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10 Common Problems with Rack and Pinion Steering: Troubleshoot, Repairs & Costs

10 Common Problems with Rack and Pinion Steering: Troubleshoot, Repairs & Costs

Rack and Pinion Steering is a steering mechanism found in many modern vehicles. It uses two gear wheels called the rack and Pinion to convert the rotary motion of the driver's steering wheel into linear motion that turns the vehicle's wheels left or right.

Auto Repairs Are EXPENSIVE


It's not rare to deal with steering problems in vehicles that use this steering mechanism. Even if the rack and Pinion is an extremely durable, sturdy, and reliable steering system, it is not devoid of problems that can damage or have a strong negative effect on its performance.

The article will cover ten common problems with Rack and Pinion Steering and provide you with details about troubleshooting, repairs options, and repairs costs.

Causes Of Transmission Problems

What is Rack and Pinion Steering, and How does it work?

Rack and Pinion is a steering mechanism mainly used in modern vehicles. It uses two gears called the rack and Pinion to convert rotary motion from the vehicle's steering wheel into linear motion that turns the wheels left or right.


A Rack and Pinion Steering System type of steering system is incredibly reliable, sturdy, and durable.

10 Common Problems with Rack and Pinion Steering & Troubleshooting, Repairs, Costs

despite the great features of the rack and pinion steering system, it is not perfect. It has various problems that can damage or have a negative effect on its performance. Let's look at ten common problems with rack and pinion steering systems.

Problem #1: Puddles of Fluid under the Vehicle

Fluid leakages are the most common Rack and Pinion Steering problem. Since the rack and pinion system is a closed circuit that contains fluid, its components and seals break down over time and cause leakage of the steering fluid inside.

Causes:

  • The Rack and Pinion boots (seals) are torn or cracked; this allows water to get in.
  • The Rack and Pinion gears have worn seals or bearings.
  • There is a loose bolt in the rack assembly.
  • The Steering Damper seals are torn or cracked (Steering Dampers dampen vibrations and absorb some of the impact from bumps to make steering more comfortable for the driver).
  • A defective or deteriorated power steering gearbox.
  • The Hydraulic Power Steering rack is faulty due to a defective Pump.
  • A leak in the power steering system causes a drop in oil pressure and causes the warning light on the dashboard to turn on.

These problems damage the Rack and Pinion Steering System, resulting in fluid leakage, which can cause other problems if not fixed immediately.

As the fluid leaks, it may damage other parts of the rack and pinion system or drip onto other components like brakes or differentials.

Repairs options:

Remove the vehicle's front wheels and examine the Rack and Pinion boots for cracks or tears.

  • Check if there is any oil on top of the rack assembly.
  • Check if the power steering fluid reservoir has almost no fluid left in it.
  • If you find any worn-out seals, replace them with new ones.
  • The damaged Rack and Pinion Steering parts must be replaced.

Cost to repair:

Rack and Pinion are a significant part of your vehicle's steering system, which costs more than $1,000 to replace.

Problem #2: Steering Pulls to one side or the other

There are many possible reasons for steering to pull to one side or the other. The Rack and Pinion Steering System is not exempt from such problems. Let's take a look at some of them:

Causes:

  • A worn-out Rack and Pinion gear assembly causes uneven pinion depth readings when turned in either direction.
  • The Front Outer Tie Rod Ends are worn out, causing uneven pinion depth readings when turned in either direction or steering pull.
  • A loose bolt in the rack assembly may cause uneven pinion depth readings when turned in either direction or steering pull.
  • Uneven tire wear due to an unbalanced wheel.
  • The Wheel Cylinder is leaking, which can cause issues with the brake system and steering pull.
  • A defective Steering Damper may also cause uneven pinion depth readings when turned in either direction or steering pull.

Repairs options:

  • Replace worn-out parts like Rack and Pinion gears or Tie Rod Ends.
  • Balance the Wheel and Tire assembly to take care of tire wear issues.
  • Replace leaking parts like Wheel Cylinders or Steering Damper Pumps.
  • Inspect the Front Inner Tie Rod Ends for play, scrapes, and other damage to prevent further problems.
  • If a bolt is loose, tighten it securely – do not over tighten as this may strip the screw head or break the threaded shaft.

Cost to repair:

It depends on whether anyone part needs to be replaced or if you need a complete Rack and Pinion System replacement. If only one part needs replacement, then the cost would be around $200 – unless you have to replace other components along with that part because they are all linked together. On the other hand, if the Rack and Pinion System needs replacement, expect to spend around $1,000.

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Problem #3: Power Steering Fluid Leak

Causes:

As mentioned above in Problem 1, a leak in the power steering system causes a drop in oil pressure and causes the warning light on the dashboard to turn on. There are several causes for this problem:

The Rubber Seals that prevent the leaking of fluid wear out over time and begin to crack. This allows water to enter your rack and pinion assembly, damaging seals and other inside components.

The metal shafts or gears will soon rust when exposed to moisture. In addition, if there is no longer any lubrication applied to the worn-out rubber seals, they will begin to wear out and other components.

The power steering pump is mounted low inside the engine compartment in some vehicles. As a result, it is vulnerable to damage from road debris or any other hazard that may cause it to overheat.

If a Rack and Pinion System replacement has been performed on your vehicle, the chances are great that your mechanic did not replace the Rubber Seals around the shafts of the Rack and Pinion.

This will lead to a leak eventually. In addition, your mechanic may mix up original equipment with reproduction seals during installation, which can also result in fluid leaks.

Repairs options:

If you have already replaced your Rack and Pinion assembly, this means replacing seals around new gears or metal shafts where the new Rack and Pinion has been installed. If you are still experiencing power steering fluid leaks after the Rack and Pinion replacement, it may indicate that it is time to replace all your seals (inner and outer).

Cost to repair:

About $500 – $800 for replacing inner seals, another $200 if outer seals need to be replaced.

Problem #4: Power Steering Fluid Bypass

Causes: Drain back valve failure or a plugged check ball can cause a loss of power steering assist when the vehicle is stopped while the engine is running.

If the condition persists, the increased effort will be required to turn the steering wheel until power assistance is restored. This problem might also happen on vehicles with rack-mounted systems but bleed back valves are not used.

Repairs options:

Replace the Drainback Valve or Plug check ball to restore normal power steering assist. If this problem continues, consider replacing your Rack and Pinion Assembly.

Cost to repair:

Less than $100 for parts

Rack and Pinion Leak

Problem #5: Power Steering Fluid Loss

Causes:

External fluid leakage is usually caused by one of three things – either a worn pump, reservoir cap, or hose connection leak. A loose hose clamp allows pressure loss with resulting loss of fluid volume, which may cause a lack of hydraulic power assistance.

Leaks within the rack itself are normally due to damaged seals or gaskets with accompanying fluid seepage or oil weeping from gears or shafts that have been exposed to heat and moisture. Retaining rings that work loose during a rack replacement may also allow fluid loss.

Repairs options:

Check the power steering hose connections at the pump, reservoir, and rack for leaks. Tighten or replace clamps as necessary to correct any leakage. If this problem continues, consider replacing your Rack and Pinion Assembly.

Cost to repair:

Less than $100 for parts

Problem #6: Steering Wheel No Longer Locks into Turn

Causes:

On some vehicles with RACK AND PINION steering, if a wheel is turned away from the driver when cornering, it will lock in place so it can't be turned further without moving the car forward first. It keeps this wheel from turning as you're going around a turn, and the driver can feel this movement. This safety feature is designed to minimize the chance of a skid or rollover if a tire leaves the road during a difficult turn.

Repairs options:

If you have your steering wheel turned all the way while going around a corner and it suddenly locks into place, then there may be an issue with lack of lubrication on your Rack & Pinion Assembly.

Cost to repair:

Less than $100 for parts

Problems with Rack and Pinion Steering

Problem #7: Noisy Steering Wheel

Causes:

A knock or chatter noise that originates from under the hood is normally due to either damaged components in the rack, power steering pump vibrations being transferred up to the rack and Pinion, or worn out rubber mounts on the power steering pump.

A front-end vibration or shimmy is normally due to several causes, such as damaged components in the rack and pinion assembly, loose components on tie rod ends, loose components at ball joints, broken motor mounts, worn-out rubber bushings on the upper control arm inner bushings.

All these problems need to be addressed before your car reaches 100K miles if you hope to avoid expensive repairs down the line.

Repairs options:

If your car makes noises when going over bumps that sound like something is loose, then it may be time to replace your Rack and Pinion Assembly.

Cost to repair:

Less than $100 for parts

Problem #8: High Steering Effort Required or Erratic Steering

Causes:

Worn-out bushings in the steering system generally cause this problem. Although not as common, loose bolts on suspension components can also cause this problem.

Whenever you have power assist to your vehicle's steering, it means hydraulic pressure is being used to move components within your Rack & Pinion assembly to help turn your wheels.

If any of those components are worn out or not lubed properly, they won't move freely and precisely, making it more difficult to turn your steering wheel.

Repairs options:

Ensure that all bolts are tight at the rack itself, tie rod ends, ball joints, etc… If the steering wheel still feels hard to move or becomes erratic, it's time for a new Rack & Pinion Assembly.

Cost to repair:

Less than $100 for parts

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Problem #9: Steering Wheel Shakes at Turn / Noisier While Turning

Causes:

A front-end vibration or shimmy with or without noise that increases as your speed increases is normally due to one of two things.

Either worn out motor mounts are allowing the engine to shake the car with each revolution of the engine, or loose components on the tie rod end, broken motor mounts, worn-out rubber bushings on upper control arm inner bushings are allowing play in the suspension which transfers movement up through your rack and system.

A loud clunking noise accompanied by a bump or jolt when you turn your steering wheel is called “knuckle knock” and is usually caused by a loose component on tie rod ends.

Repairs options:

Ensure that all bolts are tight at the rack itself, tie rod ends, ball joints, etc… If that doesn't fix the issue, it's time for a new Rack & Pinion Assembly.

Cost to repair:

Less than $100 for parts

Problem #10: Steering Pulls to One Side / Lacks Response

Causes:

Usually, this problem is due to the bad alignment of your tires or bent wheel components. When one tire or wheel isn't aligned properly with the others, it causes uneven wear, leading to damaged components in your steering system.

Repairs options:

If your tire isn't properly aligned, make sure that the wheel is centered between the two front tires and re-align it. If that doesn't fix things, you'll probably need a new Rack & Pinion assembly installed.

Cost to repair:

Less than $100 for parts

Knocking Sound When Turning Steering Wheel

Conclusion

Rack and pinion steering is an essential component in any vehicle, but it can also be problematic. With a wide variety of potential problems that can arise with this system, you'll need to know how to troubleshoot them and what repairs are needed when they happen.

This article will help you identify ten common rack and pinion steering issues, as well as provide some clarification on what needs to be done so your car stays running smoothly without issue.

If you want more information about these common rack and pinion problems or other automotive concerns like tires, brakes, or transmissions – check out our blog for helpful advice from experts who have been working with cars their whole lives!