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What is a Steering Rack?

steering rack

The steering rack is located between the two front wheels on regular cars. It consists of a central cylinder of aluminum and two large rubber boots on each side - both called a steering rack gaiter. The gaiter protects the steering rack inner joint from dirt and water, keeping it clean and well-functioning. A rod is mounted on each end of the rack.

On top of your car's steering rack, the steering column is mounted. This connects the steering wheel to the steering rack, and subsequently to the front wheels on each side. Inside the middle part of the rack’s cylinder you’ll find a long row of teeth. A small pinion gear spins whenever the driver turns the wheel, moving along with the teeth in the rack. This mechanism is called rack-and-pinion steering. This way, the steering wheel's rotational movement converts into a linear motion needed for the car’s wheels to turn.

A car can have one of two types of steering rack installed, depending on your power steering system: hydraulic or electric.

Hydraulic rack

In hydraulic power steering, a set of pipes connects to the rack and supplies power steering fluid via a pump. When you turn the steering wheel, the pump activates and fluid runs down into the rack where pistons create hydraulic pressure. This happens at the same time as the pinion gear moves across the rack of teeth. Hydraulics help this movement so you do not have to pull hard on the steering wheel to turn. A number of components are installed outside and inside the cylinder, forming a closed system, which makes turning the steering wheel easier.

Electric rack

Electric power steering works by attaching a motor to the rack that helps the small pinion gear move from side to side as you turn the steering wheel.

A rack in an electric power steering system therefore does not have a piston installed, but otherwise works in the same way as the hydraulic version where an auxiliary system supports the steering.

There will always be a fault code associated with a defective electric rack. If you have access to a diagnostic tool yourself, you can connect it to the car or you can have your nearest mechanic check the fault codes for you.

How do I know if my steering rack needs replacing?

There can be several causes for a defective steering rack, and there are several ways you can spot whether you have steering rack problems.

  • You can hear a squeaking or howling sound from the rack. This is the most "common" sign of a defective steering rack, and most people notice it first.
  • The rack may be leaking, perhaps because there is a leaking gasket in the fluid pipes. Here you can see oil on the ground under the car, or maybe on the tie rods.
  • Play in steering rack inner joint: You experience steering wheel play or notice the wheels react poorly when you turn the steering wheel.
How much does it cost to replace a steering rack in the UK?

Unfortunately, replacing a steering rack is not a cheap repair. The spare part itself is relatively expensive, and it does not matter whether you have to replace a hydraulic or electric rack.

There are ultimately three options for a steering rack replacement:

  • The mechanic gets a brand new spare part for you. This is clearly the most expensive solution, but you also get a brand new steering rack. Here, the price can amount to £1,200.
  • The mechanic gets a reconditioned steering rack for you. More often than not, the mechanic orders the spare part from a specialized garage, who are experts in reconditioning steering racks. This means you get a rack that has previously been defective, but now has been renovated and is ready to be installed again. This solution is definitely cheaper than buying a brand new rack, sometimes even 50% cheaper.
  • You buy a used spare part from e.g. a scrapper. The rack is not defective, but has been taken out of an old car. You therefore get a used steering rack where you cannot be sure how long it will last. On the other hand, this is probably the cheapest solution - and you will also be informed of the age and mileage of the car from which the rack was taken.
  • Sometimes it may be enough just to change the steering rack gaiter, but this is mostly in cases where the car is really old and the rubber boots are worn.

Therefore, if you experience symptoms, and you suspect you need a steering rack repair, it might be worth talking to the mechanic about spare part options. It may also be a good idea to ask for quotes on the repair from Autobutler’s garages. As mentioned, there’s a lot of money to be saved!

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Prices on power steering system repair and replacement of power steering components

The average prices and savings for the car brands shown are based on different models and years. You must therefore create a job and compare quotes to see your actual price and savings.
Make Save on average*
Audi
5.0
(1)
£82 / 28%
BMW
5.0
(1)
£59 / 22%
Citroën
5.0
(3)
£86 / 28%
Ford
5.0
(4)
£65 / 27%
Mercedes-Benz
4.7
(3)
£64 / 25%
Nissan
5.0
(1)
£74 / 25%
Peugeot
5.0
(1)
£77 / 29%
Renault
5.0
(2)
£79 / 28%
Vauxhall
4.8
(5)
£54 / 26%
Volkswagen
(0)
£49 / 26%

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