Auto Anatomy: Steering Rack

steering rack

  • Types
  • Working
  • Causes of Failure
  • Symptoms
  • FAQs

A car driver can take simple parts and mechanisms for granted. For instance, how does a steering wheel help during a sharp turn? How does it turn effortlessly? Behind the steering wheel mechanism lie different parts. Among them, the steering rack plays a pivotal role. 

The steering racks are an essential component dictating the steering wheel’s left or right turn to the front tyres. Let’s learn details about the type of steering racks, their working and the symptoms if a rack gets damaged.

What Is a Steering Rack?

The steering racks help rotate the steering wheel effortlessly and turn the car tyres accordingly. It is also called the rack and pinion steering. The pinion gear transmits the rotational motion to the geared rack, pushing it left or right.

Before we delve into the details about the working of steering racks, here are the various types used in the cars.

A new car steering rack on a table
When you rotate the steering wheel, the racks help turn the car wheels in that direction

Types of Steering Racks

The steering racks convert the rotational movement to the tyre’s lateral movement. While the basic function remains the same, various types of steering wheels use different racks. Let’s go through them.

Mechanical Steering Racks

Older vehicle models used mechanical steering racks. While they are known for their durability and simplicity, many modern vehicles use power steering systems. A mechanical steering rack includes a pinion gear on the steering column meshed with a straight bar called the rack. 

When the driver turns the steering wheel, the pinion gear moves the rack horizontally. After that, tie rods connected to the rack control the movement of the wheels, allowing the driver to steer the vehicle.

Hydraulic Power Steering Racks

In the working of hydraulic power steerings, the rack is among the main components. The hydraulic power steering rack includes a pump to pressurise power steering fluid, a control valve and a hydraulic cylinder. 

When the driver turns the wheel, hydraulic pressure assists in steering, reducing effort. The fluid reservoir stores the hydraulic fluid. Following that, hydraulic power steering enhances manoeuvrability and reduces the physical effort needed for steering, particularly at low speeds.

Electric Power Steering Racks

In an electric power steering system, an electric motor replaces the racks. Sensors detect steering input. Meanwhile, the car computer adjusts the assistance level. The most common configuration in the electric power steering rack is the lateral one. In the lateral configuration, an electric motor moves the steering racks through the additional worm gear.

You can learn the detailed differences between electronic and hydraulic power steerings and understand their working and functionality.

How Does Steering Racks Work?

A mechanic checking a new steering wheel
The pinion gear engages the rack and turns the wheel in the direction of the steering’s rotation

Positioned horizontally across the front axle, the steering racks contain a long metal bar with teeth on either end, known as the pinion gear. In the steering rack working, the pinion gear engages with a horizontal rack with teeth as the driver turns the steering wheel. 

The movement is then transmitted to the tie rods, directing the wheels to turn left or right. The efficiency of a steering rack lies in its simplicity and precision. The teeth on the rack and pinion ensure a direct and immediate response to the driver’s input, facilitating smooth and controlled steering. 

Steering Rack Failure

The failing or malfunctioning steering racks can be a serious issue. Racks are among the steering and suspension parts that can fail. Moreover, failed steering racks can affect the manoeuvrability and steering wheel functioning. Let’s find out the causes of steering rack failure.  

Causes of a Malfunctioning Steering Rack 

Several factors can contribute to the steering rack failure, affecting the car’s overall performance. Common causes include the following:

Wear and Tear

Over time, the steering racks are subject to regular use and exposure to various driving conditions. The continual movement and friction can lead to wear and tear on the rack and pinion components. It can cause sound from the steering wheel while turning.

Lack of Maintenance

worn steering rack due to lack of maintenance
Steering racks can be subject to wear and tear if not maintained

Inadequate or irregular maintenance, such as neglecting to check and replace the power steering fluid, can accelerate the degradation of the steering racks. Moreover, insufficient lubrication and fluid levels increase friction and wear on the rack’s internal components.

Contamination

The steering system is vulnerable to contamination by debris, dirt or moisture. The dust can infiltrate the seals and compromise the integrity of the steering racks. Besides, contaminants can accelerate corrosion and hinder the smooth operation of the rack and pinion mechanism. If you use brake fluid for power steering fluid, it can contaminate the former fluid and affect the steering rack’s performance.

Impact Damage

Accidents or collisions, even minor ones, can damage the steering rack’s structure. A bent or misaligned rack may not function correctly, affecting the steering responsiveness and safety of the vehicle.

How Do I Know If the Steering Rack Fails?

Drivers can detect the rack’s failure when the steering wheel is hard to turn or gives unusual sounds. Let’s go through all the symptoms of a bad steering rack.

Difficulty Turning the Steering Wheel

driver turning the steering wheel
The steering wheel may become hard to turn or you may hear unusual noises if the rack is damaged

A rack failure can cause a steering wheel hard to turn. A noticeable increase in resistance or difficulty when turning the steering wheel indicates problems within the steering rack, such as increased friction or mechanical issues.

Unusual Noises

Unusual sounds like clunking, knocking or a persistent whining noise while turning the steering wheel could be another sign of malfunctioning steering racks, possibly caused by worn-out components or lack of lubrication.

Fluid Leaks

power steering fluid reservoir in the car
Power steering fluid may also leak through the racks

Visible leaks of power steering fluid can be due to a breach in the seals or connections within the rack. You can identify the fluid leak from colours before replacing the steering racks since it can be another fluid leakage as well.

Uneven Tyre Wear

Irregular wear patterns on the tyre, particularly excessive wear on one side, may result from misalignment issues caused by faulty steering racks. This can lead to decreased tyre lifespan and compromised vehicle stability. Moreover, it can cause different tyre tread wear types due to uneven steering.

FAQs

a new steering rack installed in car
You must change the steering rack or maintain it to avoid steering problems

Can I Drive With a Bad Steering Rack?

Yes, you can drive with a bad or failing rack. However, it is not recommended. Plus, it can be dangerous to control the car with an unresponsive steering wheel.

Can Steering Racks be Repaired?

If steering racks have tie rod issues, they can be repaired. Significant damage requires the replacement of steering racks.

Is It Expensive to Replace Steering Racks?

It costs around AED 1,000 to AED 3,000 to replace steering racks. Besides, it can vary according to the vehicle model and labour cost.

This was a complete guide to the steering racks. If you are buying a used car for sale in the UAE, you can get the rack and pinion inspected alongside other components. Any failure can prove to be dangerous on the road.

Stay connected to the dubizzle autos blog and learn more about the essential car parts and their working.

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