How to Know When Rack & Pinion Needs Replacing

Written by misty s. bledsoe
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How to Know When Rack & Pinion Needs Replacing
Rack and pinion problems can cause dangerous driving situations. (Close up detail of a classic car at a car show image by Rob Hill from

Rack and pinion steering systems consist of relatively few components and typically last longer than older steering systems. Many rack and pinion systems simply need basic adjustments, such as having bolts and springs tightened, to remain effective. A rack and pinion system should be replaced when a series of standard tests performed by a qualified mechanic fail. A rack and pinion steering system will give off warning signals that key components of the system may need replacing.

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  1. 1

    Drive the vehicle as normal and watch for any "play" in the steering or looseness developing. If you can rotate the steering wheel further than normal but nothing different happens in the direction of the wheels, there is "play" in the steering.

  2. 2

    Note any unusual stiffness in the steering. Typically, stiffer than normal steering will indicate problems with the power steering pump or fluids. However, unusual stiffness, along with any noisiness or play in the steering indicates possible issues with the rack and pinion system.

  3. 3

    Check the rack and opinion closely. If any of the teeth and grooves in the rack or the pinion are excessively worn, a mechanic will recommend a complete replacement of the rack and pinion system. If the teeth and grooves are excessively worn, the pinion may not always lock into the rack correctly when you are steering and this could potentially put you in a life-threatening situation.

  4. 4

    Take the vehicle to a qualified mechanic. The mechanic will inspect your tires, your power steering components if applicable and all the components of your rack and pinion system. The mechanic will perform a serious of steps to correct your steering problems, including adjusting the springs, tightening the bolts or replacing the seals.

Tips and warnings

  • Rack and pinion systems were designed with stability and efficiency in mind and will rarely completely fail without giving off some type of warning signs. Typically, more than one warning sign will be present, indicating you need to have the system inspected. Some examples could be loose and noisy steering or periodic slipping of the wheel alternated with periodic stiffness.
  • Do not ignore any warning signs of your rack and pinion system when they begin to happen. Depending on a variety of factors, the warning signs could worsen quickly and put you in possible harm's way. Have your rack and pinion system inspected according to the timelines set forth in your owner's manual. If your owner's manual does not give you a set time frame and you are concerned about your rack and pinion system, then do not hesitate to have it inspected by a qualified mechanic.

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