What Causes Steering Rack Damage? Know the Signs to Act Fast

Date Posted: 18 January 2023 

What Causes Steering Rack Damage? Know the Signs to Act Fast main image What Causes Steering Rack Damage? Know the Signs to Act Fast image

When you turn your steering wheel, the power steering rack and boots — key components of your car's overall steering mechanism — direct your tyres to move from side to side in accordance with your action. As part of the rack and pinion assembly, the pinion gear absorbs the steering wheel's turning action and forces the geared rack left or right. The geared rack will then push one tie rod while pulling the other, allowing your car to turn

As a result, your steering rack is the backbone of your car’s steering mechanism. When it wears down or completely fails, your ability to steer your car is jeopardised. This can be highly dangerous, particularly if it occurs while you are travelling. For these and other reasons, being aware of the warning signs of a poor or malfunctioning steering rack can save you money, time and lessen the likelihood of a collision. So, get up to speed on steering rack damage and more with this blog.

How Does Your Car’s Steering Rack Get Damaged?

Fluid contamination and steering pump degradation are the two most common causes of steering rack failure. Whether you’re driving a Nissan or a Toyota RAV4, your power steering rack is handling pressures varying from 200 to 1200 PSI. Given it’s having to work in such extreme conditions, it's critical to recognise when your steering rack isn't working properly. All it takes is a minor leak or some tainted fluid for your rack and steering pump to degrade. You’ll then find yourself dealing with difficulty steering and, in extreme cases, no steering at all. This can lead to some serious consequences, including increased risk of collisions, injuries and even deaths.

In the majority of cases, it is not worth attempting to repair a steering rack. Therefore, when it comes to replacing it, it’s important to be mindful of power steering oil. If the oil is contaminated and not changed, your new steering rack can quickly become damaged. Therefore, be sure to check the oil and change the power steering pump and any hoses as well to be on the safe side. Regularly checking the oil after installation is also a great way to help make your steering rack last longer

How Do I Know If My Steering Rack Needs Replacing?

If you notice any of these signs, it’s your car telling you that your steering rack needs to be replaced. Remember to act fast to minimise further damage to your steering rack, as well as to ensure that you are not putting yourself, your passengers and other road users at risk.

Fluid Is Leaking From the Power Steering Rack & Boots

Whenever you drive, your steering rack’s valves, cylinders and O-rings are placed under great pressure, as they transport hydraulic fluid around. As a result, these seals and valves wear out over time, leading to leaks. You may notice this leak under your car, or feel its effects in action with a ‘heavier’ feeling steering wheel. You may also find that you’re having to top up the power steering fluid more regularly. While this can be a short-term fix to the problem, not only is constantly having to buy steering fluid expensive, your steering rack is also likely to be operating under more extreme circumstances, such as increased heat. This can cause it to wear faster, making it more likely to fail and sooner.

Your Steering Wheel Feels Tight & Difficult to Move

Your car’s rack and pinion steering system is assisted by a power steering unit that uses hydraulic pressure or an electronic motor to allow for smooth and rapid steering. Whether your car has hydraulic or electric power steering, turning the steering wheel and changing the direction of your vehicle should be practically effortless. However, if you are struggling to move the steering wheel, this could be a warning sign.

Excessive deterioration of the steering rack or a lack of hydraulic pressure can cause the steering wheel to cramp up or be difficult to turn. Adding some more power steering fluid to the mix can be the solution, but, as above, it’s likely only to be a short-term fix. If you’re running out of power steering fluid between car services, you likely have a leak that needs to be dealt with and, potentially, a steering rack to replace

You Hear Weird Noises When You Turn the Steering Wheel

If your power steering rack and boots are failing, your car may make a range of sounds when you turn the steering wheel. This may sound like creaking, crunching or groaning. These sounds can be evidence of metal-on-metal contact occurring, leading to metal filings mixing with the power steering fluid. This then contaminates the fluid, causing further damage to the system’s parts.

You Smell a Faint Burning Smell When You Drive

The smell of burning is never a good sign when you’re driving, and it can indicate that you need to replace your steering rack. It can occur when there is a fracture or break in the power steering rack, allowing oil to leak and then pool under the engine. As you drive and the engine heats up, this oil burns, leading to that unpleasant smell.

What Can You Do If Your Power Steering Rack & Boots Need to Be Replaced?

It’s to be expected that your car’s steering rack will wear and break down over time, whether it’s large breaks or simply seals coming loose. Of course, careful driving and regular checking and maintenance of your car can help your power steering rack last longer. Regardless, there will come a time when you need to replace this part of your car. And when that time comes, you can trust Machter. We have a wide collection of power steering rack and boots replacements, including options for popular car makes and models like Nissan and Toyota’s RAV4. So, don’t risk driving with bad or no steering — pick up a replacement power steering rack from Machter today.