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Steering Box – What Is It And How do I Know It Is Failing?

Steering Box – What Is It And How do I Know It Is Failing?

Before you can figure out the importance of a properly working steering box and how to fix a steering gearbox, you first need to figure out – what is a steering box?

Auto Repairs Are EXPENSIVE


Let’s dive a little deeper into this subject and figure out what a steering box is, the symptoms of a bad steering box, how to properly fix the steering box, and the price of replacement for a steering box. 

What is a steering gearbox


The steering gearbox contains the gears that allow the driver to transmit the driver’s steering inputs into the linkage and mechanisms that turn the wheels properly, ensuring it can run correctly. The sterling box multiplies the driver's steering changes so that the wheels on the front of the vehicle can move more than the steering wheel.


Most cars produced on the market today use rack and pinion steering, where the mechanisms of steering turns a pinion gear, moving on a rack to turn the front wheel.s other types of cars use circulating ball systems, where the mechanics involved feature ball bearings mounted on a “worm” type of steering gear, showing the differences between these two systems and the use of a steering box. 

Symptoms of a bad steering box


As we now know, the steering system in each car made in modern factories today is mainly a rack and pinion steering system, composed of multiple parts moving simultaneously and various components, containing universal joints, main shafts, intermediate shafts, and, first and foremost, the steering rack, also known as the steering gearbox or steering box.


This central unit is in charge of the steering direction and the signals from the driver. Without this steering box, the steering wheel would not move. This central unit receives inputs, using the steering wheel and the steering column to send a mechanical signal to the aforementioned steering shafts to complete smooth, responsive, safe, and efficient turns in both directions. 


However, as with all parts of a car, the steering rack or gearbox can wear out, meaning that you will need to figure out repairs and replacements for your vehicle to keep the steering box working well. Quick service that is used in time before the damage gets too bad can mean that you save money and time on more expensive repairs and replacements. This is the difference between just a quick fix and a huge overhaul of your steering system. 


The steering rack is the main focus of the steering system, showing the importance of a steering box in the use of controlling your car. When the box wears out over time, shows damage, or completely breaks over a long time of use, the steering can be compromised and not work properly. If this happens during an inopportune time while you are driving, then this can be quite dangerous. You can prevent this by noticing the signs of a bad, failing, or damaged steering box that can save you time, crash potential, and money in the long run.

Signs of a Damaged Steering Box


Here are a few signs that can let you know of a potential problem that you currently have or one that is forming with the steering box in your car. 

Tight Steering Wheel


First, your steering wheel might be very tight feeling, or unable to turn properly or smoothly while controlling your car. The rack and pinion systems used in modern cars today are supported at the base by a power steering unit that features hydraulic pressure, allowing for your steering on your car to be responsive, smooth, efficient, and fast. 


If you find that it is harder to turn the steering wheel, showing a tightness of the steering box, then this can be due to a buildup or heat, or a loss of hydraulic pressure, causing a tightness in the box. Regardless of which reason, this is a problem that needs to be addressed and fixed, as it won't go away on its own, meaning you need to figure out a replacement or solution to the problem before it creates an unsafe driving situation. The solution to this driving steering box issue could be pretty simple, meaning that you should;nt wait to get it done, where you just need to add more power steering fluid or minorly adjust the steering box to extend the lifespan of your steering mechanism. 

Leaking Power Steering Fluid


Second, a leaking power steering fluid can cause issues to your gearbox and cause tightness in the steering wheel. As noted, sometimes tight steering means low power steering fluid. However, since the steering box in most cases is hydraulically powered, the fluid levels will not get lower unless you have discovered a leak in the system of your steering mechanism. Once you start to leak power steering fluid from your steering box, this means that there is a larger issue at play, a loose fitting wheel or broken gasket, or another mechanical problem that means the leak needs to be fixed as soon as possible before getting worse.


If you decide not to fix the leak or address the leaking of the power steering fluid,this is a costly mistake that can cause the steering rack, the steering box, or other parts to develop additional heat, potentially breaking other components of the steering mechanism or breaking gears that could lead to a dangerous situation and potentially a crash. 


So, how do you know you are leaking power steering fluid? There are key differences between power steering fluid and other fluids in your car. Leaking steering fluid from the steering box can be told apart from other fluids by the smell, which is categorized as a burning smell that is distinctive from other liquids in your car. The steering fluid is generally red or pink in color, and will be originating from the rear part of your motor. Make sure you call a mechanic or bring your car to a nearby automotive shop so they can professionally address the issue and inspect the leak to repair it before it damages your steering box further.

Failing Gearbox


Third, a bad, damaged, or failing gearbox is generally the result of a lack of proper lubrication, reducing smooth movement, and a lack of repairs or service. If you do not regularly check the service of the steering box, a grinding noise can creep up. The friction causes metal on metal contact, creating a loud grinding noise when you turn the steering wheel in either direction, and reducing lubrication for smooth movement. 


When does this normally happen? Well, usually during uneven terrain or during a bump in the road. If you are driving along the highway and hit a pothole, then this grinding noise can become apparent. If you are turning up onto a higher driveway or the entrance to a shop, the grinding noise can occur when going over the bump. 


Notice this sound? Don’t wait to get help with the grinding noise of your steering box. Contact a mechanic right away so that the professional can quickly and accurately diagnose the issue and replace the steering box if needed.

Smell of Burning Oil


The last symptom of a tight steering wheel that affects the steering box negatively and the ability to control your car is the smell of burning oil. As we know, the oil that can leak from the steering wheel and the box is pink or red, and has a very strong and distinctive aroma. If the steering fluid itself is leaking, you will definitely smell a strong aroma of burnt oil while the steering box is also very hot. 


If you feel like this is happening, you will surely be able to recognize it. Find a safe place to pull over if this occurs and stop driving immediately. If you decide to keep driving, this can be catastrophic, as your car might catch on fire and the car could explode if you get in a crash during this instance. 

How To Check For Damage To Steering Box

There are many ways you can check for wear in the steering box to make sure you can safely drive your car. First, check for wear in the rack and pinion system. Check for paly, or give, by turning the steering wheel while the car is stationary and not moving. You should not be able to physically move the wheel more than around 75mm before the wheels begin to turn. Make sure you check your own car manual to determine the exact amount your car wheel should turn. 


To check the steering box itself, raise the front of the car on ramps, which you might have to do at a professional service shop. This way, the weight can be all placed on the front two wheels. Put on the handbrake and put chocks behind the rear wheels, marking a space on the rim of the steering wheel with a chalk mark or a temporary marker so that you can determine how much the steering wheel moves. 


The other way you can check for damage to the steering box is to check the pinion shaft and splined joint by determining the pinion shaft is not loose or shaky. Push and pull the shaft to see if the splined joint is loose in teh shaft, and then disconnect the joint. Then try to move the pinion shaft in and out in either direction – if there is movement, then this is a sign of a damaged steering box. You can fix a loose splined joint by tightening the pinch bolt. 

Steering Rack and Steering Box Replacement


Keep in mind when you're trying to repair or replace your steering rack and that the process requires heavy and sometimes expensive and sophisticated equipment that needs to be used properly and professionally to comprehensively fix the issue. Many of these big and heavy parts that are underneath your vehicle, like the shafts, joints, and steering mechanisms, can wear out over the course of time and after extended use.


If you feel like your steering is tight like we said, chances are your rack is fine. But if you see that the steering is sloppy, if your power steering fluid is leaking, then you should bring your car to an inspection at a mechanic’s quickly and immediately. 


So, how is the repair and replacement done? The mechanic will need to raise the vehicle and support the car on jack stands so they can do the repair and see everything they need to. The tires are then removed and the tie rods and steering gear is disconnected from the system. Next, the steering rack and the steering box is replaced – we will go over how much this costs too. Next, the system is given new fluid and the tires are installed. Lastly, the vehicle is lowered off of the jack stands and you are good to go. 


The price of replacement depends on the type of car you have. If you have an older car, like a 2007 Dodge Ram 2500, then the estimated price cost for replacing a steering box is around $484. The parts cost is just over $308, while the labor cost is $175, with the average dealer price being around $544.


However, this is one of the lower estimates for a steering box replacement. On the higher end of the spectrum with luxury vehicles, a 2014 Porsche Cayenne is round $1926, with the parts cost being around $1645 and the labor cost coming in at just below $280, with the average dealer price being around $2021. This hefty price makes you wonder is it worth the cost? For some cars, like the BMW model lineup, the price might be too much then it is worth in the end.