Are you having some problems with your steering system and you noticed that there is a leaking rack and pinion under the car? If that is the case, then this is bad news for you. But we are going to dissect the problem and give you the most useful information on how to overcome this problem.
Having a problem like this is serious. Why I’m saying this? This is the case because the steering rack is one of the most important components when it comes to vehicle steering and keeping the car on the road.
Whenever you leave the problem under the carpet, it will come out and hit you in the face. These are the types of problems that shouldn’t be ignored if you don’t want to put your life in danger and possibly end up hurt. Remember that the steering is the one that keeps you on the road. If you don’t want to have a life-threatening situation, it’s best to take a look and fix the problem ASAP. And we are going to help you out with that in this article.
In this article, we are going to start from the basics and learn how the steering system works in reality. From which components is it made of and how these components are communicating between them. Then we will see what is the steering rack and pinion and what could possibly make it leak. After we will take a look at the symptoms of a leaking rack and pinion. Lastly, we will take a look at the costs involved in fixing this issue permanently. So, let’s get into it.
How Does The Steering System Work?
The steering system is a simple mechanical system that allows you to maneuver the car while turning on the steering wheel left or right.
Old-school steering is mechanical, but in recent years, they are slowly evolving to a drive-by-wire style of electric steering. It’s otherwise called steer-by-wire. Most steering systems today are still mechanical in nature, though. This also makes the steering system very easy to service and repair some of the problems, like the leaking rack and pinion. But from which components are the steering system composed? Let’s find out.
The only component that you are seeing while you driving is the steering wheel. The steering wheel is that round circle that you use to maneuver left or right. Then this steering wheel is connected to the steering column. The steering column is a steel rod that is connected with the intermediate shaft, and then the intermediate shaft is connected with the steering rack through the pinion gear.
Then as the vehicle turns the pinion gear turns as well, moving the rack left or right depending much on the driver’s input. Overall, this is everything you need to know on how does the steering system works.
Now to forget that the ends of the rack are connected with the tie rods which are connected with the wheels. Also, there is a power steering system in most modern cars that is using a power steering pump to pump hydraulic fluid into the steering rack and this fluid is helping the driver to steer the wheel.
If there wasn’t power steering you would find it extremely difficult to steer the car while it is stationary. But we are here leaking rack and pinion and in the following chapters, we will learn more about them.
What Is Steering Rack And Pinion?
The steering rack is a complex mechanical device that is manufactured with great precision. The steering rack looks like a steel tube and you would probably think that this is something really simple thing. But looks can be deceiving. Why is this the case? This is the case because you are only observing the housing.
The real rack is inside of the housing where it protrudes from each of the sides and then it is connected to the rack end and then the rack end is connected to the tie rod.
What is interesting in this situation is the connection between the steering rack and the steering column and the intermediate shaft.
They are connected through a gear that is known as the pinion gear. When you turn the wheel in one direction, the pinion rotates and its teeth enter the teeth of the steering rack. Moving the rack left or right. Which is really amazing engineering, to be honest.
This design is so bulletproof and rarely fails. But sometimes there could be a leaking rack and pinion. And that we are going to discuss in the following chapters where we will learn from where these leaks come from and what could cause them.
What Can Make The Rack And Pinion To Leak?
Now it’s time to cover the root of our problem and that is the leaking rack and pinion and find out why do they leak and develop a number of problems. We will go through each of these issues and deliver you the best answers to why is this the case with your leaking rack and pinion.
1. Bad Seals
The number one reason why the rack is leaking is the bad seals that are located on each end of the steering rack. These seals are created specifically for the hydraulic fluid that is inside of the steering rack not to leak out and cause leaks.
Over time these seals tend to wear out and fail. When the seals fail, some leaks start to develop. In the beginning, this is only a minor seepage. But as time goes by, these seals can leak out all of the hydraulic fluid that is located inside of the steering rack.
If there is no fluid in the steering rack, a number of problems will appear and a ton of possible issues as well. That’s why it is often a good idea to inspect the steering rack for possible leaks and learn if there is a leaking rack and pinion problem on your vehicle.
2. Bad Gasket
Another place where the leaks can come is the gasket that is located on the top of the steering rack. This is the place where the rack and the pinion meet.
And by this, we mean where the rack housing and the pinion housing are connected. In between these two housings, there is a very thin gasket that is also known to leak power steering fluid.
This leak rarely occurs. But it knows to happen. Especially in vehicles that were on the road for many miles. There is a huge amount of pressure that is building in this steering rack.
So, this pressure greatly affects these gaskets and seals. Sooner or later they will show their weak points and start to leak out. Not an ideal situation. But it is what it is.
What is important tho, is to make sure that your power steering system is not left out dry. Because if you leave it like this for a long time. The rack and the pinion can get damaged since there is not enough lubrication.
And as metal grinds with other metal, the damage will be irreversible and the steering rack could not be rebuilt. In the end, you will have to get a new steering rack that will come at a really high price.
3. Loose Connection
In the power steering system, there are a great number of screws and fittings that also can develop a leaking rack and pinion. Some lines direct the hydraulic fluid from the steering pump into the rack and pinion and make the power steering system work properly.
In some instances, these hoses and fittings can have a loose connection. This loose connection will develop leaks and make the rack and pinion leak power steering fluid.
This is often the consequence of a botched repair. Some mechanics are simply extremely bad and often can make botched repairs that will cause leaks eventually.
That’s why you need to be aware of where you take your car to and make sure that the people there are fully professional.
Precisely this problem often happens after a leaking rack and pinion were rebuilt and the mechanic that was assembling the rack and pinion or the guy who installed the rack and pinion on the car didn’t do their job right and left something loose. This is not an ideal situation. But it is fixable and could be done quickly and make your system work fine once again.
The important thing tho is to notice the leaks sooner to return the rack to those who rebuilt it and demand your money back. Then take it to another place where people know what they are doing and know how to fix the steering rack.
Symptoms Of A Leaking Rack And Pinion
We have covered the probable causes why this problem might occur. Now let’s discuss the symptoms that are connected with a leaking rack and pinion. As we all know the rack and pinion are located underneath the car.
So, it is very difficult for you to know if it’s leaking, if you do not notice some symptoms. And more on which are these symptoms we are going to learn in the following chapters where we will elaborate them in detail.
1. Leaks Underneath The Car
The first and most common symptom of this problem with the leaking rack and pinion is the visible leaks on the ground. This isn’t always the case, because even if the rack leaks, it doesn’t always develop major leaks.
But in cases where these leaks are too large, you will notice some drips at the ground in your garage. These oil stains indicate that something is leaking (which you’ll no doubt have to figure out how to get oil off driveway). But there are a ton of things that can leak. The engine oil from the oil pan can leak. The coolant, oil radiators if there are any, as well as the power steering system that includes the rack and pinion can leak and make a leaking rack and pinion problem.
The important thing in this situation is to inspect the fluid. If the power steering is leaking the fluid should be light red in color. Similar to the transmission fluid. Or translucent in some cases.
Depending on the type you are using. And the leak should be on the sides of the rack in most cases. Since the seals of the steering rack are leaking in most of the cases. The best solution would be to inspect the car from underneath and see from where it sips fluid to diagnose the problem.
2. Steering Wheel Is Hard To Turn
Another very common symptom of a leaking rack and pinion is the difficulty of the steering wheel to turn. This problem can be very frustrating to deal with and can make you really angry since your power steering is probably off. But why is this the case?
This is the case because there is not enough fluid in the system. Remember that leaks are coming from the bottom of the car. So, the fluid escapes out of these points.
Even if you top off the fluid. The system will continue losing power steering fluid from these places and there would not be enough pressure build-up so the power steering could work properly.
This is a clear indication that the rack and pinion need to be rebuilt or replaced with a brand new OEM unit.
3. Steering Wheel Is Not Dead Centered
If there is not enough fluid inside of the rack and the rack is leaking from one side. Then it’s highly likely that the steering wheel will pull to one side and will make your driving experience worse.
You will be constantly required to adjust the steering wheel to make it straight and the car drive right. A car like this is also not very safe and could be damaging for you and your safety. So, if you have a symptom like this, don’t ignore it because you most likely have a leaking rack and pinion.
4. Grinding Noise When You Turn The Steering Wheel
Grinding noise will also start to develop if there is a lack or no power steering fluid inside of the steering rack and pinion. The fluid might leak out from the sides and the rack will grind against the pinion.
As we know this grinding at first will be mild but soon as the pinion is left with no lubrication will start to grind more and more. The damage from this would be irreversible and the only outcome would be to get a new steering rack for your vehicle.
A new rack can be quite costly since buying a new rack is very expensive. But more on that we will cover later after we discuss all of the leaking rack and pinion symptoms.
5. Burning Smell Caused By Leaking Rack And Pinion
A burning smell will be also present when there is a leaking steering rack problem. This power steering fluid escapes from the sides and comes in contact with hot components like the engine and this makes this burning smell.
As well as if the fluid inside of the rack and pinion heats up tremendously. There will also make a burning smell to be felt inside of the cabin. Overall, a clear indication that there is something wrong and this problem has to be properly addressed. But how you can address this problem with the leaking rack and pinion? Well, that’s what we are going to cover in the following chapters.
How To Fix The Leaking Rack And Pinion?
There are two ways to fix a rack and pinion on your car. The first way is the simplest and will require replacing the rack of the car.
The second way to fix this problem with the leaking rack and pinion is to rebuild the rack and pinion. Either way, there is a lot of work to be done. That’s why a lot of car owners are trying to get away from this and drive the car like that.
But driving the car like that isn’t smart since there will be damage done to the steering rack and make it unusable. Not to forget that it is dangerous to drive like this.
Either way, you should make sure that you sort this problem as soon as possible. This problem should be sorted by mechanics that are competent and know what they are doing. You don’t want to pay twice for this job. It will cost you a whole fortune if you leave this work to be done by incompetent people. But what is the cost to fix a leaking rack and pinion? Well, that’s what we are going to learn next.
Cost To Fix The Rack And Pinion?
But what is the cost to fix this problem with a leaking rack and pinion? I’m sorry to disappoint you if you were thinking that this is a cheap job that you can do for a couple of dollars.
The cost to replace the steering rack is not the most affordable and it is highly likely for you to pay somewhere between $600 to $1400 to get this done on your car. And this is only if you want to rebuild your existing steering rack.
If you want to purchase a completely new steering rack, you can expect to pay near $1,800. In addition to this, the labor is quite costly because the whole engine has to be pulled up for the mechanic to remove the steering rack from the vehicle. This work will also cost you about $600.
Overall, a really expensive job that nobody wants. But sometimes we need to address these problems and there is no way around it.
Will I Need An Alignment After This Repair?
Now let’s see if you will need an alignment after you fixed the leaking steering rack. And the answer is yes, you will need an alignment on your car after you make this work possible.
This is the case because whenever you make even slight changes on your suspension like replacing a ball joint. The car will need an alignment to be performed to it.
If you don’t do an alignment, your steering wheel could pull on one side. In addition to this, the tires can wear down unevenly and prematurely. Resulting in tire change too soon than usual.
Doing an alignment after fixing the leaking rack and pinion will also make all of the suspension components breathe as one and the car will simply drive like a dream.
Can I Drive With A Leaking Rack And Pinion?
When it comes to driving with a bad steering rack. We can say that it is possible to drive like this for a while. But it is not recommended practice.
We are not all rich and we understand that it can sometimes be a struggle to get all the money needed for the repair. And the steering rack will hold on for a while.
Just make sure that you top off the fluid whenever you can and never leave the power steering tank all empty and dry. This will make the car undrivable and it could ruin the rack and pinion system if you are running it dry. So, don’t do that and take your car to a shop as soon as possible to get this problem sorted out.
Facts about Rack and Pinion System with Power Steering:
- Most cars on the road today use a rack and pinion steering system with power steering, which makes steering easier but adds complexity to the system.
- Adding power steering to a rack and pinion steering system involves placing a cylinder with a piston in the rack and adding fluid to both sides of the piston to assist with steering.
- Over time, wear and tear on the steering system components can cause leaks, which are more likely to occur from one of the seals on the rack and pinion rather than the hoses or connections.
- Three main factors that can cause leaks in the system are cracked rubber hoses, loose connections, and dry, cracked, or unseated seals.
- Leaking power steering fluid can be identified by its burning oil smell and red or pink color, and it may leave a small puddle under the car.
- A leaking rack and pinion system with power steering can cause the steering to become difficult and inconsistent, and it can contribute to an accident if the driver lacks sufficient strength to handle the heavy steering.
- A leaking power steering system can cause the steering rack or gearbox to overheat, which can lead to severe consequences.
- Repairing a leaking rack and pinion system can be expensive as the seals are difficult to service, and most leaks are solved by replacing the entire system.
- A “power steering stop leak” product can provide a temporary fix but is not a permanent solution, and it should be flushed out with the power steering system at the next service.
- Checking the system for leaks by examining the hoses, connections, and seals directly can be done using a jack, jack stands, or a ramp.
Conclusion To Leaking Rack And Pinion
In this article, we have covered quite a bit when it comes to the leaking rack and pinion problem. First, we learned how the steering system works and what are the rack and pinion.
Then we have covered the probable causes for the leaking rack and pinion. And as we can tell, these are the leaky seals. As well as leaky gaskets that are located on the steering rack.
Then we covered the most common symptoms that you will experience when you are having a leaking rack and pinion on your car. These might include visible leaks, the steering wheel not being straight, and no power steering.
Lastly, we learned how you can fix this problem. There are two ways, rebuild the rack or replace it. Either way works. Rebuilding is cheaper though. So, it’s up to you which route you go.