In the 1980s, GM had a real lot of trouble with "morning sickness" with their front wheel drive cars. The symptom was lack of power assist in only ONE direction first thing in the morning. This would last from half a minute to many minutes until the fluid warmed up. Eventually the other direction would also be affected. The problem was caused by internal leakage of the highly pressurized fluid.
GM's fix for this problem was to replace the spool valve which included new seals. It was designed to get the car out of the 50,000 mile warranty. What happened after that, they didn't care. Very poor business practices as this is no way to look out for their customers. Yes, the new seals solved the problem, but everyone but the customer knew it wasn't a permanent fix.
The real cause of the problem was as the seals rotated when turning the steering wheel, they wore grooves into the soft aluminum housing. The grooves were causing the fluid leakage, not the seals. The old seals were worn just a very little bit, not enough to cause a problem on their own, so the new seals on the new spool valve were just big enough to seal for a few more miles. All GM wanted was for it to last another 10 - 15,000 miles to get the car out of waranty. After that, when the problem occurred again, the customer had to pay for repairs. Of course, then it was diagnosed correctly as needing the entire rack and pinion assembly. New spool valves and seals are not available for individual replacement anyway.
There was a 100 percent failure rate on GM front wheel drive cars, and a 100 percent second failure rate on those that received the new spool valves under warranty. Chrysler never had this problem other than the normal sporadic failure here and there, yet when any rack and pinion assembly is rebuilt, they receive the same treatment as the GM units.
Two aftermarket companies, Moog and Federal Mogul, in particular, bore out the aluminum housing with its grooves, then press in a stainless steel insert. The hard steel tube and the teflon-coated sealing rings will last forever. GM rack and pinion units in the salvage yards are sure to be remanufactured units with this modification, so the chances of getting one with a problem is low. It is very possible with a Chrysler rack to find an original that never developed a problem. My 1988 Grand Caravan has 217,000 miles and the rack is original. In fact, I've only replaced one $32.00 outer tie rod end so far in the entire steering and suspension system.
One common problem with Intrepid rack and pinions was squawking mounting bushings. They are riveted to the rack housing with rubber isolators in between. The rubber could dry out causing a noise when they flexed under the high pressure of turning the wheels. There were no repair parts available from Chrysler, and it wasn't a safety issue, just annoying. Spray lubricants would solve the noise for up to a few weeks, but the permanent fix was to replace the entire assembly. I don't know for sure, but I would bet the aftermarket rebuilders have come up with a solution. Aftermarket companies are real good at solving common problems like this, and their prices are not bad. That's why I suggested a rebuilt unit might be a better alternative for you if you plan on keeping the car. I still wouldn't be worried about using a salvage yard part, but you might be surprised at the little difference in price. Many rebuilt racks have lifetime warranties too although that would just cover the part, not the labor to replace it or for the alignment.
Friday, February 26th, 2010 AT 4:26 PM