Here you can see it's pretty gunked up. I know it's hard to tell but that brown stuff it supposed to be grease. However, this stuff had the consistency of corn syrup. I couldn't believe how sticky it was!!! I could see why the steering was literally "sticking" on me!!
The U-joints themselves were actually really good. This is not a heavily loaded joint, so after 230K they were still fine. But the plastic piece is what was causing the problem.
I hosed everything down with carb cleaner and cleaned off every last bit of gunk. Couldn't believe how it began to shine. It looked just like new!!
Can you see the difference now?!?!?
Put just a tad of light grease on the plastic piece and the surface of inside of the two joints (not on the U-joint) and then reassembled it.
A little blurry, but here you see the new blue grease applied.
While I had the steering column out, I completely disassembled it, cleaned it and applied new grease as well. No need for pics. It's in the FSM and pretty easy to do... Turned out It actually didn't need it though. It moved just as smoothly afterward as it did before I cleaned it, so it turned out my WHOLE problem was just the one joint.
Put everything back together, and took it for a drive and it drives OH SOOOO GOOD now!! Smooth as butter. Better than it ever did since I've had it.
If your steering is starting to stick, or feels like it's binding on you; look up underneath the truck where the steering shaft enters the cab. If that just dust boot is cracked or torn, you could have dirt getting up into that joint and gunking everything up. You may find it just needs to be cleaned.
And yes, I replaced the little dust seal (was $13 at the dealer... probably cheaper if you order it online).
(Project for tomorrow... building my own version of the Demello "Rock crushers"... YAY!!)