Depending on how big a motor head you are, you may be well-acquainted with the inner workings of automobiles. However, the names of some car parts can certainly raise a confused eyebrow from the average person on the street.
Rack and pinion isn’t exactly a term that every man and his dog will be familiar with. You may hazard a guess that it’s got something to do with some form of battle strategy.
However, the truth is that rack and pinion is merely the name for a common steering mechanism on many vehicles. Many cars, SUVs and small trucks are equipped with it, even more so in recent years.
In this article, we’ll learn a little more about rack-and-pinion steering and discover just why it has become the popular choice among many leading car manufacturers.
How does a Rack and Pinion Gearset work?
This simple mechanism consists of a gearset inside a metal tube. The rack protrudes from either end of the tube, and a tie rod is connected to either end.
The tie rods at the rack ends are connected to the steering arm. The pinion gear and steering shaft are attached, so whenever you turn your steering wheel, the pinion gear spins, moving the rack.
Most cars need about three or four steering wheel revolutions on order to turn the wheels from the far right to the far left.
This setup is designed to perform two basic functions:
- Convert the steering wheel’s rotational motion into linear motion, so that the wheels can turn
- Provide gear reduction, which makes it relatively easy for the wheels to turn
Effectively, rack and pinion steering results in a lower steering ratio. Lighter cars tend to have lower steering ratios than trucks and large vehicles, which means the steering wheel is more responsive. This is ideal for fast sports cars.
As modern cars and advancing technology have combined, the desire for more responsive vehicles has increased. This steering mechanism makes it possible to create cars that are easier to handle.
Considering it is well-suited to sports cars, it’s an obvious partner for power-steering systems. However, in this case, the rack is designed a little differently.
A cylinder and piston are built into the center of the rack, and the piston is fueled by high-pressure fluid, which is fed from two ports, located on either side. The piston moves the rack, facilitating power-assisted driving.
Benefits of Rack and Pinion Steering
Nowadays, there really are only two types of steering system worth considering. The traditional method of mechanical steering, and rack and pinion.
The standard system can be power assisted, or it may not be. On the other hand, rack and pinion steering is normally powered. Both systems have their advantages, but rack and pinion arguably has the edge when you compare certain cars.
The main benefits include:
There are Fewer Parts
With less moving parts and fewer pivot points, the rack and pinion system is more precise. This makes for more responsive steering and vehicles that are significantly easier to drive and control.
Fewer parts obviously reduce the overall weight. While that may not seem like much, it adds up, and certainly counts towards racing prowess and fuel economy.
Better Road Feel
It’s not always easy to drive on slippery surfaces. Having a responsive system gives the driver a better feel for the road, delivering quicker feedback compared to the standard system. Not only does this make for a more pleasurable drive, but it gives you the valuable split-seconds you need to make smarter decisions on the road.
The lack of parts has another great advantage – there’s less chance of something going wrong. Furthermore, the widespread prevalence of the rack and pinion system means that many mechanics are familiar with it, which makes it easy to find someone to carry out maintenance when the need arises.
Rack and Pinion Steering Problems
We would like to tell you it’s perfect, but that would be a lie. There are some problems with this system, which you’re quite likely to encounter if you buy a modern car and use it long enough.
Here are five of the most common problems that might happen with a rack and pinion steering system.
Over time, the system can wear down, so that the teeth aren’t fully engaged. The bushings and bearings can wear out, which leads to excessive slipping. This can make the steering wheel feel loose as you drive. As this gets worse, the steering wheel can’t return to the original base position when it is turned.
A loose steering wheel is a serious issue. But even more concerning is when the entire rack and pinion system becomes loose, causing clunky noises as you drive. Don’t ignore this. It’s time to replace the unit.
Notice your car dragging off to one side, even when you’re driving straight? Maybe the steering wheel puts up some resistance when you try to straighten up after a turn? Sounds like all the friction between the rack and pinion is hampering performance.
Leaking Steering Fluid
Never a good sign. If steering fluid is leaking, you can be sure the efficiency of the unit is not going to be top-notch.
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Uneven Wear on the Tires
If the rack and pinion system is faulty, the steering power won’t be evenly distributed. As a result, the tire rack will develop uneven wear.
The steering system is a vital component of any vehicle. You don’t want to take chances when a major problem happens. Pushing your luck by driving a vehicle that has a known steering problem could cost you much more than your savings account.
Certain types of rack and pinion systems will inevitably wear out as time goes on. On many units, the gears succumb to wear and tear, simply because of frequent engages and changes during driving.
As soon as you notice a problem with your steering system, take the vehicle to a trusted mechanic or dealer to get it looked at.
Rack and Pinion Steering Repair Costs
While basic repairs are less likely to happen, and often easy to address, the system is far from infallible. When disaster strikes, and you have a serious issue with a rack and pinion system, it can get quite expensive to restore the natural order.
If you suspect an issue with the steering system, the best thing you can do is take action straight away. Waiting around and shrugging it off as a minor fault may cause major problems down the line.
Unfortunately, many people make this mistake, and ignore the problem until it gets worse. Such negligence is a mistake where rack and pinion steering problems are concerned. If you’re lucky, the only damage will be to your wallet.
If it’s left for too long, a faulty steering system may need to be to totally rebuilt or even replaced. If it gets to this stage, you can expect to shell out a few hundred dollars. For advanced systems with big problems, a total rebuild could run up to $1500.
Bad news for the owner, but a great day’s pay for the lucky mechanic, who should have the vehicle ready for the road again in about six hours.
The Correct Opinion on Rack and Pinion
No doubt about it, this system makes it easier to control your car. Whether you’re a new driver, race driver or truck driver, it’s worth having a better feel for the road and your vehicle at all times.
However, this system is not without its issues. The whole concept of the system is to give you more control that allows for easier steering. Once you notice that is no longer the case, take the vehicle to a professional to see what’s happening.
The cost of major repairs is often a concern for some people when they consider buying a vehicle with a rack and pinion system. This is definitely worth considering when you have an older car that has the system.
If you need a new rack and pinion system in a car that is pretty old, the cost of repairs may exceed the total value of the vehicle. It may just be easier to scrap the car and head to the dealer for a new ride.
If you’re quick about it, chances are it’s a cheap and easy fix. But if you wait around and let the problem fester, you may well live to regret it.