I started a business part time in 1981. We rebuilt all columns, Ford, GM, Chrysler, Toyotas. You name the vehicle. I will go on about theft recoveries in my next article.

1-903-513-7808 Rob

I was working for an Oldsmobile dealer as a Service manager and we were inundated with theft recoveries. I imagined a business that exclusively repaired theft recovered and vandalized vehicles.

I started working in my home garage. I advertised in small neighborhood newspapers.

I then bought the very popular theft deterrent known as the Chicago Collar from the cop that designed it. The Chicago Collar installed at the dealer cost $150.00. I had distributors. In fact, it was so cool-I never had to even use my own money to buy the product! I already had enough distributors and product to pay the cost of buying the product.

GM vehicle until 1994 used the very common Saginaw steering column as did Chrysler. Cadillac and some other GMs incorporated the column after 1994, but the column after 36 years.

To steal a GM with the Saginaw tilt took about 30 seconds for a teenager with a screwdriver. Method of attack was on the left side of the steering column, completely the opposite side of the ignition lock location. The kids in jail taught other kids how to do this as well as how to run with cuffs on. Some gangs would hold training courses at junk yards!

Breaking the column. One method common with the north side of Milwaukee was to break the lower cast shift bowl. The shift bowl was called that because it rotated when you were changing shift positions with the transmission shift lever from Park to Low. On floor shifts, also known as a lower shift bowl. The really cool thing was from 1977 to 1994 all Saginaw steering columns shared most of the same parts. The part number on the shift bowl was only different because of the length of the plastic shroud attached to it. There were 4 locking fingers that attached the shroud to the bowl. We would just squeeze the shroud, remove it and replace with what we needed.

The column parts never had wear issues. Oh, there would be complaints of looseness on the column, especially on trucks with over weigh owner grabbing the steering column to get into the vehicle. Some who did a quick job only tightened the 2 of 4 bolts and it would loosen up again. The bearing housing had to be removed to get to all 4 bolts. I never had a lose column come back I had tightened. Most did not realize a special puller was required to remove the tilt pins in the bearing housing. What made us different from most we never put junk yard steering columns in. Each steering column was rebuilt in the vehicle. This way, we could offer a workmanship warranty on the steering column.

I used to go to a junk yard and order 50 steering columns at a time. The best deal I ever got where they removed them and I paid $5 each. As I said, the internal parts did not wear out and installing an unknown steering column that may be collapsed or loose was out of the question. On a Saturday afternoon or Sunday, we completely disassembled these columns. Paint was removed from the outer components. We painted the columns to match the vehicle with the original factory color.

Many times when the thief did not get the lock plate disengaged for the steering wheel, the splines on the upper shaft and broaches in the lock plate would strip. Dealer cost on the upper shaft was $200.00 Well, I had 300 shafts, lock plates for tilt and tele, tilt and non-tilt in stock at all times. The plastic horn/tsignal cancel cam would also break. I had about 200 of them in stock as well.

The dealer could not compete with us! We were rebuilding columns for body shops too! We got so good at rebuilding steering columns that we would have contests. I did one blindfolded with the tools and parts laid out on my snap on cart in 45 minutes! Without a blind fold Mike and I could rebuild a steering column in 30 minutes. A job that paid 5.0 hours plus paint time of .5.

I would or my wife at the time Kathie went to the police department every day to what we called the theft list from the night before. We would send a flyer offering victims a free Chicago Collar with every repair. The Chicago Collar was 2 pieces of stainless that went on top of the lower bowl to reinforce it. It was visible, attached with stainless rivet and when we went a little farter and installing a hidden ignition interrupt, we had attempt theft, but no one got the vehicle.

The left side of the column was vulnerable. Without the collar, as I said, the locking mechanisms could be defeated in as little as 30 seconds. The control locking the transmission shifter was located there. The Rack as it was called had a loop that looked like a D which cops called the D ring controlled the locking of the steering wheel and ability to start the engine. The rod for starting the engine inside the circle of the D. The thief would break the soft metal D and it would drop to the floor. Then he would take the screwdriver and hit the remains upward towards the steering wheel, bouncing the spring of the geared plastic sector. The steering wheel was no unlocked. To start the engine on a broken tilt column was to pull on the ignition rod and engine would start and vehicle could be driven with no keys or damage to the ignition lock!

There were times they accidently engaged the brights and did not know how to turn on low beam. That is how some thieves got caught because of the bright lights.

How Did They Break Into The Vehicle?

There were many ways kids would break into cars. There were some that they would literally rip the door lock from the outside door panel. They also commonly broke the vent glass in the rear, reach their arm in and unlock the door.

They also used wedges to pry the door and stick a rod in the car and press the unlock button. Slim Jims were common. A straight think piece of metal that had a couple cut out that slid between the door glass and the door which could manipulate the door lock linkage and unlock the door.

Try out keys in the outer lock were used as well. I never saw evidence that a vehicle door lock was ever picked.

The second way to defeat the Saginaw steering column was used on the south side of Milwaukee in the Hispanic area was a different theft method.

The left side upper housing in close proximity of the dimmer/wiper switch was attacked. The left side of the lower bowl was not touched. The sector spring was ripped off, the geared sector was slipped off. The steering wheel lock was just released. The geared end of the D ring or rack had teeth on it and all one had to do was place the screwdriver on the geared portion and pull. This started the engine and the transmission could be put in gear.

© Copyright 2019. Rob Painter. All Rights Reserved.