Automatic to Manual Steering Column Conversion "HOW TO"

  1. Dusterdude72
    I am going to do a quick write up for you guys on this conversion I just did to my Duster.

    Its great for those of you who are installing a 4 speed or converting to an automatic floor shift car and you do not want the gear indicator and shift arm hanging off of your column any more.

    And where you would potentially be spending big bucks buying a manual column or an aftermarket column....that is not the case with this conversion mod you can basically do it for $25ish and basic tools and a few hours of your time.

    I am not going to cover in this write up the removal of the column itself or the removal of the steering wheel, this is going to be about the conversion of the column itself.

    A list of tools/items I recommend you use
    80 grit sand paper,320 grit sand paper and 400 grit sand paper , one grinding or cut off disc for either a drill or a grinder (whatever you have on hand and is more comfortable for you to use...I used a drill) , a quart of bondo/body filler (you only need a little bit of bondo but it only sells by the quart) ,a tube of spot putty, masking tape , a can of rattle can primer or if you have mixable primer and a spray gun like I used that will work also , and some satin black paint (that's assuming you want to go satin black but any color will work and a pint of paint will do the job...I just so happened to buy a quart because I will be painting my dash as well)....that should basically be what you need material wise.

    As for tools and what not.... you will need either a grinder or a drill or some sort of rotary tool you can use a cut off wheel/grinder wheel to cut the column. I used a paint marker to mark where I wanted to cut and also to mark low spots in the body filler , I used a dremel tool with a small grinding bit to get into some of the tighter spaces but it is not a must , a spray gun if you are going to spray it rather than rattle can paint it , you may find it easier to put a deep score mark in the cast and use a hammer to "snap" it off , and if you decide to remove the internal shifter locking pin like I did than you will need a welder to weld a bolt to the rotating tube like I did or I am sure you could use some JB weld as an alternative , and also if you decide to cut the locking pin for the shifter like I did you will need misc. screw drivers to remove the turn signal assembly and what not and you will also need to use the cut off wheel/grinder wheel to cut it...or use a sawzall or something.

    Ok I think that covers the things needed...sorry if this is going to be a long thread but I am going to try to break things down enough that everyone can feel confident in tackling this conversion and save themselves some money!.

    Lay the column out....if you are going to remove the shifter arm locking "pin" you will need to remove the turn signal assembly and ignition switch and some other odds and ends and the are 2 metal "pins" with a spring clip on them that sit inside the column and lock the shift when the ignition is in the off position...all I did was pull these out and cut about a half of an inch off of both of the pins and reinstalled them so it would eliminate the shift lock but by steering wheel lock would still work correctly....you can however remove the pin all together but you will no longer have a steering wheel lock as well as no shifter arm lock....or you can leave it alone all together and it will not hurt anything, I just figured since I was right there that I might as well....sorry I forgot to take pictures of this step

    Next you will want to "mark out your plan of attack" lol.... take your paint marker and draw a rough estimate of where you will want to cut the indicator housing off at and where you will want to cut the shift lever off at.
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    You will need to drive the pin out of the shift arm in order to remove it.

    Now take your cutoff wheel/grinding wheel and begin cutting on your lines...don't worry it does not have to be perfect.
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    Once you have cut everything off you will be left with a very rough looking column with lots of jagged edges......your on your own now good luck because I forgot what else to do from here..........HAHAHAHA Just kidding lol........here is where the grinding comes into play (lots of it) take your grinder and just keep working the metal until it is roughly in a rounded shape and there is no longer any high spots (lows are ok because we can fill them in later).....in the seam where the shifter arm half of the column meets the main housing you may notice they do not exactly meet each other "flush" so just keep working the metal until it all appears to line up all the way around and flows nicely together. Around the ignition be careful not to cut into the ignition pointer because we will keep that "boss" in tact and reuse it in the conversion.

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    Now if you did like I did and eliminated the shift arm lock than you will want to make certain that the back portion of the column has no way of moving while driving down the road and possibly cracking the body filler you used in the seam of the column....so you can do like I did and stick a bolt through the cage of the column shaft and onto the hole in the outer rotating shaft and then weld the bolt to the cage as well as to the shaft (you could also use JB weld I suppose.....or you could use JB weld in the seam on the column rather than using body filler or you could just leave the shift arm lock in tact and not worry about it. DSCI1433.jpg

    Now...you are going to need to stuff a shop towel or something of the sort into the shifter hole to give a backing for your body filler to stick to....now get out the good old body filler and start laying it on the column and filling in all the nooks and crannys and imperfections in the metal ....let it harden (now you can remove the shop towel through the opening at the base of the column with some needle nose pliers if you want) now you can begin sanding it away and sanding areas that need contour work (such as around the ignition) sand it all down smooth and get a general foundation and shape of your column .......go back in with more body filler and add to spots that may still be low or may still need filled up for more contour matching, sand some more lol....keep repeating this process and feeling the column with your hands as you go so you can feel any imperfections there may be...(start with the 80 grit sand paper to knock the filler down faster and then follow up with the 320 grit to smooth it out )...be sure not to get body filler in the first (front) seem of the column as you want this portion of the column to still be removable encase you ever need to change your ignition or something along those lines. DSCI1443.jpg
    In this picture I marked all my low spots so I knew where to add more filler
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    Now,if you are confident you have a pretty good shape and the column is smooth and looks like a manual column than go ahead and prep the surface ( I used a wax and grease remover surface prep) now is a good time to take your masking tape and mask off the ignition and turn signal hazard switch and any openings on the column and what not, then move forward with priming the column , now you may be able to see some of your imperfections that need work so take your 320 grit sand paper and sand some more and work any areas that "don't look right to you" , after you have sanded it....prime it again,keep repeating this process until you get it close to where you want it....then if needed take some spot putty and fill in any minor imperfections (in my case I had to use some around my ignition to get it to contour the way I wanted) then sand some more and prime it again ( at this point it should be damn close to being right...you may have to do a bit more spot putty work and sanding and prime it again but take your time and make it all smooth now before you spray your paint).... now when you are confident that the surface is nice and smooth and contoured the way you like.....go over the primer with a 400 grit sand paper to give it a final smoothing over. DSCI1452.jpg
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    Now what I did at this point was I separated my already loose front half of the column at the seam where the two pieces meet so I could do some sanding in that groove (between the sanding and the primer this seam kind of gets hidden and the column looks like its all one piece and you want the front half to be removable)....I then busted some tooth picks and stuck them in the seam in multiple spots to maintain the gap so when I went to paint the column I would not seal that seam over.

    Now get out the masking tape and make sure you have all the areas you do not want paint to get all masked off....(stuffed shop towels into the turn signal arm hole as well as at the base of the column and I tape the column wiring off as well).

    Get out your surface prep again and wipe the surface down.

    Take your paint you will be using rather it be rattle can or mixed paint like I used and paint the column, Let the paint dry, remove all your masking tape and shop towels,reinstall in your vehicle and drool all over your new steering column!!!! DSCI1473.jpg
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    P.S. some of the pictures look like metallic black but its because I took some of the pictures of the satin when it was still wet and it gave that illusion with its texture....came out great in my opinion.

    Also a quick tip (I set the column on the steering wheel standing up so I could easily maneuver around it and spin it during paint).

    Its not a fast job by any means ( I have about 7 hours wrapped up into my column conversion) it is not a clean job by any means either......but anyone with some basic knowledge can pull this conversion off.

    I hope you guys enjoyed and I hope this wasn't to confusing and I am sorry for it being so long of a write up...I just wanted to try and cover it as best as I could and I hope some of you guys get some use out of this and try it for yourself.

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