Diagnose and Fix Steering Play/Rattle - TTORA Forum
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post #1 of 120 (permalink) Old 08-01-2010, 09:27 AM Thread Starter
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Diagnose and Fix Steering Play/Rattle

Symptoms:
When the truck is not moving, with the engine on or off, the steering wheel can be freely rotated approximately 1" back and forth without moving the front wheels. At highway speeds, the truck will occasionally wander to the left or right, requiring frequent correction. When driving over speed bumps or pot holes, a clear "rattle" or "clunking" can often be heard and felt in the steering wheel. When driving on firm, rocky, off-road surfaces, the steering rattle is very apparent and annoying.

Affected Vehicles:
My truck is a 2004 Toyota Tacoma 4wd with tilt steering and no suspension/engine/steering modifications whatsoever. I am the second owner of the vehicle, and it has low miles (39,000 as of July 2010). I have read about similar steering problems reported on Toyota trucks from a wide range of years/mileages/models/options, but am not exactly sure which vehicles are known to be affected. If anyone has information about this problem on other years/models, please post it.

Problem:
This is a very common problem, and to the best of my knowledge, the issue was figured out by "Gunny" in a thread titled "Clunking steering column/shaft?" from 2005:

https://www.ttora.com/forum/showthrea...light=steering

Several other users contributed important information as well, and this thread is long but definitely worth reading if you think you have the same problem. The problem isn't actually found until many posts into the thread, but even then, keep reading, as they keep making progress on the issue all the way to the end. Thanks to anyone who contributed info in that thread. Anyway, the problem is that a slip joint along the steering column, (which is designed to collapse during a front end collision), develops a small amount of play over time. Toyota has never done a recall for this issue, so it's probably safe to say that the slip joint won't actually come completely loose to the point that you cannot steer the truck. The upper steering assembly can be replaced completely, but many people who have done this report having the problem come back after some time.

Diagnose Your Truck in 10 Seconds:
As Gunny pointed out, you can check to see if your vehicle has this problem simply by reaching under the dash and holding the steering shaft in one hand while slightly turning the steering wheel back and forth with the other hand. The shaft is behind the Lower Left Hand Finish Panel, and you can reach it without having to remove anything. I included a picture of this area in the procedure below. If you detect a small amount of movement between these two locations (you will feel a small knock, or pop), then it is likely that your truck has this problem. I have read many posts where people have replaced entire steering racks only to find that the problem is still there. This quick test will tell you if there is play in the steering system even before reaching the steering rack.

Solution:
Disclaimer: As stated in other threads on this topic, this fix involves altering a safety feature (the slip joint) that was designed into the vehicle and should only be performed at your own risk. This is not a manufacturer-approved repair, but a user-discovered fix for the problem. That being said, I performed this fix and it completely eliminated the play in the steering wheel that I used to have. I can hardly believe how much better my truck handles, so I am kicking myself (and taking the time to make this post) for not having done it a long time ago. The fix involves doing a tack weld that allows the two parts of the slip joint to function as a single member, instead of two members which don't have a tight fit. Others have accomplished the same thing by installing a roll pin instead of doing a tack weld. I would like to think that in the event of a front end collision, the small tack weld (or roll pin) would fail and allow the slip joint to collapse as designed, so that the steering wheel is less likely to be shoved toward the driver. And as others have pointed out, in a crash the tack weld would have to outlive the 4 large bolts, which attach the steering assembly to the truck, in order to allow the steering wheel to injure the driver. In my opinion, having to constantly correct the truck's direction down a straight highway is a much larger safety risk. After fixing mine, I feel like I have much better control of the vehicle when driving on the road.

Difficulty:
This is a very easy fix to perform yourself if you have any sort of mechanical ability at all. You only need to disconnect the battery, disassemble part of the dash, detach a few electrical connectors, unbolt the upper steering column, and partially disassemble the steering assembly. You don't even have to crawl under the truck for this one. The only tools you need are a screwdriver, open wrenches, socket wrenches, and an allen wrench. On the recommendation of others who have done this fix, I also bought a pair of needle nose vise grips to help with detaching the tilt-wheel springs, and I agree that this made it very easy. Since I don't have the equipment to weld, I found a custom fabrication shop nearby, took the part to them, and they did the weld for free. Even if they had charged me $50, it would have been money well spent. There are no special service tools needed, and it isn't even necessary to remove the steering wheel from the upper steering column in order to get to the part you need. Since you don't need to remove the steering wheel, you don't have to remove the airbag either... but a lot of people would say to remove and store the airbag out of the way since it's almost like working next to a small bomb.

Procedure:
*Edit: The procedure below worked for me and many others, but terryj5 in post #43 of this thread found an alternate (and probably easier) way to remove the steering assembly. Thanks terryj5 and others who have also made helpful suggestions in this thread.

Disconnect battery.


Remove airbag (optional)
Although you don't have to remove the airbag to get to the part you need for this fix, some would say to disconnect the airbag to avoid injury if it decided to go off unexpectedly. If you want to remove the airbag, expose one screw on each side (image 1) of steering wheel by removing the small plastic covers (image 2). Using a torx bit, loosen each screw until airbag unit is able to separate from the steering wheel (image 3). You won't need to remove the screws completely. Gently pull airbag away from steering wheel and disconnect the black ground wire and yellow connector (image 4). Store airbag out of the way on its metal/barcode side (plastic side up):



Remove upper and lower column covers.
Turn steering wheel left 90 degrees to expose screw (image 1). Remove the screw and do the same for the screw on the right hand side. Remove the screw on the bottom of the column cover (image 2). The three screws are shown (image 3) in case you forget what they look like later on:



Here's what the upper steering column looks like (image 1) with the column covers removed (image 2):



Remove the "Lower Left Hand Finish Panel".
Lift the hood release lever (image 2) and remove the two screws underneath (image 3). Push the lever back through the panel and leave it hanging from its cable:



On the Lower LH Finish Panel (image 1), remove the 4 bolts and 1 screw (image 2), then remove the panel (image 3):



With the panel removed, you can clearly see the steering shaft. Hold the shaft in your left hand (haha) and turn the steering wheel back and forth with your right hand to feel the play between these two locations. You will feel a slight knock/pop if your slip joint is worn:



Remove small panel at ignition location.
Pop out the small panel which houses the clock (image 1) and disconnect the cable (image 2):



Remove Ventilation Duct.
Remove the single screw holding the duct in place (image 1), then pull/jiggle each end of the duct downward until it detaches (image 3):



Detach electrical connectors.
Unplug 4 connectors near the steering wheel (image 1) and 2 more near the ignition, then push the cables out of the way:



Detach tilt wheel springs.
Tilt the steering wheel to the highest position, and unhook the 2 tilt wheel springs on top of the steering assembly (image 1). This is made easier with a pair of needle nose vise grips:



Detach brake assembly spring.
Unhook the spring between the steering assembly and brake assembly (image 1):



Loosen shaft/u-joint connection.
Some people say to mark the shaft where it connects to the u-joint to prevent the steering wheel from being crooked after putting everything back together. I marked mine (image 1), but after handling the assembly once it was out of the truck, the marks wore off. Luckily, the shaft in the 2004 Tacoma was splined and had one raised area which lined up with a slot of the same size on the u-joint end. In other words, I don't think it is possible to install the steering wheel so that it is rotated while the front wheels are pointed straight ahead. Marking the shaft/u-joint connection might make it easier to line things up later on, but if you pay attention to the shape of the splines, you won't have any trouble. Anyway, to free this connection, just loosen or remove the clamp bolt (image 2):



Unbolt steering assembly from truck.
Looking up from below, find the 4 bolts which connect the steering assembly to the frame (image 1 - lower 2 nuts not quite in picture). Remove the 2 nuts toward the front of the vehicle first, then loosen (but don't remove) the 2 nuts closest to the steering wheel. Then, sit in the driver's seat, hold the steering assembly, remove the 2 remaining nuts, and pull the assembly towards you until it slides out of the u-joint connection. Because of the splines on the end of the shaft, it may take a little bit of effort to free it up. Now the steering assembly should be sitting in your lap:


With the assembly removed, it will look like this:


And this:


And this:



Expose the slip joint.
To get to the slip joint, first remove the 2 allen bolts shown below (image 1)


Then place the assembly with the steering wheel down, and lift off the part of the assembly connected to the ignition:


To separate the shaft, just fold it down around 90 degrees (image 1), and it will lift straight up from the u-joint (image 2-3):


Now you've got the part of the shaft with the sloppy slip joint. Twisting the two parts of the shaft against each other, you can feel a little bit of movement and hear a "popping" or "clanking". The amount of movement at this location is small, maybe 1/16" of an inch, but as others have pointed out, when this is projected out to the radius of the steering wheel, it is much more noticeable. These two parts of the shaft in my truck had a hexagonal shape, meaning it would be impossible for the play in the slip joint to become completely lose to the point that you could no longer steer the vehicle... reassurance for anyone who decides not to do this fix. The arrow in the image below points to where the two parts of the shaft do not fit tightly and where the weld will be done:



Weld the loose slip joint.
Since I don't have the capability to weld, I had it done by a custom auto fabricator nearby. He recommended we weld it in two locations since a single tack weld might be able to break under a heavy steering load. So he welded it in two locations opposite each other:





Put it back together.
Now just put everything back together in the reverse order and you're done.


On my first drive after performing this fix, I could immediately detect that the truck handled better. No more clattering over pot holes, and no more wandering around and constantly correcting on the highway. It felt like a completely different vehicle.

One person who did this procedure reported that it took care of 90% of the play in the steering wheel, and that he attributed the rest to play within the u-joints. I've tried very hard to notice any other play still in the steering system, and there may be a tiny amount still there. However, I can't tell if it's just me being paranoid, if it's because the tread on my tires is low, or if it's because the truck hasn't had an alignment or rotated tires in over a year. If none of the above, then it might be the u-joints, but it's so miniscule that I wouldn't even consider trying to fix it.

I have not yet been off road, but at 100 miles after doing the fix, everything feels great, and I highly recommend this to anyone with the same problem. As you can see, it is not hard to do.

Last edited by route1286; 01-07-2012 at 08:03 PM. Reason: added link to old post
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post #2 of 120 (permalink) Old 08-01-2010, 09:41 AM
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Nice to see real tech in this folder. Great writeup!

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post #3 of 120 (permalink) Old 08-01-2010, 02:32 PM
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Good write up!!!! I need to go back and read through it again, great work thanks!
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post #4 of 120 (permalink) Old 08-01-2010, 11:59 PM
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This should be a sticky. Excellent work.

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post #5 of 120 (permalink) Old 08-02-2010, 12:05 AM
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awesome write up, I have the day off tomorrow, maybe I'll get up early and get this done, looks like it could take some time to get everything out.
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post #6 of 120 (permalink) Old 08-02-2010, 08:05 PM
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WOOO! I followed your instructions and did this today, what a difference! no more clanking offroad whatsoever, and no wandering on the highway, thank you so much for this writeup!
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post #7 of 120 (permalink) Old 08-05-2010, 12:30 AM
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I was just out tearing up a bumpy dirt lot and have absolutely zero clunking. thanks again man!
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post #8 of 120 (permalink) Old 08-05-2010, 12:59 AM
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Nicely written... should be in the wiki ( Tech/FAQ's ^ )

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so fuck off you little 18 yr old lying ass punk.
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post #9 of 120 (permalink) Old 08-05-2010, 11:13 AM
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Thank You!

Very nice...I have these symptoms on my 04 too, and was about ready to cough out the $$ for a new rack...I will definitely be doing this first .

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post #10 of 120 (permalink) Old 08-05-2010, 11:26 AM
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any estimate of turnaround time on this from start to finish ?

3.4 5 speed , sc with urd 7th , trd headers , 4.88 with detroit locked rear. 295/75 on trd 16" fake beadlocks
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post #11 of 120 (permalink) Old 08-05-2010, 12:24 PM
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I have this exact problem... thanks for the writeup, i gotta get this done asap.

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post #12 of 120 (permalink) Old 08-05-2010, 09:26 PM
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i tried to complete this in my 05 DC tundra, i WISH it were this easy

theres no way to get the shaft out of the column. instead of the two allen bolts on the sides of the tilt joint, there are two bolts in there that look like another bolt screws into them then pulls them out.

i have had this on TWO tundra's now, and i am seriously considering going to another truck (ie Ford)

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post #13 of 120 (permalink) Old 08-05-2010, 09:38 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by NjTrash View Post
any estimate of turnaround time on this from start to finish ?
if you have a welder, you can get be driving your truck again in about 2 hrs. otherwise it just depends on how long it takes to get the piece welded.

I strongly recommend that everyone with these symptoms,do this!
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post #14 of 120 (permalink) Old 08-06-2010, 07:39 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RAB89 View Post
if you have a welder, you can get be driving your truck again in about 2 hrs. otherwise it just depends on how long it takes to get the piece welded.

I strongly recommend that everyone with these symptoms,do this!
sweet , I have a welder so hopefully I can do this this weekend

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post #15 of 120 (permalink) Old 08-07-2010, 01:44 PM
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I just put 32s on my truck and this problem got wayyy worse. excellent write up, its on my priority list this week.

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post #16 of 120 (permalink) Old 09-13-2010, 02:10 PM
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Very nice write up! Thanks for the detailed DIY.

Seems like who ever attempts to do this can eliminate a few steps towards the end. To me it seems like you can just leave the shaft attached to the steering wheel. I don't think it is necessarily to completely remove the shaft from the steering wheel. There is plenty space to weld the small taps. I wouldn't be worried about heat transferring down the shaft from welded taps.

Thanks again. I will test out my truck when I get home tonight!
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post #17 of 120 (permalink) Old 09-22-2010, 08:51 AM
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I read that thread late last night and was thoroughly convinced that the modification to the steering column slip-joint made perfect sense.

So today, instead of doing the things I originally set out to do around the house, I dove into this project. From start to finish, it took all of 1.5 hours and was a complete & utter success! I am very pleased. The slight click/knock that I would hear backing out of my driveway as I turned is gone. A short test drive revealed that the steering simply feels more planted & solid.

I did the entire procedure on the fly, as reading the TTORA write-up made so much sense to me. The only deviation I made was to give each 'flat' of the slip joint a pretty little tack weld. If two are good, six must be better.

I think I've convinced my buddy with a '98 that this is required for his as well.


Andreas
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post #18 of 120 (permalink) Old 11-02-2010, 06:06 PM
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Great write-up thanks so much. The whole process took me 3 hours, which included 20 minutes drive time to get the joint welded.
I did have a bit of a freak-out session though when the welder brought the shaft to me, he laid 3/4" welds on each side where I told him to put TAC welds. Bout lost it on the guy as I specifically told him to tac weld and explained the importance of the crush-affect that would need to happen in the event of an accident. He didn't charge me, and I just came home and grinded down the welds to be quite thin on each side. Here's hopin..

Oh yeah best part, took it down the washboarded road next to mi casa and rattle/clunk GONE! So nice!

Mostly sittin in the garage, otherwise never on level ground
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post #19 of 120 (permalink) Old 11-21-2010, 03:12 PM
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I did this today...My steering feels amazing...

I have a few thing to add...

You dont have to remove the column from the truck. I did this whole job in about 30 mins. All you need to remove is the dash trim,vent, column covers,2 6mm Allen's and the 12mm pinch bolt and disconnect the wiring. I did not remove the airbag, or disconnect the battery. Just dont turn the key on when the airbag is unhooked or you will get a airbag warning light.

tools used

screw gun
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12mm racket wrench
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post #20 of 120 (permalink) Old 12-04-2010, 09:40 AM
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WOW! i did this last weekend and what a difference. thanks for the write up. all 1st gen owners should do this mod

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post #21 of 120 (permalink) Old 12-05-2010, 04:53 AM
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update for me.

all my steering issues, including the "rachet" sound all stems from a bad steering rack. the noise starts from the steering rack and travels up the intermediate shaft and i hear it down by my feet.

Last edited by IamTacO; 12-16-2010 at 02:36 PM.
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post #22 of 120 (permalink) Old 12-15-2010, 07:15 PM
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Mine started doing this a few years ago after a trip to Glamis. I thought for sure it was a loose inner or outer TRE but couldn't feel any real slop in them when I had it on a lift or on the ground. I just had mine aligned and made sure the tire shop that aligned it checked the rack and TRE's before the alignment too and they said all is good - it must be something loose in the column. I did this mod to fix mine and the problem went away instantly! I'm so glad I don't have to buy a rack and pinion. BTW, 98-2002 4runners, 98-2004 tacos (4wd, 2wd and prerunners) all have this same shaft and will all eventually have the same problem.
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post #23 of 120 (permalink) Old 04-26-2011, 12:39 PM
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I completed this mod yesterday along with installation of a new, used, steering wheel. This mod can be a bitch to complete. The duct work was frustrating along with all the wiring that was attached to my duct work, including my aftermarket alarm. Once the unit is out its not too dificult, just make sure you mark the side that is up or down (on the shaft that is by the u-joint) because it can go in upside down. That was a slight setback, the unit itself is pretty heavy and awkward going back in, trying to line up the bolts. Overall, I feel like the little shimmy I did have is gone. Worth the mod, yes, but barely. LOL. Maybe tomorrow I will feel a bit differently.


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post #24 of 120 (permalink) Old 06-10-2011, 10:18 PM
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Best thread EVER!

Just got done with this mod in 1.5 hours of taking my time and cleaning the dash interior along the way. All I can say is this works! I've been chasing the dreading clanking all the way from my rack bushings, rack guide bearing, and tie rods. Now my 98 drives like new. The bad news is that I exposed all the scary amateur wiring the previous owner did when he replaced the stereo....I'll just put the dash back on and ignore this for now.

Thanks!
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post #25 of 120 (permalink) Old 06-13-2011, 08:08 AM
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Has anyone that can weld tried to weld the shaft in place without removing it?


It looks like you could at least weld it at this stage

Quote:
Originally Posted by route1286 View Post

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post #26 of 120 (permalink) Old 06-14-2011, 09:09 PM
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I've had this problem in my 2004 since I can remember, and never took the time to really take it apart to figure it out.

I figured it was the yellow "tilt ball" part that would cost a fortune and be a real pain to replace!

Now I will and try to get pics of welding it in the car, I'm lazy...

Ugly '85
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post #27 of 120 (permalink) Old 07-29-2011, 09:38 AM
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bump about welding it in place

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post #28 of 120 (permalink) Old 07-29-2011, 01:15 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Volcomander View Post
bump about welding it in place
Something about welding that close to the airbag would worry me. Surprised nobody has attempted to force some black RTV or jbweld into the gap of that slip section to see if that would suffice.

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post #29 of 120 (permalink) Old 08-02-2011, 07:36 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by vegaskurt View Post
Something about welding that close to the airbag would worry me. Surprised nobody has attempted to force some jbweld into the gap of that slip section to see if that would suffice.
Think im gonna try that, just seems like a PIA to remove EVERYTHING and sounds like it is as Supramann said

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post #30 of 120 (permalink) Old 10-02-2011, 09:12 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by vegaskurt View Post
Something about welding that close to the airbag would worry me. Surprised nobody has attempted to force some black RTV or jbweld into the gap of that slip section to see if that would suffice.
I doubt a coupla lil spot welds would produce enough heat to be of issue.
I don't believe the gap is large enough to squeeze anything into it.

re-pin or weld... weld if you never want to do it again

Quote:
Originally Posted by Volcomander View Post
Think im gonna try that, just seems like a PIA to remove EVERYTHING and sounds like it is as Supramann said
I say do it... then report back... so's I can be sure it's safe

Quote:
Originally Posted by Scootn2nature View Post
so fuck off you little 18 yr old lying ass punk.
'00 Taco SR5, xtrcab, V6, 5-SP, 4X, and some extras...

Truck...
~n~ ...off road action photo's
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