Many modern automobiles use a rack and pinion steering mechanism. It is made up of many parts, including universal joints, intermediate and main shafts, and the gearbox or steering rack in the middle.
This central unit receives feedback from the driver via the steering wheel & column and transmits a mechanical signal to the steering shafts and tie rods, enabling the vehicle to make smooth and effective left and right turns. However, the steering rack and gearbox would eventually wear out and would need repair or replacement.
What is the Steering Rack Mechanism?
It is basically the steering system’s core. When it wears out or completely fails, the vehicle’s ability to steer is impaired. This can be particularly risky if it occurs while you are moving. For these and many other reasons, being vigilant for warning signs of a weak or failing steering rack will save you money, time, and potentially avert a collision.
Here are a few warning signals or indications that there might be some problem lurking in your steering rack:
- Rigidness in the Steering Wheel
Modern rack and pinion steering systems have the support of a power steering mechanism. This mechanism employs hydraulic friction to facilitate and accelerate steering wheel handling. If you feel that the steering wheel is too rigid or is more difficult to turn than normal, it is usually because the steering rack has accumulated more heat.
Sometimes, it is caused by the loss of hydraulic pressure in the power steering unit. In any case, a certified mechanic should address this persistent issue immediately. Using additional power steering fluid or making a slight change will also resolve this issue and prolong your steering rack’s life.
- Leakage of Power Steering Fluid
As previously stated, often a lack of power steering fluid hampers smooth steering motion. However, because the steering box is driven hydraulically, the fluid levels will remain constant unless the machine develops a leak. When power steering fluid begins to leak, it indicates the presence of a loose fitting, a cracked gasket, or another mechanical fault triggering the leak.
This is something you must attend to immediately. Failure to do so would result in excessive heat being generated by the car’s steering rack or gearbox. This can possibly result in the failure of gears and other parts, resulting in a crash. If you notice pinkish or red fluid under your engine, call a mechanic immediately to check and patch the leak before it causes further damage.
- Grinding Noise From The Steering Wheel
A defective or weakened gearbox is often the result of improper lubrication and maintenance. When you turn right or left, the excess heat produces metal-on-metal friction, which results in a noisy grinding noise. This sound is more noticeable when turning and hitting a bump simultaneously, such as when pulling into a driveway. If you hear a scraping sound when turning left or right, call a mechanic immediately so they can evaluate and, if necessary, repair the steering gearbox.
- The Odor of Burning Oil
The odor of burning oil is a less frequent warning sign of a faulty steering rack or gearbox. Since the power steering fluid itself has a burnt oil smell, when the steering gearbox is heated, the heavy scent of burnt oil would be present. If this happens, quickly bring the car to a halt, locate a secure parking space, and contact a certified mechanic. Continuing to drive a vehicle with an overheating steering gearbox can result in a severe damage due to fire.
The steering rack is a critical part of any vehicle equipped with a rack and pinion steering mechanism. If you find any one of these indications or warning signs, contact a licensed mechanic in your local area immediately to get the damage diagnosed and repaired.