What is the Rack and Pinion on a Car?

July 11, 2022

What is the Rack and Pinion on a Car?

Drivers take the mechanics of their car for granted until something goes awry. One issue that a car owner might have faced is when the steering wheel doesn’t easily turn or might turn a bit too easily.

Modern vehicles are equipped with power steering, which makes it easier for the driver to navigate the car. Before power steering the wheel was very difficult to turn. Power steering systems simplify the steering mechanics, including the rack and pinion. What is the rack and pinion on a car?

The rack and pinion translates the rotation of the steering wheel into the mechanics needed to move the tire. Car and Driver explains that these gears are linear (rack) and circular (pinions) in design.

Rack and Pinion

How Do Rack and Pinions Work?

The rack and pinion translate the movement of the steering wheel into the navigation of the tires. How do these gears work?

The rotation of the pinions moves the rack gear (which is linear), and the rack tells the tires to move left or right. Every time the driver turns the steering wheel, they are activating the rack and pinion mechanics on the car.

However, not all vehicles are equipped with rack and pinion mechanics. Car and Driver explains that large SUVs and trucks use “recirculating ball steering” mechanics.

Rack and Pinion

What Happens if the Steering Rack Fails?

Rack and pinion systems need both gear types operating in order to guide the wheels on the car. What if the pinions rotate, but the steering rack fails to engage?

The site Carparts.com explains that if the rack is starting to malfunction, drivers might notice that the steering wheel will be much easier or harder to turn than normal. If drivers start to see signs that their steering is functioning differently, they need to take the vehicle into a mechanic ASAP. No driver wants to have their steering system fail on the road.

Does the Steering Rack and Pinion Need to Be Serviced?

Many mechanical systems on a vehicle need to be serviced at certain mileage milestones. Proper maintenance is key to ensuring that a vehicle stays in good condition and is safe on the road. In addition, keeping a vehicle properly maintained also can help the car enjoy a longer lifespan.

While there aren’t any notable milestone markers that align with servicing the rack and pinion (or steering system), many auto experts note the signs of a troublesome rack and pinion system.

With the power steering design of most modern cars, the rack features pistons that require fluid. This fluid might leak from wear and tear on the system, and leaks can cause issues with the steering.

 If the steering system has sprung a leak, drivers might notice a ‘burning oil’ odor or see pink (or reddish) liquid under their car. Moog also explains that steering will be compromised.

When drivers notice any fluid leaks, a burning smell or have changes in steering, again, get the vehicle checked immediately.

Replacing or Repairing Power Steering Rack

When a car owner has their car inspected by a mechanic, they might find out that their power steering rack is malfunctioning. Can the rack be repaired or does it need to be replaced?

The Cost Guys explain that the rack is typically not the part that fails (it’s a very sturdy part). However, if the part does need to be replaced, the site reports that it would cost anywhere from $800 to $4,000.

Why does the cost vary so much? The Cost Guy’s note that the repair varies by make and model.

The Cost of Replacing Rack and Pinion Steering

If the steering system fails, this is bad news for the driver. Again, drivers should be aware of any changes to the steering mechanics of their vehicle. Car owners should not drive the vehicle when there are issues with the steering.

If the price to just replace the rack varies considerably, how much would it cost a car owner to repair the entire rack and pinion system? Sites vary related to the exact cost for repairing the system; the price might hover around $1,000. Again, though, estimates vary.

A steering system that is leaking fluid could be a bit more complicated to fix. Moog explains that leaks can be a difficult repair, and the entire system might simply need to be replaced.

Is a Rack and Pinion System an Option?

Car buyers might have many choices for upgrades on their vehicle. Buyers can choose their vehicle’s color, interior options, sound system upgrades and much more. Can buyers opt for a different mechanical design of their steering system, though?

Most cars are equipped with rack and pinion mechanics, and the steering system is not typically an amendable option for a vehicle. While SUVs and large trucks might offer a different steering design, typically the mechanics of a vehicle are the standard.

Rack and Pinion

 Do All Vehicles Include Rack and Pinion Steering?

The majority of today’s vehicles include rack and pinion mechanics to guide the steering of a vehicle. However, Car and Driver explains that larger vehicles like some trucks and SUVs incorporate a recirculating ball steering system.

In addition, while the modern mechanical design of cars typically includes power steering, there are vehicles that don’t utilize the power steering system. The Alfa Romeo 4C does not have power steering, and it might be the only car that lacks this modern mechanical system.

Some might wonder if drivers in NASCAR use power steering. These cars do utilize power steering to ease navigation. However, Flow Racers explains that power steering was not always the norm for races.

Rack Pinion Steering: The Basics that Drivers Need to Know

Rack and pinion steering operates via circular pinions that move the vertical (or linear) rack gear to allow the tires to be turned left or right by the steering wheel. This mechanical system is part of a driving function that most car owners don’t think about until part of the system starts to fail.

Power steering rack and pinion systems could start to malfunction or even leak fluid. Drivers should schedule a service check-up with a mechanic and stay off the roads when they notice the following issues:

  • A burning oil smell
  • The steering wheel is easier or more difficult to turn
  • Red or pink fluid leaking from the vehicle

Leaks can sometimes be expensive to repair, and vehicles might need a full rack/pinion replacement. Costs for this repair vary according to the make/model. For some vehicles, this repair might not be incredibly expensive, for others, though, it could be quite high.

Car buyers who are shopping for a new vehicle can’t choose the steering mechanics for their vehicle. Most cars offer rack and pinion steering, while larger SUVs and trucks are designed with a circulating ball steering system.

Steering System Warning Lights

Some drivers might receive a warning on their vehicle that something is amiss with their rack and pinion steering. Modern vehicles might offer a steering system warning light that illuminates when there is an issue with this system.

The steering system warning light appears on the instrument panel, and it looks like a small steering wheel with an exclamation point. When this light illuminates, don’t drive the vehicle and schedule an appointment at the dealership or with a reputable service center.

Typically, once the light illuminates, the power steering already is compromised. This means that the steering wheel will be very difficult to turn.

Use RelayCars to Explore Vehicle Options

Rack and pinion steering components aren’t really a feature that car buyers might be researching when shopping for a vehicle. However, understanding the basic mechanics of a vehicle’s steering can help car owners understand how their car operates and identify when the system might be failing.

Car shoppers can download the RelayCars app or visit the RelayCars mobile site to research all the details about different vehicles and explore models using interactive 3D models, virtual reality (with Google Cardboard) or augmented reality. The RelayCars app is free to download via Google Play or the App Store.

The RelayCars app lets car shoppers explore thousands of makes/models in a virtual reality showroom (for those with a Google Cardboard headset) or on-screen via 3D interactive models. Use a fingertip to turn the model of the car to see the exterior design from any angle or look around the interior.

Visit the RelayCars mobile site on a tablet or smartphone to utilize the same 3D model interactive features found on the app. In addition, those who visit the mobile site also can explore cars in augmented reality. Just capture any environment with a smartphone or tablet camera, and RelayCars will drop a selected vehicle into the space.

Both the RelayCars website and app include expansive details for every model, too. Research the vehicle’s price and interior and exterior specs. In addition, RelayCars also enables shoppers to switch out the paint hues for every car in the online inventory. Check out thousands of cars from home at any time.

RelayCars doesn’t limit the exploration, and shoppers are free to research and explore as many cars as they wish. Simplify the research process and transform the shopping experience into an interactive and fun journey.