Symptoms of a Bad Pitman Arm

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Once the Pitman Arm is broken or loosed from its housing, the steering wheel will wander as you drive, which calls for an urgent inspection of the car. An unsteady steering wheel is a serious issue because it would make it difficult for the driver (you) to control the car and drive smoothly, even on straight roads.

The Pitman Arm is more like a support gear on most cars – it helps to propel other components in the engine bay by turning them in circular motions. A bad Pitman Arm is a crucial situation, so you should know about the symptoms. Interestingly, this article explains the symptoms of a bad Pitman Arm.

What is a Pitman Arm?

symptoms of a bad pitman's arm
Photo by Paul venter vis Wikimedia Commons

A Pitman Arm is a “spanner-like” shaft that transforms rotary or angular movements into linear movements or vice versa. It is used in automotive steering systems as a linkage connected to the steering box sector shaft to convert the angular motions from the sector shaft into linear motion to steer the wheels.

The Pitman Arm simply transmits the motion it receives from the steering shaft into the drag link, which makes the steering wheel turn left or right depending on where the driver is moving towards. A Pitman Arm is the first linking gear that connects the Steering Gear Box to the Steering Linkages and Steering Wheel.

Symptoms of a Bad Pitman Arm

1. Unstable Steering Wheel

One of the clear signs that indicate a bad or damaged Pitman Arm is an unstable steering wheel – that moment you’re driving, and the steering wheel wander to the left or to the right, and you’re not the one turning it in those directions.

In this situation, you’d find your car pulling to one side, and you have to struggle to maintain your lane. This is a common sign of a bad Pitman Arm, which happens to be a crucial part of the steering system in every car or truck. An unstable steering wheel can put you in deep trouble when driving on a busy road or in bad weather conditions.

2. Inability to Steer

This is the fatality of it all – the situation whereby your car’s steering wheel won’t turn at all because the Pitman Arm has failed completely. Actually, the Pitman Arm won’t get to this point immediately; it must have shown you other signs and symptoms before the issue gets to this point, and once it gets to this point, there’s nothing you can do but you replace the arm.

You’d be in a very dangerous situation if this happened to you on a highway. This is why you should pay attention to other symptoms explained in this post to work on the Pitman Arm when it starts failing before escalating to this point.

But then, if this happens to you while on top speed, don’t force the steering wheel to force; instead, slow down gradually and stop the car; then, call for assistance or phone your mechanic to come and tow the car to the workshop where it’d be fixed.

3. Hard Steering Wheel

You have checked the power steering fluid, and it’s well-gauged, yet the steering feels stiff and hard to move? That’s potentially a sign of a failing Pitman Arm. One of the functions of the Pitman Arm is to enable smooth movement of the steering wheel, so when the arm is faulty or broken, the steering wheel would feel stiff to turn.

If you notice that your car’s steering is becoming unusually difficult to turn or too easy to turn, you should have the Pitman Arm checked. In fact, if you notice any unusual sign with your car’s steering wheel, you should take it seriously and check the Pitman Arm. A simple diagnosis could save you a lot of money on fixing a completely failed Pitman Arm.

4. Sluggish Response from the Wheels

A bad Pitman Arm can cause a sluggish response of the wheels when you turn the steering. This means that the wheels do not respond immediately as you steer. When you start noticing this sign, it calls for attention and checking of the Pitman Arm. Well, not only the Pitman Arm can cause this problem, so check all other components of the steering wheel system.

Frequently Asked Question

What Happens When a Pitman Arm Goes Bad?

The most common scenario is a wandering steering wheel – the steering wheel starts to turn on its own without your control, making it difficult to keep the car in your lane. Other signs include a stiff steering wheel and sluggish response.

How Much Does it Cost to Replace Bad Pitman Arm?

Honestly, replacing the Pitman Arm is one of the cheapest repairs you can have done on any car; the total cost is around $180 in most workshops, but you may pay up to $200, depending on many factors. Parts cost is between $80 and $120, and labor cost is around $50, depending on the number of hours allocated by the mechanic.

Why Does My Car’s Pitman Arm Keep Failing?

Hard frontward collision, accident, wear and tear, and physical damage are some of the common reasons why the Pitman Arm will fail. So basically, it depends on your driving pattern and the state of the components around the Pitman Arm assembly.

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