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Many cars have a rack and pinion steering. This system allows you to turn your vehicle’s steering wheel in any direction. Rack and pinion steering is one of the best engineering innovations and is fundamental to a car’s functionality. But how can you tell if it stops working? Here’s what you should know about rack and pinion steering and how to know when it’s failing.

What is rack and pinion steering?

Rack and pinion steering is crucial to a car’s steering system. It’s a mechanical system that converts the revolving motion of the steering wheel (attached to the pinion) into linear movement (on the rack). It facilitates the control and direction of the vehicle’s wheels, allowing the driver to steer the car smoothly.

What are the symptoms of rack and pinion steering problems?

If your steering wheel is increasingly harder to turn, you might need to look into the steering rack to identify the problem. Similarly, if your steering wheel feels too loose and you can turn it slightly without the wheels responding, it might indicate wear and tear to the rack and pinion.

Unusual sounds while turning the steering wheel are also signs of a potential problem, as they indicate some components are loose or damaged. Another sign to watch out for is uneven tread wear on the front tires and, in some modern cars, a power steering warning light.

What happens when your rack and pinion steering fails?

Rack and pinion diagram
Diagram of a rack and pinion | Encyclopedia Britannica/UIG Via Getty Images

If your car’s rack and pinion steering system fails, it can result in a broad range of driving issues and pose some safety concerns. One of the first consequences of a failing rack and pinion steering system is the loss of steering control. Your steering wheel might become difficult to turn, especially at low speeds. As a result, parking and maneuvering in tight spaces could become challenging.

Another consequence is power steering fluid leaks, which can not only make it difficult to steer the car but can also create a safety hazard, especially at higher speeds. The power steering fluid smells almost like burning oil. If you smell this, pull over where it’s safe, as it might mean your gearbox could be overheated and catch fire.

How much does it cost to fix a rack and pinion?

The cost to fix a rack and pinion system can vary depending on factors like your mechanic’s labor rates, the extent of the damage, and the vehicle make and model. The type of replacement you choose can also affect the cost. OEM parts tend to be costlier, but you can always consider more affordable aftermarket options.

The best way to repair a steering rack is to get a new one. Although it’s possible to fix the issue, you might save more money by swapping the damaged part for a new one. According to CoPilot Search, fixing a rack and pinion costs $1,440 to $1,734.

Can you still drive with a bad rack and pinion?

Driving with a bad rack and pinion is technically possible, especially in the early stages, but it’s not advisable. For starters, it poses a danger to you and others sharing the road with you. Second, the longer you wait to fix the problem, the more damage is done, so you’d be playing fast and loose with your wallet. If you suspect your car’s rack and pinion system is failing or has already gone out, let a trustworthy mechanic look at it.