How to Replace a Power Steering Rack

man under car doing repairs
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Replacing a power steering rack can be a difficult and challenging job. But if you are up to it, you can do it yourself and save hundreds of dollars.

Symptoms of Power Steering Rack Failure

You turn the steering wheel to go down the street, and the wheel is extremely stiff. You open the hood and look for an obvious problem. The power steering belt is still there, and the power steering is full. The power steering fluid is black as night, but it is full. The belt looks a little worn, and it's past the four-year power steering belt replacement interval. So you put a new one on. A few days later it happens again. This is what's known in the trade as "morning sickness." It doesn't get better, only worse.

The cause is normal wear and tear on the internal parts of the power steering rack, or "the rack" as we call it. The black power steering fluid is black because of metal worn from the inside of the rack and had become like sandpaper, eating away at the rack. So you will need to replace the power steering rack and flush the power steering system to get rid of all the old fluid.

Can I Replace the Power Steering Rack Myself?

Replacing a power steering rack can be an easy job on some vehicles, rear wheel drive vehicles for example, or it can be most difficult and nasty in others. So how do you know if yours is an easy or hard one? Reading the removal procedure in a service manual will tell you what's involved, and you can decide if it is within your skill level. Be advised, however, that the manual may not be entirely accurate in that it will tell you to do something you may not have to do.

For instance, on one Oldsmobile the book says you have to support the engine and lower the sub-frame by, at least, three inches. Well maybe you do, and maybe you don't. You can most often twist and turn and jiggle it out through the wheel well opening without too much difficulty.

But read the procedure first. It will give you torque specifications, what, if any, nuts and bolts need to be replaced and if there are any "O" rings that you need to replace.

Before taking anything apart. Look at the new rack. Take note of mounting bolt holes and the high pressure and return line fittings. Then jack up the car and support it with jack stands. Never go under a vehicle supported only by a jack.

Take a look at where the mounting bolts are, where the steering column coupling is and the power steering lines. After looking at what the job entails, you may decide it is beyond your skills and have a shop do the job.

What You Will Need

  1. Jack
  2. Jack stands
  3. Wrenches
  4. Ratchet and socket set with extensions
  5. Screwdrivers
  6. Pliers or vise grips
  7. Hammer
  8. Wire brush
  9. Tie rod separator or ball joint fork
  10. Engine support fixture (If required)
  11. Power steering filter
  12. Power steering fluid
  13. Automatic transmission fluid
  14. New power steering rack
  15. Latex gloves (Optional)

Before You Start

  • Follow these instructions carefully. Read and be sure you understand them before you begin.
  • Gather together all of your tools and supplies before you begin.
  • Allow plenty of time to do the job so you don't have to hurry.
  • Remember that these are general instructions. For more detailed instructions about your specific vehicle, consult an appropriate repair manual.
  • Beware of hot objects, sharp instruments, and hazardous materials.
  • Don't substitute tools unless you're sure you won't compromise either your safety or the performance of your vehicle.
  • Never work on a vehicle that is only supported by a jack. Put the car on jack stands to support it while you work. Work on a solid, level surface. Never jack a car up on dirt or grass.
  • Check for any fluid leaks or cracked power steering lines. Replace them as necessary.

How to Replace a Power Steering Rack

Feel you're up to it? Are you ready to get started? Then let's do it!

  1. Put the wheels in a straight-ahead position. The steering wheel should be in the center position. Remove the key from the ignition and make sure the steering wheel is locked. You do not want the steering wheel to turn while removing the rack. Doing so will make it possible for the spiral cable in the steering wheel to unwind and become useless.
  2. Crack loose all the wheel lug nuts
  3. Raise and support the vehicle with approved jack stands.
  4. Remove both front wheels.
  5. Remove the Steering Shaft Coupler Outer Seal and unbolt the upper pinch bolt on the Steering Shaft Coupler assembly.
  6. Detach the outer tie rod ends. You may need to use a special tie rod end puller to get them off. You can rent one at the local rental store. Most times a sharp rap with a BFH on the end of the tie rod mount will shock it loose. Do not hit the tie rod end itself.
  7. Remove any parts required to gain access to the rack mounting bolts, lines and steering coupling.
  8. Depending on accessibility, at this point, you can remove the power steering rack mounting bolts, or crack the power steering high pressure and return lines.
  9. Depending on accessibility, at this point, you can remove the power steering rack mounting bolts, or crack the power steering high pressure and return lines. It may be easier to get a wrench to swing on a power steering line fitting once you've unbolted the rack and moved it a bit. Also, reattaching the lines may be easier before the new rack is bolted in place.
  10. Place a drain pan under the vehicle and remove the hydraulic power steering pressure hose and power steering return hose from the power steering rack.
  11. Now comes the fun part, twist and turn and jiggle it out through one of the wheel well openings. Make sure the kids are in the house because certain words will be necessary to coax the rack out and they are not words little ears should hear. 
  12. If the new rack has new tie rod ends, measure the overall length of the old rack and tie rod assembly. Set the overall length of the new assembly to this same dimension by twisting the tie rod ends on their threads. Keep the rack centered and split the overlap difference between the left and right rod ends as you do this, or the steering wheel will be off-center when you're done.
  13. If you are reusing the old tie rod ends, crack the lock nuts loose. Count how many full turns it takes to remove the tie rod ends. Center the new rack and install tie rod ends the same number of turns on the new rack. Again, check the overall length and split the difference.
  14. Install the new rack using the same words you used to get it out.
  15. Reconnect the power steering lines, using new "O" rings, if required. Usually, the high-pressure line uses a slightly larger "O" ring so be careful not to mix them up.
  16. Reconnect the Steering Shaft Coupler assembly and bolt the rack back into place.
  17. Reattach the tie rod ends to the steering knuckles. Use new cotter pins for the castellated nuts; never reuse the old cotter pins.
  18. Put the wheels back on and torque the lug nuts to specifications.
  19. Remove the return line from the power steering pump and place the end into a bucket.
  20. Fill the power steering pump and start the engine until clean fluid comes out of the return hose. You may be able to install an inline filter in the return line to protect the new rack. I have known guys who have used fuel filters for this purpose.
  21. Have the front end aligned to reset the toe-in adjustment to specification or the vehicle will handle poorly and wear out the tire quickly. 

Bleeding The Power Steering System

The final step is bleeding the trapped air out of the system. Fill the reservoir, start and idle the engine. Turn the steering wheel back and forth stop to stop. Just touch the stop, do not hold it there, or you may damage the power steering pump. Do this 10 to 15 times.

Power steering fluid that is a tan color or has a beer head contains air. Turn the engine off and let it sit 15 minutes or longer. Top off the power steering fluid and start the engine again. Repeat until the fluid looks normal.

And that's it. Figure on the job taking the better part of a day, depending on the type of installation. I would set aside a weekend just in case you run into problems.