Rack and Pinion Boot/Clamp is 'crumpled'

  • 1 POST
  • V6
  • AWD
  • 106,000 MILES

(Just an FYI--the Engine Liter Size is either 3.2L or 3.3L)

I was driving my car with no problem the previous day. When I turned it on again the following morning, there was a faint screeching sound and when I moved the steering wheel it felt a little looser but also jerkier. Then the screeching got louder.

I checked the power steering fluid and found it low, so I filled it up again and it drove fine. Then it started with the above-mentioned symptoms within hours of driving it again so I knew I had a leak.

The mechanic that lives next to me had a quick, informal look at it and showed me, upon turning the front wheels to the right, that the boot/clamp of my rack and pinion was not nicely elongated accordion-style, but a little 'stuck' or 'crumpled' at the top in towards the metal center.

He then told me this was dangerous and I shouldn't drive at high speeds and that the whole rack and pinion would then need to be replaced. His friend quoted me 1100 to 1300 dollars depending on if I went with a used, re-manufactured or new rack and pinion. This includes parts, labor, alignment, and topping up the power steering fluid. I asked if it mattered the mileage on the used rack and pinion and he told me no. This astonished me.

Basically, I would like to know a) why does the whole rack and pinion need to be replaced and not just the boot/clamp and b) does this quote sound high? (The neighbour mechanic then told me that he could do everything for $850 with a new part.)

Thank you so much, I hope I can add an image later on as I believe that it would more sufficiently demonstrate the issue than my limited vocabulary. So I'll try taking a photo of my car and adding it later. I really do appreciate any comments!

Do you
have the same problem?
Friday, September 5th, 2014 AT 2:20 PM

1 Reply

  • 29,773 POSTS

It's time for a second opinion. I was the suspension and alignment specialist at a very nice family-owned Chrysler dealership for ten years, and I heard stories like yours quite often. We made a lot of people happy to spend $300.00 after they were told $800.00 somewhere else.

First of all, it is quite common for that boot to not be perfectly straight or stretched out. The rod you see coming out of it is the inner tie rod end. You'll see a nut on the other end where it bolts into the outer tie rod end. The last step in the alignment process is to lock the steering wheel perfectly straight, then loosen that lock nut and turn the inner tie rod end to adjust that wheel to make it straight too, to match the steering wheel. Most of the time that boot slips under that small clamp, and it stays straight. Sometimes the boot sticks and it gets a twist in it. We're supposed to turn the boot by hand to straighten it, but that often gets overlooked. Sometimes they work themselves straight over time. Regardless, it's not a big issue and it's not related to your problem.

What it does sound like is there's a seal leaking in the rack and pinion assembly. That will make power steering fluid appear first in one of those boots, and eventually in the other one as it travels through a metal tube connecting them. That tube is actually to transfer air from one boot to the other one as they get bigger and smaller when turning.

At first you won't know where the power steering fluid is going because you won't see any leakage. Once both of those boots fill up, which takes a couple of quarts at least, pressure will build up and push the fluid out through the small end of one of the boots. Then you'll see the fluid on the ground. You can also remove the small clamp, then use a pick or small screwdriver to pull the boot open and watch the fluid run out.

The next point is which replacement rack to use. Forget about a new one. They're horribly expensive, and the only time we ever install one is when the car is under warranty and the manufacturer is supplying the part. Even then, you're likely to get a rebuilt unit and not a new one. Most manufacturers have some type of policy that parts for a warranty repair must return that system on the car to "like new" condition, or they must have a life expectancy at least equal to the part that was replaced. Rebuilt rack and pinion assemblies have some reliability improvements over new ones in addition to them being very inexpensive. At the dealership, a rebuilt rack cost as much as $150.00 for some models while a new one could be over $500.00. Today professionally-rebuilt assemblies can commonly be found at any auto parts store for less than $100.00.

Most of the Chryslers I worked on called for about an hour to replace the rack. Even the worst-designed car only called for about three and a half hours. I doubt your car requires that much time. $100.00 per hour labor is typical, plus an alignment takes up to about an hour. You do the math and see why I'm recommending a second opinion.

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Friday, September 5th, 2014 AT 7:33 PM

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