You need to know at least a little about pitman arms if you take your Toyota pickup or 4Runner off road. Picking the wrong pitman arm can result in a poor turning radius or frame clearance issues. Changing your pitman after your steering box mounts are welded in stinks! Read on to find out about the pitman arms available for Toyotas and what you need to think about before choosing one.
Table of Contents
Why do you need to know about pitman arms? If you spend any time off road, you’ll eventually put high steer on your truck. If you can, you’ll ideally install a high steer system in which all the components are designed to work together. However, you might end up piecing something together yourself in which case you need to know about the available options.
High steer and your pitman arm
We are mostly interested in pitman arms that mount on 1986-1995 Toyota IFS steering boxes. This is because earlier solid axle Toys used push-pull steering which is unsuitable for high steer setup. Whether you have a solid axle or IFS Toyota, you’ll want to use the IFS steering box. The IFS steering box is strong enough to do the job and the sector shaft rotates the pitman arm in the correct arc.
Regular vs. reverse rotation
While the Toy box has a rear swing pitman arm (points backward), some have installed front swing steering boxes like the Scout II Saginaw box. The main benefit to this is probably the fact that Saginaw boxes are incredibly common and came with a wide variety of pitman arms that have different lengths and drops. A box like this can also keep the steering box out of the front body mount if you move the box forward to complement a forward-mounted axle.
A standard rotation steering box versus a reverse rotation steering box
Standard rotation steering boxes have a rear-pointing pitman arm - this is what an IFS box is. Reverse rotation steering boxes have a forward-pointing pitman arm like on FJ60s and Scout II Saginaw boxes.
A reverse rotation steering box works well when you really want to push your front axle extremely far forward, which is usually the case when you want to keep big tires out of the firewall. To get your axle forward, you also need to move the box forward to maintain decent steering linkage angles. Many fabbers push the box forward and trim the body mount to fit everything together. With the drag link hanging under the rear of the steering box, this can be an annoying compromise. A reverse rotation box puts the drag link in front of the steering box which can make things a little easier to fit on extreme rigs.
But what’s the common setup?
That said, on Toyota trucks and minis, it is still most common to use an IFS steering box. High steer kits, front shock mounts, frame reinforcement kits, and power steering box mounts are mostly designed to work with a Toyota IFS box, so an “odd” setup might not work as well with off-the-shelf parts. Basically your drag link needs to end up in the same approximate location, so the box’s position flops over the drag link centerline. We’re not saying they won’t work - just that you should check a little more carefully before buying parts.
Removing the pitman arm
Before pulling off the pitman, look at the underside.
You should have marks on the sector shaft that line up with marks on the pitman arm. Don’t have them? Make them with a punch. When the steering box is centered, meaning that the number of turns to the left equals the number of turns to the right, the sector shaft marks will point straight ahead.
The pitman arm is secured to your steering box’s sector shaft with a large nut that takes a 32mm socket or wrench. Put tension on the pitman arm with a pitman arm puller. Pullers are pretty cheap and you can also do free rental from some auto parts stores. You’ll likely have to hit the pitman with a 5 lb. hammer to get it to pop loose. Heat on the pitman may be necessary, but we find that the combo of a puller and hammer works well and also does not endanger the sector shaft seal like fire does.
Reinstalling a pitman arm
Our biggest recommendation when reinstalling any pitman arm is to use a new nut. This eliminates problems with thread stretch, thread mangling, and excessive heat application if you had to torch your pitman. What you’re trying to do here is eliminate the possibility of the nut backing off due to imperfect threads. The factory torque spec on the nut is 130 ft-lbs.
Death and shame
If your pitman arm falls off while you’re driving down the highway, you’ll experience a thorough, panicked dread as your life flashes before your eyes - recalling the sweet innocence of your childhood as you frolicked in the abandoned mental hospital behind your house, regretting placing the whoopie cushion in Mrs. Thompson’s chair before 9th grade algebra which caused her to actually fart from her shock, thinking that perhaps you shouldn’t have been hooking up with your best bro’s little sister - oh wait, nonono, that was totally worth it - wishing that when your wife asked, “Does this make me look fat?” you had always responded “No!”, and finally pondering the headline that would go in the local paper: “Local Man Incorrectly Torqued Nut; Lawmakers Consider Harsh Vehicle Modification Laws”.
While you don’t have to use a new nut, it’s a good practice.
Some Toyota Pitman Arm Dimensions and Specs
|1986-1995 Toyota mini trucks||NA||5.8"||large||No drag link taper, ball joint insert|
|1986-1995 Toyota 4Runners||NA||5.8"||large||No drag link taper, ball joint insert|
|1980-1990 Toyota FJ60s and FJ62s - longer arm than ifs||Same taper as FJ80, BUT deeper=larger hole||7"||large, 3.75"||Drag link hole too large for FJ80 TRE|
|1993-1998 Toyota T100s||NA||No drag link taper, ball joint insert|
|1993-1998 Toyota FJ80s and FZJ80s||FJ60 tie rod end, FJ80 tie rod end||5.95"||small||Pitman arm is curved because it would interfere with the panhard bar bracket. Has index mark. Is clocked when mounted.|
|Sky Manufacturing||FJ80, GM "1 ton", 3/4" heim||3/8" less than stock IFS||flat||4340 Billet Chromoly|
|Sky Manufacturing||FJ80, GM "1 ton", 3/4" heim||3/8" less than stock IFS||3/4" less than stock||4340 Billet Chromoly|
|Marlin Crawler||FJ80||Stock IFS||large||Forged|
|All Pro||FJ80||Stock IFS||large||Forged||Trail-Gear||FJ80||Stock IFS||large||Forged||Trail-Gear||FJ80||Stock IFS||flat||Forged|
HEY YOU! YEAH, YOU! Help us get some better measurements for the above table and we’ll give you a discount!!!
pitman arms have xx splines. The xxxx diameter of the splines is xxx. This spline count and diameter was common on Toyota trucks and SUVs but there was some variation in the drag link/relay rod end. While pitman arms may interchange between makes, hooking up drag links is another story.
‘86-‘95 minis and 4Runners and all T100s have a slightly unusual design for the drag link end of the arm. While most pitman arms off-roaders use have a tapered hole that accepts a tapered drag link end, this one has a ball joint (just like the drag link end) that mates with a hole in the drag link. It’s just a role reversal, got it? Unfortunately, this design is pretty annoying if you’re upgrading to high steer - you either have to use Sky Manufacturing’s adapter or use an aftermarket pitman arm. Read a little more about that here.
60 Series Land Cruisers have a deep taper and so the arm is often swapped for something else that will fit an FJ80 tie rod end. It is highly unlikely that you can safely and reliably shim a 60’s relay rod hole to fit an 80 Series TRE.
FJ80/FZJ80 arms will fit the ubiquitous FJ80 tie rod end.
Aftermarket arms are usually either forged steel or chromoly. Chromoly pitman arms tend to bring the beef. While wheelers have bent stock and aftermarket forged pitmans, the Sky pitman has proven to be fairly indestructable. It is the only billet 4340 chromoly pitman that we know of that is readily available and should be in your pile of parts if you need seriously strong stuff.
The universal aftermarket taper for Toyota tie rod and drag link ends is that found on the Toyota Land Cruiser FJ80 tie rod end. There are right hand and left hand threaded versions of this tie rod. This tie rod end is easy to get, has a short shank, good misalignment angles, and is relatively large. This tie rod end controls the FJ80 which is basically a whale on wheels (a whale that we love).
If you plan to build a pitman arm, make your own steering arms, or need to modify an existing arm you’ll need a taper reamer which is available for $40-50. Along those lines, there are plenty of fab shops that will do this for you.
The FJ80 tie rod end taper is:
1.200" TPF (1.200" of taper for every foot of length)
which is also expressed as:
1:10 (1" of taper for every 10" of length)
The thread is:
Tapers in high steer kits
FJ80 tie rod ends are used in most high steer kits for solid axle Toyotas, including 40s, 55s, and 60s. Consequently, your pitman arm also needs the FJ80 taper. One of the other benefits to the 80 Series TRE is that everyone has them which means that there should be plenty of spares on a typical trail ride.
All high steer kit manufacturers match pitman arm length to steering arm length. Why? A too-short pitman arm or too-long steering arms will result in your steering box running out of travel before you hit full steering lock at the axle - your knuckles will never hit the steering stops on the axle because the steering box will already be hitting its internal stops. This is the origin of “My knuckles are a 1/2” from the stops” posts on bulletin boards and 32-point turns on the trail. If your turning radius sucks, pay close attention to this section.
How to measure length
Length is always measured on a pitman arm at a right angle to the sector shaft hole. Length is measured from the center of the sector shaft hole to the center of the drag link hole. This measurement is sometimes referred to as “radius” since the pitman arm swings in an arc.
Length of the pitman arm is very important. It needs to translate the rotation of the steering box into a push-pull motion that acts on the steering arms (and is again translated into rotation). A shorter pitman arm has less swing and thus creates a shorter push-pull.
Length differences for 4x4 engineers
Imagine 2 concentric circles (one circle inside another circle). The bigger one is 12” in diameter and the one inside it is 10” in diameter. The 10” circle represents the path of a 5” long pitman arm. The 12” circle represents the swing of a 6” long pitman arm. This means that from side to side the 6” pitman arm moves the drag link 1 more inch on each side. The 6” arm can push or pull the drag link 2 extra inches!!! Meanwhile, the 5” arm has a shorter throw, has a shorter push-pull motion, and might not move the steering arms enough to give you a decent turning radius.
Okay, so just because the drag link moves 2” more, does that mean the knuckles move 2” more at the steering stops? No! Of course not! The steering arms also swing in an arc and are subject to the same swing geometry as the steering arm. Only here, the length affects the movement in an opposite manner.
You must pay attention to this if you’re putting your high steer together piecemeal, and especially on a Toy! Since the mounting of the steering box is often dependent on the pitman arm placement, and the placement of the pitman arm is usually extremely close to the frame on a solid axle swap, you need to do stellar mockups and clearance testing before welding anything in. Correcting frame or box-mounting issues later can be painful.
To summarize how lengths affect how your steering handles:
|Change||Turning radius||Steering "speed"||Steering effort|
|Longer pitman arm||Allows full available turning radius||Faster||More|
|Shorter steering arms||Allows full available turning radius||Faster||More|
|Shorter pitman arm||May limit available turning radius||Slower||Less|
|Longer steering arms||May limit available turning radius||Slower||Less|
When we refer to steering effort in the above table, you should know that it’s pretty irrelevant. Most of us are running power steering and the increase or decrease in steering effort will be negligible and probably not too noticeable.
Steering speed is how fast we can get lock to lock. This is faster with a longer pitman arm because it travels more distance with each turn of the steering wheel than a shorter pitman arm.
Be wise when referring to the above table.
A longer pitman arm gives you a better turning radius over a shorter arm, but that really just means that the shorter pitman arm was undersized. A long pitman arm can be bad too! As an exaggerated example, if you put a 6 foot pitman arm on your Toy, you’d be able to go to full lock just by twitching your wrist! Not so good for the highway.... Pitman arm lengths have tradeoffs!
What is drop?
This is not a clearly defined term. We think drop should be measured vertically from the top of the splined side to the bottom of the drag link side. This tells us where the drag link will end up once the pitman arm is pushed all the way up the sector shaft. With this measurement a flat pitman arm would have a “drop” essentially equal to the material thickness.
In order to have a low lift with a SAS look at flatter pitman arms first. While you can use a stock drop pitman, you may have to tilt your steering box a bit to keep spring off the drag link. Large pitman arm drops tend to go with large lifts that have a lot of space between the spring and frame.
Flat arms are only available in the aftermarket from Sky and Trail-Gear.
Moderate drops are provided by the Sky Manufacturing 3/4”-less-than-stock-drop chromoly arm or the FJ80 pitman arm.
Longer drops can be had with a stock Toyota setup or an aftermarket arm like the Trail-Gear, Marlin Crawler, or All-Pro arms.
Note that while the FJ60 has a significant drop, it has a large hole that will not fit the FJ80 TRE taper. If you buy a hi-steer kit for a 60 Series, you’ll get a “generic” pitman arm that fits an FJ80 TRE.
Possible Pitman Arm Combos
This is what you want to know! If you stick with Toy parts, you can have bolt-on parts by running 1 item from each column.
|Steering box||Pitman arm||Steering link end|
|'86-'95 IFS Toyota
|'86-'95 Stock Toyota IFS||Sky Manufacturing adapter to any FJ80 thread drag link|
|Sky Manufacturing billet chromoly arm, 3/4" less than stock drop||FJ80 TRE, GM "1 ton", or 3/4" heim|
|Sky Manufacturing billet chromoly arm, flat||FJ80 TRE, GM "1 ton", or 3/4" heim|
|FJ80 pitman arm, moderate drop||FJ80 TRE|
|Forged pitman arm from Marlin, Trail-Gear, or All-Pro; stock drop||FJ80 TRE|
|Trail-Gear forged arm, flat||FJ80 TRE|