I have a significant amount of play in my steering wheel, and I notice a clicking/clunking sound in the steering wheel when the steering actually moves the tires. This makes it very hard to drive in a straight line, and that’s kind of important when your car is 19 feet long . Is there anything that could be cheaply/easily fixed to remedy this?
Hard to say . . .
The first thing I would do is get that car up on 4 jack stands and put your hand on all of the steering and suspension components
Could be any number of things, such as badly worn tie rod ends or ball joints
I suggest you get a buddy to sit in the car, let the engine idle and slowly move the steering wheel back and forth, while you lie underneath on the creeper and CAREFULLY check out what’s worn out
You may need a pry bar to properly check those ball joints
The steering gearbox itself could be worn, but I wouldn’t mess with it just yet, until you’re absolutely sure everything else is in good shape
Odds are, there are multiple components worn out, because the car is heavy, and it’s 40 years old
Also , if you think it is unsafe now, wait until one of those worn components comes apart and your car no longer responds to your steering wheel. No one can tell you what it costs without inspecting the car. If you find out it is too expensive for you to repair, your choice is either park the car until you have the money or get rid of it. Cars don’t care about our financial situations, they just are what they are.
These cars weren’t know for steering precision when new… throw in 40 year old worn parts and @db4690 's advice is absolutely spot on.
Changing some things, like a tie-rod ends or an idler arm can be done in the driveway and rather cheaply for a reasonable good DIY’er. Other things, like ball joints can be a bit more challenging. You will need an alignment after you are done, in any event though.
Agree with Db. The last car I had with steering wheel play it was the inner tie rod ends that were shot.
The steering column coupler is broken. This is an isolation joint in the steering column shaft located under the hood. Inspect the steering column shaft between the firewall and steering gear box.
I second the steering coupler suggestion. Look for the shaft and coupler under the brake master cylinder. I had a Mark V for many years and when the rubber bushings on this part wore out (about 30 years ago) it did what you described. The shop that fixed it (who said they did a lot of these on Fords) replaced the whole steering coupler (not just the bushings) and proper steering was restored. They said that just replacing the bushings didn’t work well for long. It also only took part of a day for the repair and it lasted for the rest of the time I had the car which was for another 15 years.
The first thing to check is the idler arm. Next; tie rod ends and drag link then the ball joints. Check them in any order but check them all. Idler arms are cheap, tie rod ends are cheaper.
Cheap and easy, I don’t see that happening. But this is a common problem in older cars and esp trucks and can be diagnosed & fixed.