Mechanics

STEERING PROBLEM 2001 6 CYL FRONT WHEEL DRIVE AUTOMATIC 98,000 MILES

2002 Oldsmobile Alero • 98,000 miles


Recently I heard a pop, or crack noise, and my steering wheel no longer made my wheels turn. After having a friend, who is a mechanic look at it, he tells me the rack and pinion completely busted off the subframe, which is something that should NEVER happen. What would cause this to break? He said he saw some rotting or rusting, but this just seems a little extreme to me.
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Fataboo
June 3, 2012.




Most rack and pinion assemblies are bolted to the heavy steel cross members but I can't remember if yours is like that or if it's bolted to the firewall. While the firewall is part of the structure of the car, it's just thin sheet metal so it wouldn't take much rust to allow the mounts to break out.

If the rack bolts to the cross member, that can be replaced. I wouldn't trust myself to weld in a patch because the rack absolutely must sit perfectly parallel to the ground and be oriented properly between the wheels for the car to steer and handle properly. When the cross member is replaced, there is one thing to watch that only affects GM front-wheel-drive cars. That cross member can be shifted around a little before the bolts are tightened. That will change the front end alignment angles but an alignment alone will not resolve the miserable handling. Most experienced alignment mechanics know how to measure "steering axis inclination", (which is not normally done or needed), and how to shift the cross member to make it right, THEN the alignment will give satisfactory handling.

If your rack and pinion is bolted to the firewall, a body shop will be able to weld in a patch and they will typically use more substantial metal that will hold up longer.


Caradiodoc
Jun 3, 2012.
Sorry but I have no idea what most of this answer is if it's alright can I show you a picture of what snapped here. I an a novice and the answer was rocket science to me but here's a picture so you can tell me how something like this could happen. My mechanic tells me I must have hit something for this to happen but when it happened I was pooling into my driveway and hasn't even reached the driveway yet it snapped in the middle of my turn therefore speed in the middle of the road. Please help.


Tiny
Fataboo
Jun 3, 2012.
It looks like the housing cracked in half at the red arrow. That is uncommon, even after hitting something. Had you slid into a curb, generally one of the outer tie rod ends would bend LONG before the housing would break. (One outer tie rod end is touching the floor).

I suppose this could be due to a stress fracture but I've never seen that before either, and I've replaced a lot of rack and pinion assemblies. There had to have been a power steering fluid leak leading up to this. Also, the assembly is attached on both ends of the housing but one end is often able to slide through it's rubber insert so the body can flex a little and the housing can change length when it warms up and cools down.

I suppose we could guess all day long how that happened but there are no pattern failures that would point to a manufacturing defect or design problem. Rebuilt assemblies are real inexpensive today and most have had modifications to a different area that DID give GM a real lot of trouble in the '80s, so you're better off with a rebuilt unit from Moog, Federal Mogul, or one of the other national rebuilders vs. An original GM part. Unfortunately rack and pinion assemblies have a "core" charge and work the same as pop bottles. You take the old one back to be reused. Yours can't be reused with a broken housing so you'll have to pay the core charge. That's like not returning any old pop bottles when you buy new ones.


Caradiodoc
Jun 3, 2012.
Thank you do much for input and help it's much appreciated, at this point it's a toss up to what could have happened correct? What I am most concerned with is whether this is my fault as the driver of the vehicle or was this something that happened on it's own? It's become a matter if debate here and I'd like a professional's opinion on the matter. If it is my fault as a driver how could I avoid this in the future. Thank you for all your help again its much appreciated.


Tiny
Fataboo
Jun 3, 2012.
Lets state it a different way. Suppose you wanted to cause that damage. I can't think of anything you could do to accomplish the task. If you walk through any larger salvage yard where they buy insurance wrecks, you'll find all kinds of severe crash damage, but you won't find a rack and pinion assembly broken like yours. You will find those outer tie rods bent on some because those are by far the weak link in the chain. They can be replaced too with the right (inexpensive) tools but for a crash of any kind to break that housing, you can be sure there will be a bent wheel and probably a bent lower control arm too. I would never even think about accusing a driver of causing that damage, and if your mechanic did imply you caused it, ask him where all the other related damage is.

I tried to think of anything else that could remotely cause that and the only thing I came up with is if someone had to lower the engine cross member to repair the engine or transmission, (only GMs come apart that way), they might have attached a chain to the rack and pinion housing to hold something up. That's really grasping at straws but it's the best I can come up with.

The only other thought I had was if the housing is bolted to the sheet metal firewall. I DO know Pontiac Grand Ams are built that way but they use a different style of housing. I suppose it's possible for the car to be rusted so badly that the firewall could flex and put repeated stresses on the housing, but I live in Wisconsin, the road salt capital of the world, and rust is a big problem here, yet we never see those housings break.

I was the suspension and alignment specialist at a very nice family-owned Chrysler dealership for nine years, I did similar work at a mass merchandiser before that, and I taught suspension and alignment at a community college for nine years. In all that time I never saw or heard about a housing breaking, and I've been involved with some really stupid stuff people have done. We also have a front-wheel-drive class at our local racetrack, and those cars are getting banged up and running into walls all the time. Even there you will not find this type of failure, so if anyone is trying to blame you, ask them to show you any example of that happening to someone else.

One last thing you might want to think about is if there is or was something rubbing against the housing in the area it broke. They are always made from aluminum which is soft and lightweight. One of the characteristics of aluminum is it oxidizes REAL fast, as in right before your eyes. That's one reason welding it is so hard. You have to scrub it clean, then weld within seconds before it oxidizes again. The neat thing is though, that aluminum oxide that forms is a great insulator that prevents further corrosion. That's the dull haze you see on aluminum engine parts. If you scratch an engine part deep enough, you'll see how shiny it is but it will be just as dull as everything else in a few minutes. Many manufacturers paint aluminum parts to prevent that corrosion, but regardless, if something was rubbing on the housing, it would wear away the protective layer of aluminum oxide and allow further corrosion to take place. That would work sort of like a saw. What you would see is the housing cracked apart and each half mates together nicely, but you'll also see the rubbed area that started weakening the housing that led to it breaking.
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Caradiodoc
Jun 3, 2012.
The aleros drain for the ac drains onto the bracket for the rack and pinion. Causing the bracket to rust off the sub frame were it is mounted. The popping noise heard is the bracket breaking free from the sub frame. I had this happen to a 2001 alero with a v6 the only fix was a new sub frame.


Tiny
Jeromyastriker
Oct 15, 2012.

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