Trail Fix 101: How to Recenter Your Steering Wheel
If you spend enough time on the rocks, it’s bound to happen sooner or later — you get off the trail and onto flat ground, and notice that your ABS (Anti-Lock Braking System), BAS (Brake Assist System) and ESP (Electronic Steering Program) lights are on. As you continue driving on pavement, you notice your steering wheel isn’t centered — even in a straight line the Jeep logo is at an angle rather than straight across.
Your Jeep's steering wheel only needs to be off by 5 degrees to trigger the ABS and ESP lights, because your Jeep thinks the vehicle isn’t moving in the direction you're steering. If knocked far enough out of whack, you may not even be able to drive on pavement because the ABS is locked up.
Your Jeep’s computer thinks the Jeep is in a slide, and it’s using the brake system to try to bring it back under control. If that happens, you’ll also notice that your brakes aren’t working properly because the ABS system is already applying the brakes. Technology is a great thing, until it’s not. There’s no way you can drive that Jeep home safely.
The first time it happens you might panic, thinking your Jeep isn’t drivable — especially if you don’t have much in the way of mechanical skills and are a long way from home. Fear not — there is a very simple trail fix to get you back on the road that even an absolute beginner can handle.
1.Loosen Drag Link Adjustment Sleeve Bolts
After verifying that you haven’t actually bent or broken anything, grab a 15 mm socket wrench and park your Jeep on a flat surface with the tires straight ahead. It’s important to make sure they are as straight as possible. If available, have a friend climb into the driver seat to keep an eye on the steering wheel while you crawl under the front of the Jeep.
Loosen (but don’t remove) the two bolts on the drag link adjustment sleeve.
2. Adjust Sleeve Until Wheel Is Straigtened
Grab the sleeve between the bolts and twist toward the ground to move the steering wheel toward the driver side door, or toward the sky to move the steering wheel toward the passenger door. When the steering wheel is straight, tighten up the two bolts. Then take the Jeep for a test ride; you might have to make minor adjustments.
3. Return Home, Investigate Further
Now you can safely drive your Jeep home and check for further problems in the comfort of your own garage, or take it to a mechanic if you prefer. You probably hit your tie rod on a rock, but an off-center steering wheel is often a symptom of a bigger problem.
Here are some things you should check:
- Check that toe in is between 1/16 inch and 1/8 inch
- If you have an adjustable track bar, verify that your front axle is still centered
- Bent tie rod
- Loose track bar bolts, wallowed out bolt holes
- Worn control arm bushings
- Worn ball joints
This steering wheel re-centering adjustment is also one of the steps of a front-end alignment, and is something that all Jeep owners who take their Jeep off-road should learn how to do.