The rack and pinion is the heart of your power steering system. Here, the steering rack connects to the tie rods which connect to the wheels. The steering rack also attaches to the frame.
The steering rack also has a gearbox and usually hydraulics. This is the pinion.
The gear ratio is what allows you to turn the wheel slightly to get a larger turn of the wheels. And, because the steering rack usually features electronic or hydraulic assistance, making those turns is easy.
However, when something does go wrong, if often means replacing the full system. For example, if the rack starts to leak. Or if the gearbox goes bad.
If that happens, you might need a new rack and pinion system. In some cases, the two might be sold separately. However, for most cars, rack and pinion systems are a single, enclosed unit.
In most cases, the average cost of replacing the rack and pinion system is $1,100. Here, you’re looking at $250-$1200 in parts and usually $300-$1200 in labor costs. That’s because replacing the rack and pinion system means taking the wheels out. It can involve significant labor. Therefore, you can expect to pay anywhere from around 800 to well over $4,000 for a new rack and pinion system. Differences in price depend on the make and model of your car, if you opt for remanufacture or not, and your mechanic’s rates. Additionally, you could choose to DIY the repair, in which case you’ll pay much less for it.
Additionally, if you replace your steering rack and pinion, you might also have to replace the tie rod ends. For example, many tie rods are difficult to take off without damaging them.
However, as tie rods average $19.99-$250, it should be a small part of the cost of replacing your steering rack and pinion assembly.
The table below shows a quick price comparison of steering rack and pinion replacement cost estimates from reputable suppliers:
|Supplier||Labor||Steering Rack Cost|
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How Much Does Rack and Pinion Replacement Cost?*
Rack and pinion systems range from around $100 for a remanufactured or refurbished model to well over $2,000.
However, labor costs can also be extensive. Here, you’re usually looking at a minimum of $300 for labor.
Therefore, you can expect any rack and pinion replacement to cost at least $400 if you’re having a mechanic do the work. However, this will vary based on your mechanic’s hourly rate.
The following chart includes normal parts and labor costs for 10 popular vehicle models.
|Vehicle||Rack & Pinion Cost||Labor|
*Note: Prices are estimates and were correct at the time of writing (February 2022). Cost estimates may have changed since, our figures should be used as a starting point for your own research.
Replacement Rack and Pinion Cost Factors
There are two primary cost-influencers for replacing a rack and pinion system. The first is the make and model for your vehicle. The second is the cost of labor.
Both can be considerable, although actual costs vary. In addition, you’ll have to consider additional elements of the repair, such as hydraulic fluid.
We’ll go into some of the factors that could impact the cost of your rack and pinion replacement below.
Make and Model
The make and model of your vehicle is almost always one of the most influential parts of replacing your rack and pinion. Here, sports, luxury, and high-end brands almost always cost more. In other cases, it’s just about the brand.
For example, Ford rack and pinion systems often cost over twice what Toyota rack and pinion systems cost. Therefore, if you want Original Equipment Manufacture (OEM), the vehicle manufacturer has a lot of impact.
However, you can also often buy aftermarket parts. These are parts made to fit a specific brand or model of vehicle without the brand. That can often greatly reduce the cost of your parts.
However, it might also mean making some compromises, such as that the system isn’t fully designed for your vehicle.
For example, most aftermarket products are designed to fit as many vehicles as possible, which can mean some slight design changes.
The Steering System
If your rack and pinion system is damaged, you’ll have buy a new one. It’s difficult to impossible to fix leaks.
In addition, some garages even refuse to use a remanufactured rack and pinion system, because they might be less reliable. So, any damage is usually considered a reason to replace the system.
However, you might have to replace more than the steering rack and attached pinion. For example, you might have to replace:
- Hydraulic pumps
- Tension bar
- Hydraulic fluid reservoir
- Tie rod ends
- Hydraulic fluid lines
- Power steering fluid
In each case, the individual parts are relatively cheap. For example, you can normally buy tie rod ends for $25-$200 each depending on make and model.
Power steering fluid starts out at around $16 although it can go over $100 depending on brand and how much you need.
However, when put together, these parts can greatly influence the total cost of your replacement.
You can almost always buy remanufactured or refurbished steering rack and pinion parts. This can greatly reduce the cost of your rack and pinion system.
For example, most of the lower numbers on the price chart above are remanufactured. That’s important, because remanufactured parts have been used, usually broken, and then repaired in a factory.
Often, they’re close to as good as new. In other times, that isn’t the case.
If your vehicle is relatively new, you might want to stick to new parts. Otherwise, you can ask your mechanic what they think.
On the other hand, if your vehicle is already aging then a remanufactured steering rack and pinion might still outlast the vehicle itself. So, it’s important to consider what your vehicle needs and why.
Labor is another large cost factor for installing a rack and pinion system. Replacing the steering rack means taking off the wheels. You follow up by removing the inner and outer tie rod ends, removing the tension bar.
Only then can you remove the steering rack and any hydraulic lines attached. That can be quite time consuming. Here, you can expect to spend 2 to 8 or more hours on removing and putting in the system.
If you’re paying a mechanic, you’re paying their hourly rate for this. In addition, many mechanics offer a flat-rate fee, which means using an estimate of hours the work takes.
So, you’ll pay estimated hours plus garage fee as part of the replacement. This can mean paying 8x $200 in some parts of the country.
In other areas, that can be as little as 8x $15. So, costs also vary based on location.
If you do choose to do the installation yourself, labor costs won’t be a consideration. However, you will have to expect to invest a considerable amount of time and effort on the repair.
4 Symptoms of a Bad Rack and Pinion
If your rack and pinion system is going out or broken, chances are, you will notice. Best case scenario, your car will pull to the left or to the right. Worst case scenario, you can’t drive your car at all.
1. Uneven Wear and Tear on Tires
If your tires are wearing unevenly, such as on the inside of the tire but not the outside, it could mean the front end is misaligned.
That can happen when the tie rods go out. It can also happen when the steering rack goes out.
2. Front End Alignment Issues
If your front end is misaligned, it’s likely a suspension issue. That could be from the tie rods, the steering rack, or tension bar.
If your steering rack is bent or damaged, you’ll have major alignment issues. You can always take your vehicle in for an alignment first to see if that fixes the issue.
However, it may also be a good idea to see if the steering rack is visibly damaged or leaking.
3. Stiff or Weird Steering
If your steering is very stiff, it requires a lot of effort to turn the car, or your steering is pulling in one direction, the suspension is likely an issue.
Here, the problem could originate from bad tie rod ends. It might also be the fault of faulty hydraulics.
If you haven’t topped up your power steering fluid in a while, you should check that as well. For example, low steering fluid can cause the exact same issues.
4. Lack of Steering
If your steering isn’t working at all, there’s a big chance it’s the tie rods or the steering rack.
If your car doesn’t drive at all, the whole suspension system may be out. That’s especially true if you hear a sudden loud noise and then the car doesn’t drive. For example, if the tension rod breaks.
Again, this problem can relate to many parts of the steering and suspension system. For example, if your power steering fluid is low.
It’s always a good idea to troubleshoot everything to identify the issue.
How Is Rack and Pinion Changed? (Steps)
Removing your steering rack yourself can save you considerably. However, it’s important to consider that this takes time.
In some cases, getting old bolts off can be extremely challenging. And, you need to either buy a tie rod puller or risk ruining your tie rods when you take them off.
You’ll also have to buy a jack stand and a floor jack if you don’t have them already. Here, a good, stable jack is important because you have to take both wheels off to do the work.
Tools You’ll Need:
- 18mm line wrench, adjustable wrench, or wrench set
- Ratchet set with 15mm and 18mm sockets but more is better
- Adjustable or crowfoot wrench set
- Floor jack
- Jack stand
- Lug wrench
- Breaker bar, optional
- Needle nose pliers
- Large flat screwdriver
- New steering rack and pinion system
- New power steering fluid
From there, you can start out by parking your vehicle on a flat and level surface. Make sure the wheels are aligned straight ahead. Then turn off the key.
You can also disconnect the battery from the negative post for safety. Finally, jack up the front end of the car and use a jack stand. Make sure the vehicle is stable.
- Remove the front wheels. You might have an easier time breaking the lugs if you start while the vehicle is on the ground.
- Loosen the tie rod ends. You might need a breaker bar for this. Most tie rod ends need an 18mm wrench so make sure you have that on hand.
- Use a hammer or a tie rod puller to pull the tie rods off the nut.
- Unscrew the tie rod ends from the rack and take them off on both sides.
- Remove the tension bar by unbolting it from the frame and pulling it out.
- Then, use your adjustable or crowfoot ratchet to unbolt the steering rack from the frame. These may be difficult to reach. However, you can generally fit a crowfoot and then turn that off using a ratchet.
- Unscrew the clamps from the power steering lines and undo them.
- Find the pinch bolt and use it to detach the steering rack.
- If your model has an additional bolt attaching the pinion to the steering rack, undo those as well.
- Take the power steering rack out.
- Lay the old power steering rack and pinion against the new one. Adjust the bolts on the new one to the same places as the old one. This helps you to get the steering aligned enough to drive safely before having everything professionally aligned.
- Slide the rack back into place, being careful to get the steering rack into the groove. Push the pinion into its slot.
- Then, slide the steering column shaft back and tighten the pinch bolt again.
- Replace the hoses and screw the clamps tight again.
- Put the bolts back on the steering column.
- Then, replace the tension bar.
- Replace the tie rods or put on new ones. Most steering racks do not come with replacement tie rods; however, they are relatively cheap to buy and taking them off can cause damage. So, it may be a good idea to replace them anyway.
- Screw the tie rods back on until they hit the nut.
Double check that everything is back in place and how it was. You can then put the wheels back on the car. You’ll also want to top up the power steering fluid.
Finally, you should always test drive your car in a parking lot or yard before taking it on the road. If your steering isn’t aligned well enough, driving could be dangerous.
Replacing a rack and pinion system takes a lot of work. It makes sense you might still have questions.
Is it worth replacing rack and pinion?
It may or may not be worth replacing the rack and pinion in your car. This depends on the age of the car, the miles on it, and its expected lifespan.
You can almost always save money by choosing an aftermarket or remanufactured steering rack. However, the cost of labor will always be considerable – unless you do the work yourself.
That’s also understandably not for everyone, so it may or may not be worth it to you.
Can you drive with a bad rack and pinion?
Normally driving with a bad rack and pinion is a bad idea. It can also be very dangerous.
However, if your steering is pulling, it might be okay. On the other hand, if you’re leaking power steering fluid, you can get away with driving providing you top up the power steering fluid before driving.
Still, that gets extremely expensive very fast so you’re still better off replacing the rack and pinion system.
How many hours does it take to replace a rack and pinion?
In most cases, you can expect to spend 3-8 hours replacing your rack and pinion system. However, timelines vary depending on how easily bolts come off, how everything goes back together, etc.
Replacing your rack and pinion system can allow you to continue driving for many years to come. However, it’s also expensive and/or time-consuming.
You can always save money by choosing aftermarket, refurbished, or doing the work yourself. However, those are not always the right options.
You’ll have to assess your car, your budget, and your DIY skills when deciding how to go about making the replacement.
Good luck fixing your car!
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