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Summary
  • The pitman arm transfers the driver’s steering wheel input to the steering linkage, turning the wheels in the process.
  • Loose or unresponsive steering, vehicle wandering, and clunking or popping noises when turning are telltale signs of a failing pitman arm.
  • It’s never a good idea to drive with a bad pitman arm. Doing so can result in a loss of steering ability.

All vehicles have a complex steering system consisting of multiple components working together to turn the front wheels. Some applications include a pitman arm, which connects the steering gear to the steering linkage.

Like almost any automotive component, the pitman arm can eventually wear out or become damaged. When that happens, you’ll likely notice one or more undesirable symptoms that you’ll want to address right away.

What Does a Pitman Arm Do?

Some vehicles have a conventional steering gear (instead of a rack and pinion assembly). Applications with a conventional design have a pitman arm that connects the steering gear to the rest of the steering linkage. Typically, such an arrangement is found on trucks and older, rear-wheel drive cars.

car steering system
The pitman arm, which is connected to the output shaft of the steering gear, transfers the driver’s input to the steering linkage.

When the driver turns the steering wheel, rotational motion is transferred through the steering column to the steering gear. The pitman arm, which is connected to the output shaft of the steering gear, then transfers the driver’s input to the steering linkage. From there, the steering linkage connects to the steering knuckles to turn the wheels back and forth.

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Some pitman arms do not have any moving parts and are considered non-wear items. Others include a moveable ball joint that connects to the steering linkage.

Symptoms of a Bad Pitman Arm

Do you think you might be dealing with a bad pitman arm? If you notice one or more of the following symptoms, you might be right.

Note: Many other problems can mimic a bad pitman arm. You (or your mechanic) should conduct a thorough diagnosis before performing any repairs.

Loose or Unresponsive Steering

The most common sign of a bad pitman arm is loose or unresponsive steering. When the pitman arm’s tapered hole is damaged, or its ball joint is worn, there will be enough play to make the steering feel vague when you turn the wheel.

Vehicle Wanders While Driving

Another symptom of a bad pitman arm is a vehicle that wanders while driving. You may notice that you have to correct the steering more frequently than before. The vehicle may also dart to one side or the other while driving over bumps.

driver holding steering wheel
Loose or unresponsive steering is the most common sign of a bad pitman arm.

Clunking or Popping Noise While Turning

Although somewhat rare, a faulty pitman arm can make a clunking or popping noise when you turn the steering wheel.

FAQ

How do I test my pitman arm?

A dry park test is the easiest way to check a pitman arm. Simply have an assistant turn the steering wheel back and forth slightly with the vehicle on the ground. While the wheel is being turned, watch the pitman arm and note any play.

Can you drive with a bad pitman arm?

You should not continue to drive with a bad pitman arm. If the pitman arm fails, you could experience a complete loss of steering ability. A faulty pitman arm should be replaced right away.

What is the difference between a pitman arm and an idler arm?

The pitman arm connects the steering gear to the steering linkage, whereas an idler arm connects the steering linkage to the frame. Depending on the system design, there might be one or two idler arms on the vehicle. Each idler arm is designed to hold one end of the steering linkage level with the other end.

Getting Your Hands on a Replacement Pitman Arm

A pitman arm that’s badly damaged after a collision will need to be replaced before you can get back on the road. Thankfully, you can get a replacement that fits your vehicle with the help of CarParts.com.

You won’t even have to take one step outside your door to get yourself some replacement parts. You can use your mobile phone or computer to visit CarParts.com. Use our vehicle selector and input your vehicle’s details, including the exact year, make, model, and engine.

We make it a point to get our auto parts from some of the most reliable names in the industry. With our warehouses strategically located all over the US, you’ll receive your order in a matter of days.

Spare yourself some time and trouble by getting your replacement parts as soon as possible. Shop at CarParts.com, and order a new pitman arm for your vehicle.

About The Author
Written By Automotive Subject Matter Expert at CarParts.com

Mia Bevacqua has over 14 years of experience in the auto industry and holds a bachelor’s degree in Advanced Automotive Systems. Certifications include ASE Master Automobile Technician, Master Medium/Heavy Truck Technician, L1, L2, L3, and L4 Advanced Level Specialist. Mia loves fixer-upper oddballs, like her 1987 Cavalier Z-24 and 1998 Astro Van AWD.

Any information provided on this Website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace consultation with a professional mechanic. The accuracy and timeliness of the information may change from the time of publication.

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