Is It Safe To Drive With a Bad Rack and Pinion


If you start noticing that your rack and pinion are starting to fail, you should get it repaired as soon as possible. But what exactly are rack and pinion and how important are they? Is it safe to drive with a bad rack and pinion?

”If your vehicle’s rack and pinion are starting to fail, it is not safe to drive because you would experience difficulties in controlling your vehicle. Meaning, there would be so much free play and it would be difficult to keep the steering wheel straight.”

Is It Safe To Drive With a Bad Rack and Pinion

Rack and pinion have evolved from just being on small front-wheel-drive vehicles to being put on majority today. The rack and pinion convert the rotation motion of the steering wheel into the linear motion of the tires. They also provide gear reduction when you are turning.

It is definitely not safe to drive with a bad rack and pinion because you no longer can control your vehicle and keep it in a straight line. There would be so much free play and your vehicle would just wander on the road. This could be very dangerous for you and the other drivers.

If you experience that your vehicle wanders, make sure to make a safe stop and call a tow truck. If your vehicle is just starting to act up, assess the situation and see if you can drive your vehicle to the mechanic shop.

How To Diagnose a Bad Rack and Pinion

In order to diagnose a bad rack and pinion, you will have to perform a visual inspection.

  1. Inspect your tire rod. Make sure that it is in good shape.
  2. Check the bellow put for any leakage.
  3. Check for any external leaks on the rack.
  4. Inspect the frame mounting bolts and check if they are tight and secure.

Once you perform the visual inspection and you find nothing wrong, there are 3 signs for a bad rack and pinion that you should pay attention to:

  1. Stiffness in steering – low fluid: If you notice that your vehicle is hard to turn, you can get your mechanic to take a pressure gauge reading to make sure that the steering wheel pump is putting out sufficient fluid.
  2. Vehicle pulls to one side: This could both be an alignment issue or spool valve issue. If your valve is putting fluid only on one side(left or right), your vehicle will tend to pull on that side.
  3. Steering wanders: If the mounts on the rack are loose, your vehicle will start to wander left and right.

How Rack and Pinion Function

There are several spool valves on the pinion, and depending on which way those spool valves go will dictate which way the steering wheel fluid goes. If you turn your steering wheel to the right, the fluid will travel from the power steering reservoir into the spool valves and will apply pressure on the right side of the rack and your wheels will turn to the right.

rack and a pinion

If you look at the photo above, it is pretty much self-explanatory. You can now see the importance of a rack and pinion. If your rack and pinion are bad, you will have difficulties keeping your vehicle in a straight line.

Signs Of a Bad Steering Rack and Pinion

”When the steering rack and pinion are starting to fail, you would experience difficulties keeping the steering wheel straight because of excessive free play. This will follow with difficulties to turn and you would hear a grinding noise. Also, if your vehicle has a leaking power steering fluid, you would notice a burning smell.”

Here are the most common signs of a bad steering rack and pinion:

1. Vehicle wanders on the road

When the steering rack or steering box starts to fail, the vehicle would have difficulties staying on the road in one lane due to excessive free play. It would be difficult to keep the steering wheel straight. Before replacing the steering rack or steering box, make sure to check the steering shaft for looseness, worn outer and inner tie rod for movement, and also check the pitman arm for looseness. If all of these parts check well, then go ahead and replace the steering rack or steering box.

2. Leaks and Burning Smell

When the steering rack or steering box goes bad, it can leaking power steering fluid. The leaking fluid can drip onto a hot surface such as the exhaust and cause a burning smell. Check for leaks around the steering rack boot and steering box. If the steering fluid is leaking, that means that the seals are worn. Make sure there is no additional leakage around the power steering hose, power steering line, and cracks in the power steering fluid reservoir.

3. Difficult To Turn Combined With Grinding Noise

When there is a leak and loss of steering fluid, the steering box becomes difficult to turn. This can also make turning difficult on a steering rack as well. When there is a lack of lubrication, this will cause metal on metal contact. So, again, make sure to check for leaks. Make sure to check the power steering fluid levels and add more fluid if needed.

How To Service and Maintain The Power Steering System

It is very important that you service and maintain your power steering system. Manufacturers recommend that you change your power steering fluid every 50,000 miles. Also, manufacturers say that the number one reason why your power steering system fails is due to contaminated power steering fluid.

The power steering fluid cools, lubricates, cleans, and conditions the steering system. It also helps to transmit the hydraulic power in the system that turns the vehicle left and right.

You should always use the manufacturer’s recommended power steering fluid. You should never use any other fluids, especially engine oil.

You can use a suction gun to remove the old steering fluid from the steering fluid reservoir, or you can use a power fluid suction machine. The first option is much more realistic because only a few of us keep an industrial suction machine at our homes. Once you remove the fluids, fill the steering reservoir with the manufacturer’s recommended steering fluid.

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