacement)

The pitman arm is simply a component of your vehicle’s steering system, attached to its gear shaft and producing a rotary movement through its ball joint or steering linkage.

This constant rotation leads to the left or right action of the wheels. However, this depends on how the steering wheel is turned.

Drivers and car owners should ensure their pitman arm are properly functioning, as a bad pitman arm can affect steering control in a dangerous manner.

The pitman arm is another significant component of a vehicle’s steering system; hence, you should give it adequate attention.

What Does the Pitman Arm Do?

What Does the Pitman Arm Do

The pitman arm plays a crucial role in the automotive or truck control mechanism by serving as the connector within the steering box sector shaft that translates the angular movement of the steering shaft into a linear motion required to control the wheels.

The pitman arm is the first of three angular turning connections, as the sector shaft supports it and, in turn, provides support to the drag connector or middle connector link using a track rod.

Therefore, it helps in the passage of movement from the steering mechanism to the drag or center connector, resulting in its left and right direction and steering the wheels appropriately.

The idler arm is found in one side of the middle linkage from the pitman arm and car’s frame and supports the middle or drag connector to give the required height.

It is essential not to have a bad or worn-out joint because it may result in play in the steering and put it in its worst possible state.

Pitman Arm and Idler Arm

Idler arm mechanism provides pivot support for the steering connection in any automobile or truck that features a stereotypical parallelogram steering connection.

The idler arm holds the outer part of the middle connection on the passenger’s side of the car. It is fastened to the car’s frame or subframe.

Notably, an idler arm is connected between the opposite parts of the middle link from the pitman arm and the car’s frame to hold the central link at the required height.

The idler arm is more prone to wear than the pitman arm due to its pivot role.

Again, you should make sure that you lubricate the idler arm using a grease gun at every oil change, especially if the idler arm is coated with grease paintings.

Also Read: Vehicle Control Arm – Everything You Should Know

Bad Pitman Arm Symptoms

Bad Pitman Arm Symptoms

The following are some symptoms of a bad pitman arm.

1. Inability to Steer Your Vehicle

Whenever you encounter a complete failure in your pitman arm, it will cause you to lose the ability to steer your car.

Therefore, replace the pitman arm as soon as possible to avoid future disasters that could result in the complete loss of your vehicle’s steering.

Inability to steer your vehicle is dangerous, so whenever you notice this sign, stop the vehicle immediately or pull over to one side of the road that is safe and contact any available experienced auto mechanic for help.

2. Steering Malfunction

If you discover that your steering undergoes several plays, for instance, if the wheel is experiencing an excessive turn than usual before the wheels engage, it is a sign that you need to work on your pitman arm.

As long as the pitman arm plays a crucial role in your steering system, it would be best if you took it to an experienced auto mechanic for proper check-ups and repairs.

Immediately your vehicle fails to steer, as usual, notify your auto engineer and fix your pitman arm.

3. Wandering to the Left or Right on the Highway

If your car is swaying to one side or the other or experiencing difficulty in steering, it shows that your pitman arm needs adequate attention and care. Failure to look into it will result in your Car malfunctioning whenever you steer the wheel.

Apart from the several plays that the steering will undergo, it could malfunction or stop working while driving, which is a risk on its own, especially during unfavorable weather conditions or when you are in the middle of a busy road.

Also Read: Brake Light Blinking (Causes & How To Fix)

Can I Drive With a Bad Pitman Arm?

It is not advisable to drive your vehicle if you have a bad pitman arm. In the event that you continue to drive with a clapping or noisy pitman arm, the ball joint that connects the pitman arm to the center link will separate, leaving you unable to steer your vehicle.

Therefore, you have to prevent this unfavorable and risky situation by ensuring that the pitman arm is looked into or replaced as required and at the right time.

How Often Does the Steering Pitman Arm Need Replacement?

How Often Does the Steering Pitman Arm Need Replacement

Under normal driving conditions, the pitman arm does not need to be replaced before it reaches 100,000 miles.

It is important to note that current diving in bad road conditions can increase the chance of you needing a pitman arm replacement sooner.

If you constantly drive on bad roads, you should expect all your suspensions to be replaced faster than usual.

If you have loose or worn-out tie rod ends, you will probably need to replace your pitman arm and idler arm, which might cause subsequent problems.

Also Read: Can You Drive Without Power Steering? (Answered)

How to Perform a Pitman Arm Replacement

If you want to replace a pitman arm, there are specific expertise tools that you may need, and it may require just one day to complete, based on your skillset and experience. Below are the steps necessary to remove and replace a pitman arm.

1. Get the Car Ready

This step may involve lifting the left side of the vehicle, placing a jack stand around the A-arm under the frame on the left side, followed by lowering the car down to rest on the jack stand to enable easy removal of the wheel.

2. Removing the Pitman Arm

Take off the huge nut that supports the steering box and pitman arm simultaneously with a breaker bar and a ¾” drive socket. Make sure it is tightened to at least 180ft pounds.

Then, with a pitman arm puller, separate the pitman arm from the steering shaft.

3. Take Out the Bad Pitman Arm

Remove the nut and cotter pin that binds the pitman arm to the center connection. You can separate both parts using a puller or pickle fork. Gently pull it off after pulling down on the center link.

If you encounter difficulty pulling it off, loosen the two bolts that join the idler arm to the frame and take it down. Then apply grease to the steering box tapered bolt to wipe off any moist substance or dirt.

Match the pulled-out cotter pin and shorten a part of its length as you make arrangements to fix a new cotter pin.

Check out this video for more tips on pitman arm replacement

4. Install the New Pitman Arm

When you take a close look at the steering box, you’ll always find splines and four flat points that the splines can fit into.

Fix the arm to the steering shaft, and ensure the spines are piled up while a tapered bolt is installed in the center link. Drop the split lock washer on the steering shaft, ensuring that it is fastened to around 180ft. Ibs.

Install the nut on the pitman bolt, and tighten it to the specified rate. Meanwhile, endeavor to line up the cotter pin hole during the installation. Then, fix the new cotter pin and apply the pitman oil with grease.

Frequently Asked Question – Pitman Arm

What Is a Pitman Arm?

A pitman arm is a vehicle’s component that joins the steering linkage to the steering column and helps to hold the other part of the linkage from the idler arm. It is also a tool that translates the circular motion from the steering gearbox to the center link. It is a key reason why there is always a back and front motion steering your vehicle tires.

What Happens When a Pitman Arm Goes Bad?

When your pitman arm goes bad or becomes faulty, it can make you lose all your vehicle’s steering control; this can either cause your vehicle to pull over to the side of the road or make your steering difficult to control. It is a dangerous situation that needs to be avoided by replacing your bad pitman arm.

Can You Drive With a Bad Pitman Arm?

Trying to drive with a bad pitman arm is not advisable; because when it experiences complete failure, it will make you lose all your vehicle steering control. Therefore, whenever you notice signs of a bad pitman arm, endeavor to find a possible solution because its complete failure is disastrous.

How Much Does It Cost to Replace a Pitman Arm?

The total cost of replacing a pitman arm is approximately $200 and $300. Labor charges may cost within the $100 and $130 mark. The cost of parts for its replacement ranges between $90 to $150 mark.

Can a Bad Pitman Arm Cause Death Wobble?

Yes, a bad pitman arm can cause death wobble. People always assume a bad stabilizer causes death wobble due to its resulting steering stabilizer failure. However, they are mistaken because death wobble is caused by many things ranging from bad pitman arm, tie rods, track bar, wheel bearings, steering center link and shaft, ball joints, alignment, or tire pressure.

What Causes Pitman Arm to Wear Out?

Whenever there is a vehicle accident, the pitman arm can be damaged. Additionally, improper tightening after servicing and poor maintenance can cause pitman arm damage.

How Long Does It Take To Replace a Pitman Arm?

A pitman arm replacement can take between 1 to 2 hours depending on the skill and experience of the mechanic.

What Are Pitman Arms Made Of?

Previously, during the late 18 to early 20th century, to be precise, pitman arms were constructed with wood; however, in recent times, pitman arms are now made of steel.

Does Rack & Pinion Steering Have A Pitman Arm?

No, they don’t. They are more light-weighted; hence, they do not need parts like pitman arms, idler arms, center links, or even tie rod sleeves located in conventional steering mechanisms.

What Is A Pitman Arm Seal?

The pitman arm seal is a shaft seal that connects the pitman arm to the steering gearbox. They are meant to ensure that fluid runs easily via the steering system. However, owing to the continuous movement of the shaft, the pitman arm seal can wear out, and once this happens, it needs to be taken to an expert for replacement.

How Long Should a Pitman Arm Last?

The pitman arm undergoes constant pressure anytime you move the steering wheel, even if the engine is not on. However, it lasts very long, and if given proper service and care routine, it can last as long as your vehicle’s lifespan.

Can a Bad Pitman Arm Result in Tire Wear?

Yes, a bad pitman arm can result in tire wear. Initially, a bad pitman arm will cause tires to toe-out, which will cause their internal parts to wear out.

Scott Greene is a seasoned automotive technician for over 5 years and has been deep into advanced automotive diagnostics for a couple of years. He Loves writing about Automotive Diagnostics and Repair, Trouble codes, Buyer guides for various car parts and accessories, and lots more. 

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