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Rack and Pinion Problems: Signs, Causes, and Costs

Problems with Rack and Pinion Steering

Rack and Pinion problems are common in some vehicles. You might smell burning oil, find it difficult to steer, or hear a grinding noise when turning. The steering mechanism requires many moving parts, and this is one that often breaks down. Although the parts come in at $400, with labor, it’s $1400+.

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While zooming around Chicago, it might be likely you’ve noticed a change in how your car handles turns. “What is that awful noise coming from the wheels,” your copilot asks? It could be the rack and pinion that’s acting up. It’s a fairly common repair, especially in older vehicles.

Knowing the symptoms, repairs, and costs associated with the rack and pinion problem will help you resolve the situation if you’re facing it now.

At the end of the day, it’s not a cheap repair, yet it’s a required one. You may find yourself asking if the rack and pinion repair is worth it. We’ll address that thought, too.

What are the Signs of a Rack and Pinion or Gearbox Problems?

If you’re having a hard time steering, the rack and pinion could be to blame. There are several indicators that mechanics say can alert the driver to a problem.

Today’s vehicles rely on the rack and pinion for steering. Made of many parts, such as the joints or main/intermediate shafts, and of course, the gearbox (also known as a steering rack). It’s the brains of the operation, processing the car user’s direction via the steering wheel.

From here, the rods and steering shafts enter the picture to maneuver the vehicle as it hugs the road. Unfortunately, it’s pretty bad news when the part breaks down, especially on older cars. 

You won’t be able to turn left or right when driving, which is a scary situation to imagine. An accident or injuries are likely to occur. It’s better to get it repaired at the first sign of failure rather than to wait it out. 

By the way, this isn’t one of those repairs that will magically go away (few, if any, do!).

The main indications of gearbox problems:

  • Difficult, tight steering; it’s hard to turn the steering wheel
  • A red puddle of power steering fluid on the ground
  • The lingering smell of burnt oil
  • A munching or grinding noise when turning the car left or right

What does a Tight Steering Wheel Mean?

If you’re finding it hard to turn the steering wheel, you could be looking at a future repair bill for the rack and pinion.

Modern vehicles have a part known as the rack and pinion. It interacts with the power steering unit to allow the steering wheel to turn without effort. In fact, in the older days, steering was a lot tougher as this technology didn’t exist.

If you’re finding it difficult to turn the car while driving, it’s likely to be the rack and pinion acting up. Take the car to a mechanic quickly so that your car doesn’t worsen and so that you don’t end up in a dangerous situation where the car won’t turn.

The anticipated cost of this is about $1400 for parts and labor.

Why is the Power Steering Fluid Leaking?

It’s likely the rack and pinion piece that is causing that power steering fluid leak say mechanics. Once you start to see this red fluid building up, you should take note that something’s wrong with the vehicle.

A good motorist inspects the car before every drive. If you notice red power steering fluid pooling, you need to look into the matter right away. In fact, it could be the rack and pinion, a bad fitting, a worn gasket, or something else. Identifying the leak is half the battle. Ask a mechanic for assistance.

If steering the vehicle is too difficult, don’t attempt to drive it to the garage. Pay for tow truck. The risk of having your car become unable to steer while on the road simply isn’t worth it.

If you’re not sure if the puddle is power steering fluid, consider the scent. It might smell like burning oil. It’s normally red or pink, but maybe your coolant is, too. Either way, you’re going to be in touch with a mechanic soon.

If it’s the rack and pinion, it will be about $1200-$1400 depending on your vehicle and where you live. It might be wise to get a few estimates and go with the best price or service.

Why does My Car Smell like Burning Oil?

If you smell burning oil during your commute, something is amiss – it could be the rack and pinion

If this happens to you, stop the vehicle. Call a mechanic. Get a tow. It’s better than driving around in a hazardous vehicle. 

The smell of burning oil isn’t okay – even in old cars. There are plenty of classic, retro car enthusiasts and used car sales men who will slap the hood of beater and tell us otherwise, but we know better. Cars that burn oil aren’t going to make it for the long haul.

This is said to be one of the least common symptoms, but it does happen.

If your car smells like burning oil, and it’s the rack and pinion that’s causing the problem, then the repair bill could be about $1400. 

Why is there a Grinding Noise when Driving my Car?

If your car sounds like it’s munching on gears when you turn into your driveway after work, that’s not normal; you might have a rack and pinion problem on your hands.

Older cars are especially prone to breakdowns for a variety of reasons. One of these situations is a bad steering experience; it becomes tight, hard, even impossible. Usually, before the final stage, the driver hears a terribly loud grinding noise when turning the car. That was the warning!

This can happen because the lubrication isn’t sufficient. When that happens, friction builds to a very high level, causing a loud noise as the vehicle goes in a new direction. It’s especially pronounced going over speedbumps or potholes (of which there are plenty in Chicago).

If this is happening, take the car to the mechanic for an estimate. The parts alone are fairly affordable, about $400. It’s the labor that’s another $700 to $800 for a grand total of $1400+.

How Much It Costs to Repair Rack and Pinion 

The mechanics know that the parts for rack and pinion run for about $350-$400 and the labor is another $750-$800.

Take the car to the mechanic for an estimate. Difficulties steering could be the result of many car-related issues, so it’s important to get an expert opinion. If you know somebody who knows a lot about cars, or is a mechanic, you could consult them on pricing.

How do I fix the Rack and Pinon at Home?

It’s actually not recommended to do rack and pinion repair at home if you don’t know what you’re doing (professional level).

The repair is tricky; that’s what makes the labor so expensive!

Of course, there are three causes that are the usual culprits: cracked or leaking hoses, lose connections or bad seals.

If you smell that scent of burnt oil, it’s a rack and pinion problem. Leaking fluid may also be on the scene.

It’s actually fairly easy to get the car up and take a peek to see if it’s the rack and pinion that’s leaking.

The seals are hard to get to in this repair, making it a challenge even for seasoned pros.

Some people will stop by the auto parts store and see if there’s a quick fix. There is, but it isn’t recommended to use more than once, if at all. Purists would say not to use these products, just go to a mechanic. 

Word on the street is they can help extend the time you have to get to the car to a mechanic, but their results are absolutely not a sure thing. Don’t count on them. 

It’s worth the $1400 to repair the steering system in terms of safety and reliability. Whether it’s worth it on an older car is a different question altogether.

Is it Worth It to Repair the Rack and Pinion on an Old Vehicle?

Let’s face the music: older cars just have higher rates of breakdowns. Things go wrong with old vehicles all the time – often the big problems, too: a bad air conditioner system, a blown head gasket, a bad rack and pinon problem. The list goes on and on.

Is it worth the $1400 repair bill to fix the rack and pinion in an old car? It’s hard to say.

If your car is not even worth $1400, the answer should be no in most cases. Granted, maybe you love your car. It’s a collector’s item. It’s your only option right now. Then, you may go ahead and do it, but understand that economically, your car isn’t likely going to get better at this point.

There are some exceptions to this wisdom: Maybe your car is in supreme shape, a brand-new model, and some kind of factory default has caused this one problem. In such a case, your repair is like to be covered under warranty anyway.

The problem with older cars, even though they look cool, and they get us from point A to point B, is that they break down often. Once you are hit with a couple of big repair bills, it starts to feel like a financial puzzle that cannot be solved. Why you are paying thousands for a car that is on its last leg?

The answer here is change you ride. You could get a new car, a new used car, or a bike. You might take up walking and get a bus pass. This broken-down vehicle might be holding you back, so its’ time to make a change. If that’s adding up for you, consider calling a junkyard.

Rack and pinion problems are enough to send a very old car to its grave, the junkyard. The good news, however, is that this action pays out. Instead of handing over $1400 to the repairperson, you could get paid cash by the junkyard tow truck driver. 

Smother Travels Ahead with a New Direction

If you’re finding that the rack and pinion problem is too much handle, take the process turn by turn.

  1. Identify the problem. What are the symptoms? If it’s leaking power steering fluid, a burning oil smell, or a grinding noise when you turn, it could be the rack and pinion that requires repair. This repair will be about $1400, give or take.
  2. List solutions. Make a little list of your choice. You could get a few estimates to see the true cost of the repair. You could ask what products at the auto parts store might help (not recommended). You could even try to do the repair yourself (not recommended).
  3. Choose the right solution for you. Maybe this car is worth the repair. Maybe it’s covered under warrantee. Maybe you’re a mechanic and the parts aren’t that expensive for you.  Or, perhaps you’re tired of these cars problem and determined to send the vehicle to the junkyard.
  4. Finally, prepare for a new journey.

Whether you repair the rack and pinion or not, you’re going to have a new perspective when you again are able to turn freely with your vehicle (or new mode of transportation).

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