The rack and pinion on your vehicle provides a necessary and important feature. It is responsible for exchanging the force of the steering wheel as you turn it to the wheels of your automobile. That is something you need in order to change directions. Thus, without it, you would only be able to drive forward and back in a straight line. When the rack and pinion begins to give you issues, you will notice a variety of symptoms that may point to it as a possible culprit. This article will highlight some of those symptoms, why they are a big deal, and what to expect with a repair.
How Does a Rack and Pinion System Work?
The rack and pinion steering system on a vehicle is a pretty easy and straightforward concept. It is also a very common method of steering on vehicles. The system uses a rack and pinion gear set that is surrounded by a metal tube. At each end, the rack sticks out a bit so that the tie rods can be attached to it. The pinion gear itself is attached to a steering shaft that when engaged by the steering wheel, allows the gear to rotate the rack changing the rotational motion into a linear motion to change direction of your wheels.
How to Tell When You Need a New Rack and Pinion
A rack that needs to be replaced will present a few symptoms that can clue you in to the need for a new one. These can include:
One issue you may experience is slop in your steering. Steering may feel loose and have a tendency to wander while you drive allowing your vehicle to drift slightly one way or the other. Steering may feel more difficult to turn than usual and may not be as responsive. You may also notice your steering wheel does not return to its upright position after your turn is completed.
Noises can point to a variety of problems. In the case of a rack and pinion issue, you may hear a clunking or knocking while you drive.
Take notice of the wear of your tire treads. Though there are a multitude of reasons for uneven wear, the rack and pinion can also cause extra wear to the outside or inside of the tread.
A fluid leak found towards the front of your vehicle may also be a sign of a rack and pinion issue. To check this, you can place a piece of cardboard under the leaking area to see if it is dripping from the boots.
- Lighter weight vehicles will use a rack and pinion system. Heavier vehicles steering system is replaced by a gearbox to handle the added weight and stress.
- Ideal fluid levels should be maintained since it is necessary to keep the moving parts from binding. Ensuring optimal fluid levels will also make the system last longer by protecting the gear teeth from excessive wear due to increased friction.
- Most issues will present themselves while you drive. Loose or sloppy steering and pulling one way or the other when you are driving in a straight line on a smooth road are the two most common signs to take note of.
- Looking for issues can lead to discovering other components also need to be replaced. These include: ball joints, control arms, tie rods, coupler, knuckle, pump, or hardware that needs to be tightened.
- Some rack and pinions will require filters to help keep out contaminants.
- Repair vs. Replacement of Rack and Pinion.
If you are a DIY-er, you will likely want to opt for a complete replacement over a repair. Even if you are not looking to replace your own rack and pinion, there are reasons to choose to do a complete replacement over a repair or rebuild. Here are some major considerations:
Cons to a Repair or Rebuild:
- A rebuild is a much more difficult and involved process than just buying a remanufactured or new rack that just needs to be fitted into place.
- You need special tools for seal removal and refitting that are expensive and can cost about as much as a new or refurbished rack anyway.
- Improper seal fitting can cause leakage and the seals are tricky to position. Leaky seals are particularly important to avoid on power rack and pinion applications where the psi on a tight turn can exceed 700.
- A rebuild is time-consuming costing you more in labor costs and causes the mechanic to monopolize his time on your vehicle losing money on other jobs.
- Some racks simply cannot be rebuilt by just replacing seals. And sometimes gear teeth are so worn you need a whole new rack bar which can cost you between $100 and $150.
- Other parts may need replacement including the housing if it is warped and the control valve. Therefore, all of these parts add to cost causing the total price to far exceed a new or remanufactured rack and pinion.
Pros to a Repair or Rebuild
- If you rebuild a rack, you can sometimes salvage aluminum housings and replacing them with stainless steel. This will help bring your rack and pinion back to its tolerance and will also help stop the recurring wear issue.
- You can double check for leaks with a pressure test.
- Attempting to replace or repair a rack and pinion themselves, often people forget to flush the steering pump and lines to clear out old fluid and air pockets that can cause damage to the new parts. A professional mechanic will remember to do this important step.
- There may be other components that need attention that a mechanic can point out including mounts and shaft couplings.
Examples of Rack and Pinion Parts
Duralast is a name many people trust to supply quality parts that are durable and do not cost an arm and a leg. Reviewers like that fact they fit well and function perfectly.
- Double flat input shaft
- OEM Compatible
- 11mm inlet 9.5mm outlet
- 50.25 in. length
- 3.75 lock to lock turn
Another name synonymous with DIY-ers, ACDelco has become a go-to for individuals looking for reliability and durability. Reviewers like the easy install and the return to smooth drivability.
- OEM Compatible
- Checked through Magnaflux process
- Female inlet and outlet
- 2 mount hole quantity
As a steering equipment specialist, Atlantic Automotive is a leading manufacturer in the industry. Reviewers can attest to the quality and appreciate the knowledge and technical support.
- OEM Compatible
- Teflon inlet and outlet
- Splined, Single Flat Input shaft
- 44.25-inch length
If your vehicle has sloppy steering or a tendency to pull you left or right when you are trying to drive straight, your rack and pinion may be to blame. A properly functioning rack and pinion is important for your safety and gives you better steering response and handling.
What are your experiences with a rack and pinion that needed a replacement? Please leave any comments below.