It's hard to believe, but power steering is a relatively new invention for most cars. The idea for automobile power steering has been around ever since automobiles burst onto the scene in the late 19th century. Soon after, the first round of patents was issued. At the turn of the 20th century, the first hydraulic power steering system was created.
But it wasn't until American car manufacturer Chrysler started mass-producing power steering systems in the 1950s that it became more of a safety feature and less of a luxury. Compared to the Chrysler models of the 1950s and 1960s, other cars seemed to stiff and unsafe to drive - and from there, power steering systems became a mainstay of car makers around the world.
Power steering was simply an upgrade from traditional rack and pinion steering. In this system, the steering rack and steering wheel are connected together with a "rack and pinion shaft." Before power steering was introduced, the rack and pinion movement was maneuvered through a complex (and failure-prone) system of mechanical gears.
That's why cars used to be so hard to steer in years past - in order to turn the wheels, you literally had to do most of the work yourself. Thankfully, the hydraulic powered steering components of today - which the power steering rack is such a big part of -
MAIN COMPONENTS OF A POWER STEERING RACK
The power steering rack is centrally located within your car's steering system. It's the crucial link between the wheels and the rest of your steering system. The steering rack takes cues from the steering shaft, which in turn is activated by a turn of the wheel. In the grand scheme of things, it works like this:
- Steering wheel is turned.
- The steering shaft moves along a set of gears to activate the steering pinion.
- Once the pinion is in motion, the steering rack can now be controlled with left or right turns (hence the name "rack and pinion.")
- At each end of the steering rack, a tie-rod controls the steering shaft, which turns the wheel.
That's it, in a nutshell. What makes a power steering rack so important for your car's control and safety is that drivers become accustomed to the ease with which the steering wheel turns. As long as the power steering rack's O-rings, seals, hardware, connections, hoses and other internal components are doing their job, everything works wonderfully. But as soon as something goes awry, automobile safety is compromised - especially if the failure is swift AND complete. If you're not able to turn your steering wheel as easily as you're used to, easy to avoid road hazards become well-nigh insurmountable safety issues.
WHEN IS IT TIME TO REPLACE YOUR STEERING RACK?
Loose turning. When you turn your steering wheel, there should be very little play. If there's any give or take movement at all, your steering rack's hydraulic system has been compromised. This doesn't necessarily mean the entire power steering rack is failing; it could be just one O-ring, a seal or even a loose connection. A leaky hose can also cause excessive slop or play when turning.
Leaky fluid. Be on the looking for power steering fluid underneath your car. If you notice any fluid at all, the chances are you have a pretty serious power steering rack issue. A small, slow leak is sometimes undetectable, because the fluid will "stick" on the underside of your car, or burn off due to excessive heat. Bottom line: if you can see it, you have a power steering rack leak. Address the problem immediately.
Intermittent power steering. If your power steering "leaves" for a bit and decides to return at random, check your power steering rack for cracks, defects or leaks. The loss of power steering is usually accompanied by a loud grinding or whinnying sound, as the power steering components struggle with a sudden surge or loss of hydraulic power steering fluid. And even if you don't hear a loud noise, don't worry, you'll notice right away - those little turns that you could make with a pinky finger now require a white-knuckled grip and bulging biceps just to turn the wheel a little bit. Say this for a power steering rack problem: what it doesn't tell you, it more than makes up for with stubborn resistance.
Those are three primary symptoms that your power steering rack is starting to fail. Pay attention to "normal" steering conditions; that way, whenever something goes wrong, you'll immediately know which power steering components to target for replacement.
HOW MANY MILES SHOULD A POWER STEERING RACK LAST?
This is the $20,000 question. Generally, a power steering rack should provide safe turning, superior control and dependable performance for at least 75,000 miles. However, there are some outside factors that can severely limit the power steering rack's lifespan:
Poor driving habits. If you drive your car like it's the Indy 500 every day, all the time, get ready to do a steering rack replacement ASAP. Because your power steering rack is under tremendous heat, pressure and torque, it's one car part that doesn't work well with sharp turns, big potholes and other hazards.
The no-maintenance mindset. If you don't keep tabs on your power steering fluid, subtle changes in steering wheel movement and other signs, you're headed for a reduced power steering rack lifespan.
Bad weather. Grime, salt, slush, salt, mud, ice and more - eventually, it'll find its way in to anything that's located on the underside of your car. Be thankful if you're in a temperate climate, because your power steering rack will last longer than someone in, say, Buffalo or Minneapolis.
READY TO REPLACE THE POWER STEERING RACK? READ THIS FIRST
So you've decided to replace your car's power steering rack. It's not a quick job by any means. If you're going to do it, two things are recommended right off the bat: a buddy and plenty of time. Don't expect to swap out your old power steering rack for a new one in a half-hour. Be prepared to spend at least 2-3 hours to do the job. A lot of it depends on how accessible the power steering rack is on your car. Some cars are relatively easy to get to, while others require you to drop the frame (in some cases, several inches) just to get decent access.
Regardless of your automobile, here are some things to keep in mind if you're going to replace the power steering rack:
Get some expert advice. Talk to your mechanic, or a friend who has actually done the job before. You might find out some helpful shortcuts that can save several hours of labor.
Realize it's not just a "remove and replace" job. If it was only that easy! Because the power steering rack is in integral part of the hydraulic steering system, you'll be dealing with O-rings, hoses, connections and other potentially tricky hot spots. Get the most information you can - an official repair manual should provide a diagram of exactly what your car's power steering rack looks like when it's 100% installed.
Flush or replace the old fluid. Even if you're lucky enough to remove the old rack and replace the new one without incident, remember that a power steering system is only as good as its hydraulic fluid. Do some research to figure out the best way to flush the old fluid. Another alternative: drain the old fluid entirely and replace with brand-new power steering fluid.
Ensure access to the tie rod ends. At each end of the power steering rack, you'll need to have uninhibited access to the tie rods, located near the wheels. Without enough working space, your power steering rack replacement project will never get off the ground.
Take a long test drive. Once you've completed the replacement, don't just take your car around the block. Go for a 15-minute ride, so you can try out all the different steering scenarios from a safety standpoint. Better safe than sorry - which means better take an extra-long test drive instead of the standard 2-mile trek. If something went wrong during installation, it's better to find out when you're prepared on a test drive than when you're caught unaware.
Don't let a failing power steering rack keep you off the road - browse our steering racks for the best replacement components. At BuyAutoParts.com, we think OEM quality should still be affordable. That's why we offer all of our steering rack replacement parts at great prices, backed by our outstanding price matching policy. If you see any power steering rack replacement components at a better price, just let us know and we'll beat it!
If you have any questions about a steering rack, can't find the part you're looking for or would like to follow up with a recent steering rack replacement order, give our auto parts experts a call at (888) 907-7225. For more information on BuyAutoParts.com, or to start a chat session with one of our representatives, please visit our contact page. Thanks for considering BuyAutoParts.com for all of your power steering rack replacement needs.