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Power steering components and related car steering parts comprise one of the most important control mechanisms in your entire car. Most drivers associate the steering system and related steering parts to one element of the driving experience: control. And while control is certainly an important part of the system, it’s not the only consideration – or even the most important one. Car steering system parts are also integral to overall safety. After all, without being able to maneuver properly on the road – to both stay on the road and stay away from potential road hazards – accidents would be much more common.
BuyAutoParts.com has all kinds of steering components, performance steering parts and other accessories to help you achieve optimal safety, even when driving conditions aren’t ideal. Similar to our other OEM-quality components, our steering parts are designed to the exact specifications and performance characteristics as their original factory installed counterparts.
As you consider which steering system parts to purchase, this page will provide a solid overview of the entire steering system.
How the Steering System Works
You turn the steering wheel, and the front wheels turn accordingly. In the category of “Much Easier Said than Done,” this is at the top of the list. How your car turns, and how the turning process happens under certain driving conditions, is actually a semi-complicated process. The idea of your car’s steering system is to take relatively effortless movement – in this case, the simple turn of the steering wheel – and transfer that movement into the front wheels.
Three major parts make up a car’s steering mechanism. They are the rack housing (lower end, parallel to the axle), steering column (connected to your steering wheel) and a universal joint (connects the rack housing and the steering column). When the steering column is turned (via the steering wheel motion), the universal joint keeps everything aligned, regardless of the rack housing position. The steering rack serves as a track for the steering mechanism to control motion from the column. How this happens depends on which type of steering system your car utilizes. Today’s automobiles are equipped with either a rack and pinion system or a steering box. How do they differ? Is one superior to the other? Keep reading below.
Two Systems, Similar Results
Two major steering systems dominate the way in which auto designers and engineers choose to implement steering. Whether your car uses rack and pinion steering or a steering box, the end result is the same – make it easy for the driver to achieve proper wheel turns without a superhuman effort. Before the advent of power steering, it was much more difficult to turn the steering wheel, especially under less than ideal driving conditions (weather, the need to suddenly turn, potholes, road debris, etc.). Talk to an older driver (anyone got their driver’s license before 1970), and they’ll tell you how much harder it was in the “good old days.” Let’s take a look at the rack and pinion system and also the standard steering box method.
Rack and pinion – let’s revisit those three primary steering parts from above. The rack housing is connected to the steering column by a universal joint. In rack and pinion steering, the universal joint is located above a rotary gear, which moves right and left along the rack housing. This happens whenever the driver turns the steering wheel. Rack and pinion steering follows the “keep it simple” principle. Because there are few moving parts and direct control from the steering column, rack and pinion offers superior control for steering under a variety of driving conditions.
Your car is most likely equipped with any of the following three steering rack designs:
- Power steering rack – very common in newer cars. This type of power steering is controlled through hydraulics, where oil is pumped to the steering system for greater power.
- Electric steering rack – unlike traditional hydraulic and mechanical power steering racks, electronic controlled racks offer the same precision and dependable performance, with the added benefit of better fuel mileage.
- Manual steering racks – before the onset of power steering systems, this was the preferred design of steering rack. However, this is common in older cars only. Check with our inventory for power to manual steering rack conversion components.
Steering box – this steering system has more room for error than rack and pinion, for reasons we’ll analyze below. Just keep this in mind with a steering box: there are many move moving parts involved, and that translates into more opportunity for failure. The premise behind the steering box system (and also what gives it the name) is a steering box located below the universal joint. Inside the steering box is something called a worm gear, which operates similar to a threaded bolt. When the steering wheel turns, the worm gear transfers movement to two other components, the drop arm and idler arm. These arms offer additional control and leverage for the front wheels. While effective, this style of steering is not as popular as a rack and pinion for two primary reasons: it’s less precise and also more complicated; in other words, with more moving parts, there’s a higher probability that something will eventually go wrong.
Signs of Steering Failure
When your steering system starts to fail, you’ll know it. But knowing exactly what to look for is helpful, so pay attention to the following things:
For rack and pinion systems, these symptoms usually indicate larger problems are at play:
- Excessive play in steering
- Unresponsive steering wheel motion
- Difficulty turning steering wheel
- Clicking sound when turning steering wheel (might indicate universal joint failure)
For steering box systems, look out for these things:
- Burning smell or discolored oil (usually low steering box oil)
- Loud noise when turning
- Car pulls to one side when driving (could also be alignment issues)
- Significant “play” in steering wheel (when you have to turn the wheel much more than usual)
Should you experience any of these problems, pull your car safely off the road and have your steering system inspected for signs of failure.
Power Assisted Steering – How Steering Flexes its Muscle
A little power can go a long way to help out any mechanical movement. Take your car windows, for instance. It’s next to impossible to buy a new car today without power assisted windows. And it’s not as if the old crank style windows were particularly hard to operate; it’s just that power windows are easier to operate. Power assisted steering is probably the most revolutionary idea ever to impact the steering system.
It originally started as a way to assist turning the steering wheel on extra-large trucks, construction equipment and other heavy-duty equipment. Power steering uses power from the engine to run a pump, which delivers oil to the steering control box. Thanks to clever design, power steering takes standard open and close valves to both supply and restrict oil flow to the steering system. When the steering wheel is turned, valves open to allow extra oil flow. Conversely, when the wheel stops turning, the valves close to prevent extra oil.
If power is lost (due to a bad pump, improperly working valves or other issues), the lack of power steering won’t prevent your car from turning; it just makes it harder to turn the wheel. For young drivers, a failing power steering pump is an unwelcome invitation to discover how hard it used to be to turn the steering wheel – not a lesson anyone likes to sign up for, especially for those tough turns.
Here are some common signs of power steering failure:
- Squealing or whining noise – power steering fluid is low
- Vibrating steering wheel – power steering belt is worn or loose
- Difficulty in turning – could be any of the following: low power steering fluid, steering rack leak or bad power steering belt
Installing a New Steering System
If you need a new steering rack or other power steering component, doing the work yourself will take a significant time investment. Most mechanics will charge 3-4 hours of labor for a steering rack replacement. For DIY steering rack projects, you should add another 2 hours for total labor time. The cost for a steering rack is dependent upon many factors, including the type of rack, car make and model and other considerations. BuyAutoParts.com has a wide selection of steering racks (for the three different types mentioned above), performance steering parts, power steering pumps and other components made to perform as well (if not better than) the original factory steering part.
For Steering Components and Top Quality Steering Parts, BuyAutoParts.com is Your #1 Source
Steering repairs can get expensive, once you take into account both parts and labor. BuyAutoParts.com helps you save money on both fronts. Our power steering components, steering parts and other related accessories are competitively priced for optimum value, and if you choose to do your own repairs, you’ll enjoy significant savings. BuyAutoParts.com has online resources to help with your next steering repair project, and we also feature user-friendly Buying Guides, including Steering Pump and Steering Rack sections. To connect with a BuyAutoParts.com steering parts consultant, please call us at (888) 907-7225.
Automotive Steering Parts Resources
Buyer’s Guide: Steering Gearbox
This part found in older vehicles can be tricky to shop for. We created this buyer’s guide to help make the process of finding the steering gearbox you need easier.
Buyer’s Guide: Steering Pump
This vital part which provides the hydraulic pressure needed to steer your vehicle is not always the easiest part to shop for since it is usually nested deep in your engine block. We provide some tips and tricks we have learned over the years to get you the right steering pump for your automobile.
Buyer's Guide: Steering Rack
Due to the abundance of options afforded to you when shopping for a steering rack we created this buyer’s guide to help make the process as easy as possible. No matter whether you have a power steering rack, a manual steering rack or an electric power steering rack, we have you covered.
In this gateway page we have all our how-to articles for anything steering. Head here to find more information about repairing your steering system.
Two Reasons Why Steering Racks Fail
This helpful how-to section article lays out the two main causes for steering rack failure. It is not always as clear as you may think, read into why steering racks fail.
How to Troubleshoot Steering
There are so many ways something in your steering system could go wrong. Thankfully, there are also a list of ways to troubleshoot your way out of trouble. Read this article to see if any of our tips help.
How Much Does a Steering Rack Cost?
Steering rack repairs at the shop or dealership can get expensive. Read this helpful guide to see the typical ranges of how much steering racks cost, as well as typical labor times.
How Much Does a Steering Gearbox Cost?
Read this article to discover how much you could expect to spend on a steering gearbox repair before you visit the mechanic. The article breaks down typical labor times and part costs for different vehicles.
Why a New Steering Gearbox Will Save Your Life
This blog post dives deep into the safety hazards of driving with a faulty steering gearbox on your old truck. Don’t take a chance, read this.
Five Reasons Your Steering Wheel Shakes
A shaky steering wheel is not only a frustrating experience but can also be a scary experience. There are five reasons why your steering wheel could be shaking, read more about them here.
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