Steering Rack Replacement

Created: 1/1/03

Last updated: New

Author/source: Knut Grimsrud

Sent: Wednesday, January 01, 2003 6:09 PM
Subject: Steering rack replacement


I had a chance to replace my steering rack over the holidays and I
thought I would share my experience with you in the event some of you
are considering the same procedure.

In my case, my steering had gotten a bit sloppy due to excessive
backlash in the steering rack plus the lower ball joints being shot.
I'll only talk about the steering rack replacement here and save the
fun with the lower ball joints for another time. The effect of the
steering rack being shot was that the car tended to follow ruts in
the road and there was a little bit of play in the wheel. The overall
experience was that the steering was not very precise and generally
seemed sloppy.

I purchased a reconditioned steering rack from DMC (Houston). When it
arrived, I was surprised at how well the unit was packed. It arrived
in a sturdy wooden crate with foam inserts keeping the rack snugly in
place. The reconditioned rack consisted of the rack itself plus new
tie-rod ends. I was pleased to see that the tie-rod ends included the
newer style flexible black rubber grease boots -- the older style
beige plastic grease boots all seem to have brittled such that they
tend to split as soon as they are tightened to the steering knuckle.

Replacement took a little over an hour plus a trip to the alignment
shop. First I blocked the rear wheels, loosened the front wheel lug
nuts, and jacked the front end of the car up and secured with jack
stands. After secure, the front wheels were removed.

The next step was separating the tie-rod ends from the steering
knuckle/spindle (basically the wheel hub). I first turned the wheel
completely to the left in order to give better access to the driver's
side tie-rod end and then locked the wheel in place by pulling the
key and jiggling the wheel until the steering column lock engaged.
Having the wheel locked in place is helpful in avoiding the spindle
moving around when separating the tie-rod end from the spindle. I
then loosened the nut securing the tie-rod end to the spindle, but
left it threaded a few turns on the end in order to avoid the tie rod
and end flinging around when separated from the spindle.

Since I don't have an air-hammer for my compressor, I used the old
fashioned "pickle fork" and hammer to separate the tie-rod ends from
the spindle. The "pickle fork" works as a wedge between the spindle
and the tie-rod end, and forces them apart. Take care to orient the
pickle fork so that when it is struck with a hammer the force does
not put shear on the control arm of the spindle. Instead it should be
aligned with the control arm so that the force of the strikes will
compress the arm and not shear it. It took several brisk strikes with
a hammer for the pickle fork to do its job. In the process, the
grease boot of the tie-rod end will get thrashed, but since the new
rack includes new ones, it's no big deal. The process is repeated on
the passenger side after turning the wheel all the way to the right
to gain better access.

Once the tie rod ends were separated from the spindles, I next
separated the rack from the steering column. This is pretty straight-
forward. I first lubricated the spline at the bottom of the steering
column with some silicone spray lubricant in order to make sliding
the coupling a little easier. I then loosened the top nut of the
coupling and removed the bottom bolt/nut of the coupling. The bottom
bolt must be removed completely in order for the coupling to be
separated from the steering rack. The coupling can then be tapped
upward on the spline until it disengages from the steering rack.

The steering rack is secured to the chassis by two brackets that are
secured with two nuts each. I removed the four nuts securing the two
brackets that hold the rack in place. The passenger bracket and
associated reinforcement plate plus bushing is easily removed. Take
note how the bracket and reinforcement plate interlock since it will
be critical that this be reassembled the same way. The driver's side
bracket and bushing was a little tougher to remove since there seemed
to be insufficient space to get the bushing out readily. I found that
the easiest way to remove it was to twist the bushing on the rack
until it could be removed directly upward. Installation was done the
same way by putting the bushing on from the top and then twisting it
into place.

Once the two brackets and bushings are removed, the old rack can be

Installation of the new rack is the reverse of the removal procedure.
Note that the steering column coupling can only engage the steering
rack in one way due to the cutout in the spline that allows the lower
bolt of the coupling to pass through. When reengaging the coupling
ensure the flat spot of the spline is oriented such that the lower
coupling bolt can pass through. When tightening the tie-rod ends to
the spindle, the stud can rotate when the nyloc portion of the nut
engages. In order to tighten the nut all the way without the stud
just turning, I clamped the tie-rod end to the knuckle with a pair of
vice grips. Once the stud is pressed firmly into the seat in the
spindle, the nut can be tightened to recommended torque.

The alignment must be eyeballed enough to get you to the alignment
shop. To tweak the alignment the lock nut holding the tie-rod end in
place must be backed off. The entire tie-rod is then twisted in order
to cause the tie-rod end to advance or retreat on the end of the tie-
rod. I used a pair of vise grips to twist the tie-rod. After setting
the wheel straight ahead I eyeballed the alignment until the front
wheels looked in line with the rear wheels. Fortunately my alignment
shop is only a couple miles away. After a quick visit to the
alignment shop I was done.

After I was done my car again has the kind of precision steering that
contributes so much to the overall handling/feeling of the drive.

Happy driving.


More info on What's Inside the Rack


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