What Are the Causes of Rack & Pinion Damage?

by Brandi Brown
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For people unfamiliar with cars, the term “rack and pinion” suggests something complicated. The system really is based on simple mechanical concepts that help drivers steer their cars. Damage to the rack and pinion system can be very simple and inexpensive to repair, or it can cost several hundred dollars. Various issues cause damage to rack and pinion steering.


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Rack and pinion steering systems are the most common type of steering system in automatic cars. The steering wheel is one end of the rack and pinion system. The steering wheel connects to a column that connects to a rack. The pinion has teeth and lies perpendicular to the rack. The pinion makes the car go by turning the gears in the car. A problem with steering in the car typically is connected to the rack and pinion system.

Normal Wear and Tear

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Along the steering wheel, also sometimes called a drive shaft, are a number of seals. These seals also exist at the connections between the various parts of the equipment. If a seal gets a small crack or hole, then fluid will leak into the steering system. All of the seals eventually will wear down and break; the eventual need for replacing parts is one of the known downsides of rack and pinion steering. These seals cause lots of trouble, but they are not a difficult repair to have done.

Loose Steering

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Another common problem with rack and pinion steering systems is loose steering. In these cases, the most frequent culprit is a loose lug nut. The lug nuts can get loose from jarring movements or just from not being tightened when work was done on the car. Tightening these up is simple and should fix the problem. If the lug nuts are in place, then you or your mechanic should go down the list of other possibilities, knowing that each one gets more serious and expensive to fix. The axle nuts can be loose, or the problem could be with the ball joint. The ball joint needs to be replaced at various intervals regardless of how well-maintained the car is, but this repair can get costly.

Steering Pulling

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Many people find that at some point their car “pulls” to one side or the other. This pulling sensation usually is most noticeable on straight portions of highways where the driver is holding the wheel steady but can feel or see the car moving to one side. Steering problems can be related to the tires being out of balance; if they aren't, however, then they are rack and pinion related. One potential problem may be a bent part. The parts of the steering system may become bent if a driver hits a large pothole or a curb, and many times pulling of the steering is the result of some type of driver error.

Difficult Steering

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When a car is difficult to steer, the most likely cause is a problem with the power steering pump. This pump contains power steering fluid, which greases the system to allow it to work. If this pump gets damaged or springs a leak, then the pump needs to be replaced before the car is drivable.

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