Steering Rack And Pinion
The steering system of a modern vehicle is a complex arrangement of different parts and components, running the gamut from the steering wheel to tie rod ends. They work together to multiply your steering effort and to deliver it to the front wheels.
Depending on your vehicle, you may have either a rack-and-pinion or recirculating ball steering system design. The first one is the most popular type of steering systems found in the majority of today’s cars and lightweight trucks. As its name indicates, it features two main components, such as a rack with teeth on one of its sides and a pinion. When you turn the steering wheel, it causes the steering shaft to rotate the pinion gear that is meshed with the rack gear. The pinion gear runs the length of the rack gear, causing it to move the steering linkage attached to the rack on both ends. The steering linkage connects to the front wheels, which turn left or right depending on your needs. Such steering system arrangement requires less steering effort from the driver, while providing excellent feedback from the road.
A recirculating ball steering system design is common for heavy-duty trucks as well as classic and vintage cars. Unlike rack-and-pinion steering systems, recirculating ball ones provide weaker road feel, yet deliver more steering force to the wheels. This allows the driver to turn a heavy vehicle even if it carries a lot of load. At the same time, the driver needs to make up to four steering wheel turns from one steering wheel lock to another. This happens because the worm gear inside the steering box has to travel a longer way to cause the steering linkage to move the wheels.
Regardless of the steering system design your vehicle utilizes, most likely it is equipped with power steering. There are two basic designs of power steering systems, such as hydraulic and electric ones. Hydraulic power steering systems can be found on just about every vehicle produced until the 2010s. Such systems feature a belt- or gear-driven high-performance pump that pressurizes hydraulic fluid, which is then used to multiply the steering effort.
While some budget-friendly vehicles still come with a hydraulic power steering system, most new vehicles today are equipped with electric power steering. This type of steering system relies on an electric motor and sensors operated by a computer. The steering motor is attached to the steering gear, moving it left or right depending on the position of the steering wheel.
Whether you have an electric or hydraulic power steering system, a bad steering gear can nullify your steering effort and cause a number of steering system problems:
Abnormal noises when turning the steering wheel
A worn-out steering gear can allow for free play of its components, resulting in a grinding or thumping noise.
You experience difficulties with turning the steering wheel
Worn-out components inside the steering gear assembly may cause it to bind. If so, it can be difficult to turn the steering wheel.
You may feel a lack of steering system control due to worn-out or damaged steering gear parts.
Drifting of pulling when moving straight forward
Bad components inside the steering gear assembly can cause the vehicle to drift or pull to one of the sides. This happens due to excessive free play of internal components. In some cases, the same symptom can be caused by bad tires, so you must check them before working on the steering system.
Lack of power steering assist
If you have an electric steering system, damage to integral steering gear components can cause improper operation of the computer that is often integrated into a steering gear assembly. The same issue can be caused by worn-out or damaged steering gear if you own a vehicle with a hydraulic power steering system.
Illuminated warning lights
In case with an electric steering system, its computer constantly monitors system operation. If it detects any problem with steering, it will turn on warning lights on the dashboard and store a specific diagnostic trouble code.
Steering fluid leaks under the car
A bad steering gear can become a source of hydraulic fluid leaks. If you notice a red or reddish-brown puddle under the car, you should check the entire system for leaks.
Steering gear troubleshooting
In most cases, problems with a steering gear lead to its replacement. If you have an electric power steering system, its electrical circuit and fuse must be checked first. A bad fuse must be replaced.
Because of your steering systems complexity, it must be diagnosed and fixed by a professional. Regardless of the problem, it can involve lots of labor and special equipment to deal with. Besides, a hydraulic power steering system must be properly flushed and bled of air to ensure its normal operation. An electric steering system may also need some kind of adjustment after installation. Last but not least, a four-wheel alignment should be done after any steering gear replacement.