The majority of vehicles on the road today utilize rack and pinion steering. Rack and pinion is a durable steering mechanism, and when installed correctly they can last more than 100,000 miles. Because of the design however, they will end up needing repaired at some point. Many problems can be fixed yourself, while others may need a professional mechanic. Here are a few of the most common problems, and what you can do to correct it.
Leaks are common in power racks. Wear on the seal can allow fluid to leak from the power cylinder in to the ends of the rack itself. Since the end bellows are not made to hold power steering fluid, this can be problematic. When this happens the rack needs to be replaced. If you don’t replace the rack the bellow will continue to fill with fluid, and will eventually burst.
If fluid is leaking around the pinion input shaft, you can fix this temporarily by using a seal kit. However, it will eventually need to be replaced by a mechanic. Just installing the seal kits can be problematic for many shade tree mechanics, as it requires special tools and a delicate procedure.
Diagnosing Steering Issues Visually
If you feel like your steering is off, there are a few things you can do to check it before sending it off for repair. The most common way to check your rack and pinion steering is to perform whats referred to as a dry park check. This will require you to rock the steering on a ramp type lift. The lift is necessary so the full weight of the vehicle will stay on the wheels.
Start this by making sure the steering column is unlocked. You’ll want someone with you to rock the steering while you inspect. You want to inspect the outer tie rods for visible play. Visible play is a red flag. You also need to check the input shaft coupling. This should be turning freely with no audible noise. The inner sockets should show no motion. And you should not see any movement between the rack and chassis. While you are inspecting, look for obvious cracks or bulges. If you see any of these things you need to have the rack and pinion repaired.
Part of the diagnostic process should be a test drive. But you need to know what to look and listen for before this will do you any good.
Get the vehicle out on an open road where you can make turns without worrying about holding up traffic. Your neighborhood may be the best place for this as you probably won’t have to worry about listening to the car over the sounds of other traffic. Listen for noises when you turn, or any noises that are coming from the steering column. You also want to pay attention to any pulling to one side or the other as you turn. Pay attention to any looseness in the steering wheel or any play. Some of these things may be caused by alignment issues, but they could also be a result of something faulty on the rack and pinion. If you notice any of these issues you should have your vehicle inspected by a professional.