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Steering Rack and Gear Boxes

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Steering Rack and Gear Boxes

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What is a rack and pinion steering system and where is it located?

Rack and pinion steering systems have taken the place of the older gear box driven systems in most cars, trucks, and SUVs on the road today. In a rack and pinion system, the steering wheel is attached to an intermediate steering shaft that spins a pinion gear in the steering rack assembly when the driver turns the steering wheel. Inside the rack assembly is the rack itself, a rod covered in a series of gear teeth.  The rack is essentially a gear straightened out.  The pinion meshes with rack and when it turns, the rack moves side to side, thereby converting the rotational motion into the linear motion of the steering rack. The steering rack then pushes the tie rods that are connected to each end of the rack.  The tie rods, in turn, move the wheel spindles to move the front tires in the desired direction. The rack assembly is often bolted to the firewall, or to the frame, below the engine bay.   

In a power steering system, a hydraulic power steering pump located on the front of the engine aids the process.  It pumps hydraulic fluid into the rack assembly to assist the rack’s movement from one side or the other.  The hydraulic fluid is held in with seals, and the tie rod attachments are protected by a pair of rubber bellows. 

How do I know if my rack and pinion parts need to be replaced?

Since the steering system is always in use, it is subject to constant wear and tear. Rubber seals built into the steering rack and pinion assembly can breakdown and tear, causing fluid leaks and loss of steering assistance. As the parts inside the rack assembly wear down, the power steering fluid might turn black with debris. 

Joints in the tie rods and intermediate steering shaft slowly develop “play,” resulting in sloppy movement and loose steering. Many states require the steering system be in top working order as part of annual safety inspections, so maintenance is important.

Can I replace the rack and pinion myself?

The difficulty of replacing a steering rack can vary a great deal from one car to another.Depending on the placement of the rack, as well as the engine and the transmission, it might be difficult to access the rack.

If you do perform the job by yourself, you can start by raising and supporting your vehicle and taking the wheels off. Then disconnect the outer tie rods. If you’re only replacing the rack bellows, you can do so at this point. To replace the entire rack, you’ll go on to remove the inner tie rods. Get a catch pan ready and disconnect the power steering lines from the rack. Then disconnect the steering shaft from the pinion. At this point you can unbolt the rack assembly from the frame.

If there is debris in your power steering fluid, you’ll want to flush the fluid at this point. Connect the new rack by reversing the above procedure. Once it’s reconnected add new fluid to the power steering fluid reservoir. Idle your engine and turn the steering wheel all the way in each direction several times to push any air bubbles out of the steering fluid. Add more fluid if necessary.

If you need to have the seals inside the rack replaced, we recommend having a professional mechanic do that job. You’ll want to have your suspension professionally aligned after replacing your steering rack.

Need replacement rack and pinion steering parts?

At 1A Auto, shopping for aftermarket rack and pinion steering replacement parts for your vehicle is easy - we're here to help you! Whether your car needs a replacement steering rack assembly, or replacement mounting bushings, seals, bellows or other rack and pinion components, 1A Auto has what you need to ensure the safety and integrity of your vehicle's rack and pinion steering system! Call our customer service toll free at 888-844-3393 if you have any questions about our aftermarket rack and pinion parts, warranty, compatibility or to purchase, or email us at service@1aauto.com.


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