When you turn the steering wheel, the two front wheels also turn in the direction you want. It actually takes a lot of different components to translate the rotational movement of the steering wheel into side to side movement for the front wheels. Your steering wheel connects to the steering column, which connects to an intermediate shaft, which connects to the steering rack/gear box. The rack itself is what moves the wheels left or right, allowing you to steer.
The steering rack/gearbox is also responsible for providing the power assist that makes it easier to steer your car. Today’s vehicles weigh quite a bit, and manual steering is difficult even under the best of circumstances. Your rack is connected to the power steering pump, which pushes fluid through the lines, and into the rack, augmenting and amplifying the movement created by the steering wheel.
Your car’s steering rack/gearbox is used every time you turn the steering wheel. It’s also subjected to a lot of stress and vibration even when you’re not turning (driving on a straight section of road). Eventually, the rack will fail. However, there’s no definitive lifespan here. The more you drive, the faster it will wear. Still, most vehicle owners will never have to change their power steering rack, or will need to replace it just once during their ownership.
Given the immense importance of the steering rack/gearbox, it’s vital that you know a few signs and symptoms of excessive wear to watch for. These include the following:
- Steering wheel feels loose, or sloppy
- You notice power steering fluid leaks under the car, behind the engine
- You hear a clunking noise when going over bumps or when turning the wheel
- The steering wheel feels “disconnected” (it takes a lot of turning)
- Steering is uneven
- It requires a lot of effort to turn the steering wheel
If you’re experiencing any of these problems, it’s very important to have your steering rack/gearbox inspected. A professional mechanic can inspect the system and replace the steering rack/gearbox as well as any other failed components.