Steering Shaft Buyer's Guide
- The steering shaft is the crucial link between the steering wheel and your car’s front wheels.
- There’s more than one steering system that’s available today: Rack & Pinion and Recirculating Ball or Steering Box.
- The most common layouts or types of steering system on cars, even today, is the rack & pinion steering.
- Some vehicles, especially the heavy-duty ones, come with the recirculating ball steering type
- Symptoms of bad steering shaft include noises when turning the wheel, steering difficulty, loose steering, and a steering wheel that does not revert.
- OE steering shaft can cost you around $13 to $500.
What is a Steering Shaft?
The steering shaft is the crucial link between the steering wheel and your car’s front wheels. It is the primary link that connects the steering wheel and the steering rack. Without it, you wouldn’t be able to turn the front wheels left or right, or even keep it straight. It comes in various designs depending on the car model and the steering system it fits.
The steering shaft is also called the steering column by some, although a diagram of a steering system will show you that the steering column and the shaft are two components conjoined to function as one. But, of course, there’s more than one steering system that’s available today: Rack & Pinion and Recirculating Ball or Steering Box.
Types of Steering Systems
If you have multiple vehicles in your garage, there’s a slight chance that the steering systems in them would look different if you take a peek. The most common layouts or types of steering system on cars, even today, is the rack & pinion steering. However, some vehicles, especially the heavy-duty ones, come with the recirculating ball steering type. Here’s the difference between the two:
Rack & Pinion
The main, and probably the most obvious difference between the two common types of steering systems is their construction and layout. For starters, the rack & pinion steering offers the simplest of the two. This type of steering system features a pinion attached at the very end of the steering shaft. This pinion clings on to the steering rack’s grooves or teeth.
The mechanism also includes either an axial or tie rod that’s connected to each end of the rack. The chief task that the rack & pinion steering needs to accomplish is to convert the circular motion of the steering wheel into a linear motion that turns the wheel in return. There are two types of rack & pinion: end take-off and center take-off.
On top of those, rack & pinion has another variant, known as variable-ratio steering. This rack & pinion subtype has more teeth at the center rather than at the ends to make steering more precise and less sensitive, especially when the steering wheel is near its center position.
Also known as the steering box, the recirculating ball steering system runs on a parallelogram linkage that has the pitman and idler arm parallel. The reason the recirculating ball steering gets used in heavy-duty vehicles is that it can absorb heavy shocks and vibrations you may get under heavy loads.
Unlike in rack & pinion, the recirculating ball steering features a fixed threaded rod. This threaded rod has ball bearings that lessen friction by making sure the gear’s teeth are fixed when rotating the steering wheel.
Symptoms of a Bad Steering Shaft
The steering shaft is critical in maintaining your vehicle’s handling. This means that driving with a faulty steering shaft is a safety concern that you should avoid at all costs. Here are common signs that your steering shaft needs replacement.
Weird Noises When Turning the Steering Wheel
Among the first few symptoms you may encounter if your steering shaft goes bad are weird noises. The common sounds that a bad steering shaft produces are metal popping sounds. These noises usually happen each time the steering wheel turns.
The volume and amount of sound can sometimes indicate the severity of the damage. But don’t wait till the popping gets louder. Bring it to a certified auto repair shop and have a professional fix the problem. Keep in mind that any weird sounds coming from your vehicle are clear indicators of a problem, so don’t ignore them.
Difficulty Turning the Car
If you find it harder to turn the wheels than it used to, it could indicate a faulty steering shaft. Not only will it require you to exert more effort, but it will also reduce your emergency reaction time. This is extremely dangerous for both experienced and inexperienced drivers.
Steering Wheel Tilt Function Won’t Lock
Steering wheel tilt function has become a standard in modern cars. This allows drivers to adjust the steering wheel according to their preference. Some have electronic adjustment while entry-level models have manual adjusting that’s operated by a lever.
Tilting the steering wheel involves a locking mechanism that locks the assembly on an angle as preferred by the driver. A bad steering shaft can cause this function to malfunction. There are reports that the steering wheel won’t lock in place and some cases point toward a failing steering shaft.
Steering Wheel That Doesn’t Revert Back
Manufacturers designed the steering wheel to rotate back to its original position after turning it. This is, however, not a complex mechanism that involves chips and sensors. The steering wheel reverts back mechanically due to an inclined steering axis. The front wheels of your car feature a caster angle, achieved by angling the steering axis to the back, causing the patch area to move behind the pivot point of the wheel.
The caster angle causes the steering wheel to revert back to its position. Thanks to the law of physics, the wheel will revert into a straight position. A bad steering shaft can compromise this action. The reversion of the steering wheel is a safety feature and not having it function at all times is dangerous.
If you find out that your steering wheels do not return back to straight, contact your trusted mechanic right away and prevent further problems like loss of steering control.
How much is an OE replacement steering shaft?
OE steering shafts can cost you around $13 to $500 and are only sold individually. These include a wide selection of replacements from reputable brands. You can quickly find the perfect fit for your vehicle by indicating your ride’s year, make, and model in the filter tab under the search menu. You may also select the budget range or series you want and filter out the products that don’t match with your search.
Steer Clear of Danger: How to Fix Your Car's Steering Shaft
Your vehicle's steering shaft is among the most important components of the steering system. It's critical in keeping the good handling of your car, and is responsible for providing you with a seamless turning experience. When the steering shaft of your vehicle starts to malfunction, the best solution is to have it replaced immediately. This way, you can avoid getting into accidents caused by lack of steering control.
To change your car's steering shaft, here's a brief procedure you can follow:
Difficulty level: Moderate
Tools to be prepared:
- Torque wrench
- Socket wrench and long extension
- Jack and jack stands
- Safety gloves
Step 1: Lift your car using the jack and keep it raised by placing jack stands at the appropriate points underneath your vehicle.
Step 2: Uninstall the front wheels to get clearance to the wheel wells. Remove all the lug nuts and unbolt the clamp that secures the steering column to the pinion shaft.
Step 3: Remove the outer tie rod ends using a special tie-rod end puller. This tool will help you get the tapered bolt to be chucked out of its grip on the steering upright. If you plan to reuse the old outer tie rod ends, make sure you don't use a fork-type remover to take them off the knuckles. Doing so can destroy the grease seals. Use a puller-type remover or just leave them in the uprights.
Step 4: Use a pipe wrench to loosen the jam nuts and turn the tie rods. You need to turn the screw in a clockwise manner on one side, while counterclockwise in the other. This will unbolt the steering rack from the chassis.
Step 5: Disengage the fluid lines and get a pan to receive the power steering hydraulic fluid as it drains.
Step 6: Refill the tank with fresh fluid and cap the ends. Twist and wiggle the old steering shaft from the vehicle and install the new one in the exact same place.
Step 7: Reinstall the pressure line and have an alignment shop reset the toe-in adjustment to prevent difficult handling and premature tire wear. Reinstall everything in reverse and take your car off the jack and jack stands.