How To Replace Your Idler Arm

Chevy truck assembly
They don't stay new forever, replace worn suspension parts as needed. Getty

Idler Arms and Pitman Arms are part of the steering system that links your steering box to the center link, and then on to the hub assemblies. The Pitman Arm, also known as the "steering arm," is the main player while the idler arm supports the other side and allows the proper movement to take place when you turn the wheel. If your steering has gotten sloppy they may need replacement. Signs of this are your steering wheel moving 2 inches or more from side to side without turning the wheels at all, front end shimmy that can't be attributed to out-of-balance wheels, or lurches to the left or right when you go over a bump. Sometimes only one is bad, but many people say that replacing both of them is easy, good insurance, and doesn't cost much more because the labor is essentially free (since you already have to take everything apart to replace one or the other.)

If you think it's time, read on and you'll be able to get them replaced in no time. And thanks to Chuck for the chance to show you how on his Hummer!

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Tools You'll Need

A 3-jaw gear puller.
This 3-jaw puller is used to remove gears and pulleys. photo courtesy Craftsman Tools

Be sure you have all your tools for replacing the idler and Pitman arms before you start. It's tough to go to the auto store with no steering!

What You'll Need:

  • 18mm - 1/2 drive wrench and socket
  • Pitman arm puller
  • 5/16 - 1/2 drive Socket and a long breaker bar/pipe
  • 11/16 and 5/8 - 1/2 drive socket and wrench
  • Torque wrench that goes to 180 ft lbs
  • Diag wire cutter
  • Flathead screwdriver
  • Needle nose pliers
  • Jack stands and a floor jack
  • Grease
  • 2 Cotter pins 1/8 x 1-1/2
  • New Idler Arm

Got it together? We're ready to replace that idler.

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Removing the Idler Arm

Remove the idler arm cotter pins.
Remove the cotter pin, then crank that big nut off the idler arm. photo by Chuck

I did this lying on the floor of my garage. This is one of those jobs that will leave you wishing you had a lift. If you do, great! If not, jack up the truck under the right A-arm and remove the right wheel. Put a 6-ton jack stand under the frame and let the truck down on the stand. I also leave the floor jack under the A-arm as a precaution. You don't want the truck to fall on you.

Remove the cotter pin from the nut on the idler. Take a 15/16 (or appropriate size) socket and a long breaker bar and remove the nut. I put a long piece of pipe on the breaker bar to get the nut loose.

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Remove the Idler Arm Bolts

The two idler arm frame bolts.
Remove the bolts that attach the idler arm to the frame. photo by Chuck

Next, with the cotter pin and giant nut removed from your arm, remove the 2 bolts that fasten the idler arm to the frame. In my case, there was an 11/16 nut and a 5/8 bolt. Now comes the fun part.

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Separate the Idler Arm from the Centerlink

Pickle fork removing idler arm
I the puller doesn't fit right, use a pickle fork to separate the idler from the centerlink. photo by Chuck

Separating the idler arm and the center link can be a real pain. You should use a Pitman puller, but some pitman pullers don't fit on the idler so you're forced to muscle it off with a pickle fork.

Trim some metal off of the inside of your Pitman puller and you can use it to remove the idler.

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Pause, then Reinstall the Idler Arm

new idler arm
Install your new idler arm now. Chuck

If you're going to replace the Pitman arm do it now before you reinstall the idler. With the idler removed the center link will drop down allowing you to pull the Pitman arm out. Once you do it you will see what I mean.

If the new Pitman is in or you're not doing that job today, go ahead and finish up the idler arm.

Prepare a new cotter pin to match the one you removed by trimming it with the diagonal pliers so that both the long and short end match the pin you removed. Place the idler arm's bolt in the centerline. Insert the new bolts through the frame making sure to put the new washers under the bolt heads. Position the idler arm so the frame bolts slide through the bolt holes. Install the washers and the nuts. Torque to your car's specs. Install the large nut on the idler arm center link bolt. Tighten to spec taking care to line up the cotter pin holes. Always tighten to align the holes, never go backward! Install the new cotter pin, grease the arm and you are finished.