I recently completed a 1000 mile road trip in the Cougar and I noticed that the steering was particularly numb on center. While driving down the highway I found myself having to constantly steer it in order to keep it going straight. I attributed this mostly to the windy conditions that I encountered at various points on the trip, but I didn't give it much more thought.
After getting home, I noticed that there was a little squeaking noise from the front end when I made slow right hand turns. I suspected that maybe the preload on the front bearings has loosened up, so I jacked it up to investigate. Rocking the wheel at the 12 and 6 o'clock position really didn't show any unusual looseness in the bearings, however, I did find significant slop when I rocked the wheel at the 3 and 9 o'clock positions:
Although all of my front end components are "new" they do have about 15K miles on them since installation. After seeing the slop in the rack, I called TCP and was surprised and pleased to get a live tech guy on the line. His name was Mike and he was very helpful. He told me that due to the straight cut gears of the rack and pinion gears, periodic inspection and adjustment is necessary to minimize the backlash. He outlined the procedure and I went outside and did it. I also noticed that the passenger side inner tie rod was a little loose where it was bolted to the rack, and I was able to address that.
Needles to say, the steering feels much better. The return to center is much improved and the on center feel is also much better (no duh...considering how much slop was there)! I plan to have the car up on a rack in the near future to inspect all of the steering and the suspension components and fix anything I find.
Take away: don't assume everything is tight and working properly just because all of the components are "new."