You found the cause. The rack should not be moving side to side. Instead of bolting it directly to the body, it is sandwiched between two metal plates on each end that are riveted together. Rubber isolators are between the brackets and the rack housing. Check to see if the movement is taking place between the housing and brackets. There was a service bulletin related to those brackets causing a squeaking noise, but I think that was on earlier models.
You can also have someone move the steering wheel back and forth a few inches while you inspect the steering shaft for looseness. In particular, look at the universal joint. Jacobandnickolas is right about play in the rack itself, but it's relatively uncommon. When it does occur, it's caused by a worn spool valve / input shaft and is accompanied by fluid leakage from the shaft area. It can be hard to diagnose because it's buried inside a tunnel formed in the firewall. And yes, don't overlook the outer tie rod ends. A lot of shops will perform a free steering and suspension inspection while doing other service.
Saturday, November 28th, 2009 AT 11:57 PM