There's no excuse for sloppy steering. Sure, there are many reasons you may not be able to control your vehicle - your ball joints are loose, the steering gear box might be falling apart, or you could have a problem with your shocks or struts. If you have checked or replaced all of these components and are still having trouble, then you may want to look one more place: your pitman arm. It is really easy to tell when the pitman arm needs to be replaced, because you can see it interact with the center link every time the steering wheel is turned. Tight responsive steering is very easy to detect; as your output shaft from the steering box turns, so should your pitman arm. The center link will then follow in a smooth motion. If the arm is bad, then you'll usually see some play or clumsiness in the operation. This will cause a delay between the driver's steering motion and the motion of the center link. Your reaction time is critical in avoiding accidents, so leave nothing to chance.
Ever since the first cars were made, a way to control their direction from the driver's seat was absolutely imperative. In order to translate this motion from the steering wheel to both front wheels, a series of links was required to connect all the parts. The steering knuckles at each wheel are connected to the center link by two tie rods. That center link pivots left and right at its connection to the idler arm, and it receives its input from the pitman arm. It is connected to the bottom of the steering gear box or steering shaft, and moves left and right as the steering wheel turns. On some power steering systems that use a rack and pinion, the pitman arm is no longer needed. However on older vehicles or those cars and trucks made today that are not equipped with a rack and pinion, a properly functioning pitman arm is key to responsive and reliable steering.
Changing your pitman arm is not a terribly complicated procedure. You only need a few special tools, some patience, and a little bit of brute force. Here's how it's done: