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Summary
  • You can replace a faulty rack and pinion if you have the relevant DIY auto repair knowledge, equipment, and tools. If not, it’s best to leave this job to a mechanic.
  • A good repair manual usually has the answers to any questions you might have about rack and pinion replacement.
  • Always perform a wheel alignment after you replace the rack and pinion assembly.

If you drive a car, light-duty truck, or SUV, your vehicle probably steers with a rack and pinion steering system. The rack and pinion assembly is lighter and less complex than the other widely used steering system type, the recirculating ball gearbox.

While its lower complexity contributes to its overall reliability, the rack and pinion steering system isn’t immune to wear and tear. It can develop issues like grinding noises, power steering fluid leaks, and a tight sensation in the steering wheel. Fortunately, you can replace a faulty rack and pinion if you have the relevant DIY auto repair knowledge, equipment, and tools. If not, however, it’s best to leave this job to a professional.

Tips For When You Replace the Rack and Pinion

There are several ways to lighten the laborious load of fixing a faulty or worn-out rack and pinion. Try these helpful tips when it’s time to replace your vehicle’s rack and pinion system:

Raise Your Vehicle

The rack and pinion assembly is under your vehicle’s front end. You will never find it anywhere else. You can access the steering system by raising the front end with a car jack and holding your car or truck up with jack stands. The jack and stands ensure sufficient ground clearance and safety to slide beneath your vehicle and work on the rack and pinion steering.

Caution: Don’t ever work under a vehicle supported only by the jack you used to raise the vehicle.

Unfortunately, your vehicle’s weight will bear down on the part supported by the car jack or the jack stands. An insufficiently sturdy part can deform or get damaged by the saddle pressing into its bottom.

, Tips To Replace the Rack and Pinion

Pro Tips are nuggets of information direct from ASE-certified automobile technicians working with CarParts.com, which may include unique, personal insights based on their years of experience working in the automotive industry. These can help you make more informed decisions about your car.

Pro Tip: Always put the jack stands on concrete and on a level surface. Asphalt in the summer can fail to support the jack stands so that they sink into the pavement. Dirt is a bad idea unless you have some good thick plywood to put under the jackstands.

When you raise your vehicle, rest the saddle of the car jack against the frame rails or where you would put the jack for changing a tire. This is the safest place you can raise the vehicle without bending something. Do the same for the jack stands. The rails are part of the sturdy vehicle frame. You can usually find the frame rails behind the front wheels.

Stop the Steering Column With the Seat Belt

Seat belts protect their users by preventing sudden movements that can inflict injuries. However, the seat belt can also help during rack and pinion replacement by stopping the steering column from moving.

Rack and pinion replacement requires you to detach the steering u-joint. As its name indicates, the joint connects the steering column with the rack and pinion assembly.

While disconnecting the steering joint from the column, you must prevent the column and wheel from moving. If you let the column or wheel move, you might create more problems with the steering system and you might ruin the clockspring.

The seat belt comes into play here. Draw the restraint through one of the open spaces between the steering wheel’s spokes. Then, loop it over the wheel, pull it back toward the seat, and buckle it in.

The taut seat belt will restrict the movements of the steering column.

Instead of the seat belt, you can use a bungee cord or a similar length to immobilize the steering column. Secure the cord to a fixed object, such as the grab handles over the doors. Of course, every car has a steering wheel lock built in when you turn off the key and remove it, so there’s also that.

, Tips To Replace the Rack and Pinion

Pro Tips are nuggets of information direct from ASE-certified automobile technicians working with CarParts.com, which may include unique, personal insights based on their years of experience working in the automotive industry. These can help you make more informed decisions about your car.

Pro Tip: The steering needs to be right in the center before you remove the steering rack and the new steering rack needs to be centered as well. If you don’t follow this rule, you can destroy the airbag clockspring the first time you turn the wheels, and this will ruin your day because your air bag light will flash, your horn won’t work, and your cruise won’t either. So remember to center the steering before you start and lock the steering wheel. Usually taking the key out is a good idea, too, so the steering wheel will remain locked.

Keep the Pipe Still While Removing Power Steering Hoses

You must disconnect the power steering hoses before removing the rack and pinion assembly from your vehicle. The recommended tool for the job is a flare nut wrench.

Plan Ahead with Specific Measurements

Take measurements of how critical parts line up. Write the figure down before removing the parts. That way, you know how to align them.

For example, consider the tie rod ends. They affect how the wheels align. Before you remove the rack and pinion assembly, measure the distance between the bellows boot and the inside of the tie rod lock nuts that fasten the ends. After you install the new rack and pinion, you can get the new assembly close to the original alignment.

Note that most rack assemblies come with the inner and outer tie rod ends. Nevertheless, you need to check the toe (or hire it done) after replacing the rack.

Most rack and pinion assemblies come with the inner and outer tie rod ends. Nevertheless, you need to check the toe (or hire it done) after replacing the rack.

Richard McCuistian, ASE Certified Master Automobile Technician

Consult a Repair Manual

The steps to replace the rack and pinion can vary between vehicle models. You might find the relevant parts in different positions, which can prove easier or harder to work with.

When in doubt, refer to a repair manual. You can also compare the old and new rack and pinion assemblies to see if there are components that you must transfer from one to the other. Also, make sure they’re both alike.

Rare Instances of Ground Clearance Adjustment

Some vehicles require a specific ground clearance height before you can work on their rack and pinion. After lowering their cross member or K-frame, you can proceed with rack and pinion replacement.

Check the repair manual to see if your vehicle is one of those rare models. Follow the process and adjust the ground clearance by the recommended distance.

Bleed the Hydraulic Power Steering System

Does your vehicle have a power steering assist system that uses hydraulic fluid? If yes, you must bleed the power steering after replacing the rack and pinion.

Air can enter the hydraulic power steering system whenever you work on one of its parts. Air forms bubbles that reduce the power and responsiveness of power steering.

Remember the hydraulic fluid hoses connected to the rack and pinion assembly? You opened them up during removal, allowing air to contaminate the power steering system.

Fortunately, it’s easy to bleed the hydraulic power system. Fire up the engine before slowly rotating the steering wheel to one side until it locks up. Then, spin the wheel in the opposite direction until it reaches the lock position for that side.

You will hear a sound that resembles growling. That’s the sound made by the air bubbles. Keep slowly spinning the steering wheel until the growl disappears, indicating that you’ve bled all the air out of the power steering.

Add more fluid to the power steering system until you complete the bleeding process. Also, use the correct fluid for the job. Some vehicles use automatic transmission fluid in their power steering, while others use specialized power steering fluid. Refer to your owner’s manual for the manufacturer’s recommended specifications for power steering fluid.

Wheel Alignment

Always align the wheels after a successful rack and pinion replacement. Removing the old rack and pinion assembly changes the wheel alignment. Misaligned wheels can lead to issues like uneven tire wear and parts prematurely wearing out.

About The Authors
Written By Automotive and Tech Writers

The CarParts.com Research Team is composed of experienced automotive and tech writers working with (ASE)-certified automobile technicians and automotive journalists to bring up-to-date, helpful information to car owners in the US. Guided by CarParts.com's thorough editorial process, our team strives to produce guides and resources DIYers and casual car owners can trust.

Reviewed By Technical Reviewer at CarParts.com

Richard McCuistian has worked for nearly 50 years in the automotive field as a professional technician, an instructor, and a freelance automotive writer for Motor Age, ACtion magazine, Power Stroke Registry, and others. Richard is ASE certified for more than 30 years in 10 categories, including L1 Advanced Engine Performance and Light Vehicle Diesel.

Any information provided on this Website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace consultation with a professional mechanic. The accuracy and timeliness of the information may change from the time of publication.

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Brian

Awesome information

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