Your car hasn’t been steering correctly, and the mechanic comes back with a diagnosis of a bad rack and pinion. What does this involve, and how much does rack and pinion repair cost? Read on as we walk you through the details.
What Is A Rack and Pinion?
A rack and pinion is a vehicle component that enables the wheels to move from side to side as the driver turns the steering wheel. In simple terms, a rack is a round gear that connects to the pinion, which is an elongated gear that rests on a tube-shaped structure. The rack is controlled by the steering column, which transmits steering wheel movement to the rack assembly. The entire rack and pinion assembly is sometimes called a steering rack. Power steering, a separate but connected system, helps the steering rack operate more smoothly.
A rack and pinion setup is standard in most passenger cars, SUVs, and light-duty trucks. Larger trucks, for example, rely on a different steering mechanism that’s better suited to heavier vehicles.
Symptoms of a Bad Rack and Pinion
Before we get into rack and pinion repair costs, let’s look at signs that the steering rack may be failing.
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Tight-Turning Steering Wheel
As mentioned earlier, power steering makes for the effortless operation of a steering rack. It’s a hydraulic system for quick and easy steering and vehicle control. However, if the steering wheel becomes harder to turn and doesn’t operate normally, chances are it has something to do with a loss of hydraulic pressure or heat build-up in the system.
The first step is to check the power steering fluid level and refill as needed (the owner’s manual will have more details on the process). Beyond this, have a qualified mechanic diagnose the situation as soon as possible. Given steering is a critical part of a car’s safe operation, a sign of a defective rack and pinion shouldn’t be ignored.
Power Steering Fluid Leak
Expanding on the previous point, low power steering can cause a rack and pinion to not operate properly or at all. Given that power steering uses a closed hydraulic system, fluid loss is usually caused by a leak, such as a failed seal, loose hose, or defective power steering pump. So, not only should the fluid be refilled, but the source of the leak should be identified. Any steering problem, including issues with the rack and pinion, should be immediately checked out by a mechanic.
To spot power steering fluid, look for a red or pink liquid that drips from the back of the engine compartment. You may also notice a burning oil smell.
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Grinding or Clunking Sound During Steering
A loud, jarring noise is never a good thing, especially from a car. And a failing steering rack will let you know something is wrong when a screeching or clunking sound appears during turning. This unusual sound can indicate lubrication loss or a broken internal mechanism.
Burning Oil Aroma
The smell of burning oil can indicate a problem with the steering rack. Of course, you’ll want to eliminate that the aroma doesn’t involve engine oil. But otherwise, the culprit could be tied into the power steering system. In general, burning smells are never good coming from a car. So, if this occurs, pull over to a safe place and stop the vehicle. Let a mechanic sort things out.
What to Know about Rack and Pinion Repair Costs
Repairing a steering rack really involves replacing the component. While a rack and pinion assembly can be fixed, it’s usually easier and less expensive to just swap out the part. In addition, steering repairs are best left to a professional mechanic.
According to RepairPal, it typically costs $1,440 to $1,734 to replace a steering rack. Let’s expand on this by looking at how much this repair runs for specific vehicles.
As seen in the chart, rack and pinion repair costs vary greatly depending on the brand. Some vehicles have an easier-to-access steering rack (which means lower labor costs), while others have pricey replacement parts. For instance, labor costs for this Lexus RX 350 repair make up 70 percent of the total repair bill. In contrast, labor for the replacement of the Audi A4’s steering rack eats up only about 25 percent of the total.
Frequently Asked Questions: Rack and Pinion
Should I drive a car with a rack and pinion problem.
In general, no, and this is for two reasons. First, properly functioning steering is necessary for safe vehicle operations. A malfunctioning steering rack may inhibit accident avoidance, or cause an unsafe situation. Second, driving a car with failed steering may cause more extensive damage to the car, including to adjacent systems.
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Does a steering rack need maintenance?
A rack and pinion system typically does not need regular maintenance, but always check with the manufacturer for specific guidance. On the other hand, power steering fluid should be flushed and replaced every two years or 50,000 miles (each automaker will have its own recommended maintenance schedule for this service).
How often does a steering rack need to be replaced?
Eventually, a rack and pinion system will fail from everyday use, but these components are engineered for long-term operation. It will be unusual to have to replace the steering rack before 100,000 miles. Highway driving (with fewer turns) takes less of a toll on the system than urban and suburban use. Proper maintenance also helps extend the life of all vehicle systems.
Before buying a used car, ensure any mechanical inspection includes a thorough check of the rack and pinion and the complete steering system. This measure is especially important for high-mileage vehicles.
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