Tilt Steering Column Loose?

by George Nenadovich


A common problem with GM/Saginaw tilt steering columns is the upper pivoting section becomes "loose" from the lower section causing wobble or excessive play in the column. The only way to solve this problem is to completely disassemble the column and tighten the four mounting screws that hold the pivoting section base to the lower column section.


Here is a column shift tilt from a 75 Monte Carlo. After removing the steering wheel this is the view you will have. For a proper rebuild, you should remove the column from the car. Remove the 3 screws from the lock plate cover plate indicated by arrows. Two are already removed in this pic.

This is the steering column lock plate removal tool. If you do frequent column work, you should buy one. You can also get these or similar ones from auto stores that have tool loan programs.

This is the view after the cover plate is removed. The arrow indicates the snap/retaining ring that needs to be removed in order to disassemble the rest of the column.

Tool threads onto the steering wheel stud. Arms force the lock plate down as you turn the nut that sits on top of the arms.

The tool has pressed down the plate about 1/8" and you can see the groove where the ring resides. I have moved the ring up using two small flat blade screwdrivers to walk the ring up the stem. Remove the pressure on the lock plate by loosening the tool. This will bring up the ring and let you remove the lock plate.

With the lock plate and the turn signal disc removed, you can see the turn signal mechanism. The 3 arrows starting at 1 o'clock and going clockwise hold the turn signal assembly to the steering column upper section. The last screw holds the turn signal arm to the assembly. The turn signal screw has slightly different threads than the other three so don't get them mixed. Don't forget to remove the hazard flasher knob.

The lower arrow shows the factory "harmonica" connector for the turn signal mechanism. Simply slide this up and it will come off the retaining clip. THe upper arrow indicates the ignition switch. For tilt columns, the orientation is 180 degrees different than non-tilt columns. So, when changing from a non-tilt to tilt, you will have to rotate the wire plug for the switch 180 degrees.

This shows the harmonica connector removed from the column.

This is the steering column support bracket. Use a 1/2" socket to remove all 4 screws.

This is the reason you need to remove the support. You need to access the turn signal wiring loom and remove it from the column. Note its installed position so you can replace it in the same position.

Here is the loom removed from the column. Notice factory overspray. You can now slide the turn signal assembly from the column. You will need to make the harmonica connector slide up the column and as your other hand gently pulls on the assembly. Use a long flat blade screwdriver to guide the harmonica connector completely out. It will take several tries but it can be done.

With the turn signal assembly removed, you will see the three large Phillips screws to be removed so the upper steering column collar can be removed from the column. The white single arrow indicates the key cylinder tang that needs to be depressed in order to slide the key cylinder from the column. On some of the 69-72 versions the tab can be covered by flashing and you will need to use a small screwdriver to break the flashing to access the tang. The black arrow indicates the turn signal contacts and can be removed after the key cylinder. It is an easy piece to break so take you time to remove it along with the small black spring that holds it in place.

Arrow indicates the same tang as in previous pic

This is the horn and key signal contact set. Spring only goes on one way on plastic housing.

Arrow indicates the "pop-up" spring for the tilt mechanism. Use a Phillips screwdriver to press down and rotate the cap counterclockwise to remove. Gently ease up on cap slowly so spring does not fly out.

This is the pop spring removed with cap and base pin still inside the spring. Notice cap has tangs to hold it in place inside column.

Now you will need to disassemble the lock cylinder interface. The lower arrow indicates the 1/4" hex head screw holding the lock plate pin spring. The upper arrow shows the snap ring that needs to be removed from the gear that engages the rack below. The second arrow from the left shows the tilt lever guide plate and needs to be removed. It easily slides out. The arrow on the far left, is the pivot pin. More info on this below.

Here is the same side view but a different angle. Arrow indicates screw that needs to be removed. Notice the steering wheel nut threads in this pic. These are 9/16-18 threads. Use a die if these are mushroomed due to someone using a hammer to tap down on stem to remove the steering wheel instead of using a steering wheel puller.

With gear, spring and lock pin removed, you will need to remove the pivot pins.

This is the pivot pin removal tool for Saginaw columns. This is a must to remove the pins. Can be purchased from auto tool stores as well as www.harborfreight.com

Simply screw tool into pivot pin and then tighten large 1/2" nut. As you can see in the pic, the pin is about 1/4" out. Repeat for the other side.

Arrows indicate the bars that tilt collar engages. Use the tilt lever and pull it forward. Lift the collar as you pull on the tilt lever and the column section will unhook from these bars.

These are the two levers that hold onto the pins.

This is the rack that the plastic ignition gear engages. Left arrow shows a common area where these can break which will prevent the key from starting the car. The right arrow shows an area to be greased.

Same item but with small guide spring shown. Make sure you don't loose this spring. The large area in the center of the rack slides on the left pivot pin. Notice orientation of the rack so you can replace the spring in the same position.

AHA!!!!!! This is the problem. Notice how this screw is about 1/8" up from the base pivot material. There are four total and you can only see three in this pic. The fourth is also about 1/8" up and needs to be tightened. To permanently fix this problem clean the threads and then apply some Loc-tite thread locker. Tighten all four screws using an E8 Torx socket.

Right arrow indicates the rod that connects the rack and the ignition switch. The other two arrows indicate the small 5/16" screws that hold the ignition switch to the column. The switch has slotted holes so there is a small amount of adjustment if needed.

This is the engine side of the column. Remove the retaining ring indicated by the arrow to remove retaining collar so you can access the lower bearing.

Use a small screwdriver to gently tap down the direction of the arrow to remove the bearing.

Bearing is removed from the column. Hard to notice in this pic but the bearings are "bone dry" and need to be greased. Use a grease needle in a grease gun to pack the bearings.

This is the upper column section. Notice bearings here are also bone dry. Use the grease needle again.

Here is the flip side of the same piece. Lower bearings are also dry. Grease them too.

Here is a comparison of the 73-77 (left) column lock out arm compared to the 69-72 on the right. The 73-75 A-body columns will work in the 69-72 A-body models but have the different arm. The 76-77 will also work but many parts were changed inside so you have to swap out the column as a unit and I believe key cylinders are different for 76-77 models. You will have to have the key cylinder remade to your existing key (you can not install your original key cylinder(69-75) in the 76-77 columns.


Reassemble column in reverse order as shown in pics. Expect to take at least 1 hour to do a complete teardown and rebuild. If you are painting the column this will add to the time required.