steering rack problems

Recognizing the Signs of Steering Rack Failure: Symptoms, Causes

The steering rack is a critical component in your vehicle’s steering system, responsible for converting the rotary motion of the steering wheel into the linear motion needed to turn the wheels. When the steering rack fails, it can cause several symptoms affecting your vehicle’s handling, safety, and overall performance. This article will discuss the most common symptoms of a failing steering rack, including causes and signs to look for. Whether you drive a compact car or an SUV, recognizing the symptoms of a failing steering rack is important to ensure your vehicle’s longevity and safety. Understanding the warning signs and causes of a failing steering rack can help you take the necessary steps to repair or replace it before more serious issues arise.


One of the most common symptoms of a bad power steering rack is that the steering feels loose and has excessive play. Steering rack failure is a common problem that can result in several symptoms affecting your vehicle’s handling, safety, and overall performance. Here are some of the most common symptoms of a failing steering rack:

  • Knocking noise: When turning the steering wheel, a knocking noise can indicate that the steering rack is worn or damaged and needs to be repaired or replaced.
  • Steering Vibration: If you experience a vibration in the steering wheel while driving, it may indicate that the steering rack is loose, misaligned, or damaged.
  • Difficulty Turning: If you find it difficult to turn the steering wheel or the wheel feels stiff, this could be a sign that the steering rack is failing. This can be especially noticeable at low speeds or when parking.
  • Leaking Fluid: If you notice a puddle of fluid under your vehicle, it may indicate a leak in the power steering system. This can cause the power steering to fail and the steering wheel to become difficult to turn.
  • Uneven Tire Wear: If your tires are wearing unevenly, this could indicate a problem with your steering rack. If the steering rack is misaligned, it can cause your wheels to turn at different angles, resulting in uneven tire wear.

It is important to address these symptoms promptly to avoid further damage and ensure the safe operation of your vehicle. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is recommended to have your steering rack inspected by a professional mechanic.

Common Problems

Excessive Steering Play / Lose Steering

If your steering rack and pinion wear out, the steering will feel loose. You will also notice that the car wanders at high speed, and keeping it in the lane is hard. Also, every road imperfection causes your car to move easily from left to right instead of in a straight line.

You may also notice that steering is harder at lower speeds. On top of all these symptoms, you will also notice that the wheels don’t return to a straight position after turning.

Numb Spot

Often you may hear the term numb spot.  This refers to your play with your steering wheel when you move it. The steering wheel moves, but the front wheel doesn’t move.

Uneven tire wear

While uneven tire wear can often be caused by bad alignment or other steering components, a bad steering rack can also cause unusual tire wear. Check your tires. Do you see more wear on one side?

Power Steering Leak

A bad steering rack may develop power steering fluid leaks from the O-rings and boots. Your power steering rack may be bad. Note that other components can cause power steering leaks, such as a power steering pump, reservoir, or lines.

Noise when turning

Another bad steering and rack system is clunking noise or thudding when taking a corner or turning the steering wheel.  You may also notice a grinding noise when steering due to the steering rack’s metal contact or lack of lubrification.

Typically you may hear a thump as you turn, for example, when getting out or into the driveway. As a steering rack wears out, components start to get loose. You will hear clunking or thudding noise when you turn the wheel.

How to test the steering rack and pinion

You may be wondering how to tell if the rack and pinion are bad and needs replacing. There is an easy way to check for signs of a bad steering rack. Check for excessive play of the steering wheel. The following examples show how much play should be on a good steering rack (a New car with 4750 miles) vs. a bad steering rack (high mileage car). In one case, we had a bad steering rack. The amount of free steering wheel play varies by manufacturer. Call your dealer and ask how much play is allowed for your specific make and model.

Before you jump to the conclusion that the steering rack is the problem, make sure to check the inner and outer tie rods for excessive play. Worn tie rods also cause similar symptoms. 

Misdiagnosis of a bad steering rack

Other components can also cause symptoms that are similar to that of a bad power steering rack:

Tie rods / Struts / Ball Joint

Tie rods may be the cause of excessive play on your steering wheel. Tie rods are directly connected to the power steering rack. They wear frequently and must be replaced around 75,000-100,000 miles.

Cars have inner tie rods and outer tie rods. Check both of them for excessive wear. Often you will find that the outer tie rods have become worn.  It is common for owners to think they have a bad steering rack when, in reality, the tie rods are the problem.

Bad Alignment

Poor alignment can cause the vehicle to pull to one side or the steering not to return to the center. Get an alignment done. Many auto repair shops that offer alignment services perform free alignment checks.

Power Steering Pump

If you have problems with the steering wheel not returning to the center, the problem could be a bad power steering pump. Generally, a power steering pump is not generating enough pressure.

This can get tricky to diagnose because poor alignment or worn steering components exhibit similar symptoms. To test if the power steering pump is the problem, you can connect a pressure gauge inline between the power steering pump and the steering rack.

This will allow you to check the pressure generated by the power steering pump. If the pressure is within the specs recommended by your manufacturer, then the Power Steering (PS) pump is good.

Power steering pump pressure can range from 200 to 1000 PSI. Replace the power steering pump if it doesn’t generate the required pressure. Other suspension components, such as strut supports or worn ball joints, can have similar symptoms, including loose steering.


If you suspect the steering rack is bad, check the steering and suspension components mentioned in this article. Before replacing the steering rack, rule out the less expensive parts, such as tie rods. Steering rack failure can cause catastrophic accidents. Your auto insurance company may or may not cover your car if you have an accident because you neglected a problem.

Getting a second opinion from a certified auto mechanic before throwing new parts at the car is important. Even if you plan on fixing your car yourself, always get a second opinion. Stop at your local garage and have the mechanic take your car for a quick drive.

A good mechanic should be able to tell you right away what is wrong with your car. Some newer car utilizes electrical power steering instead of a hydraulic power steering setup.

We hope you find the Sign of Steering Rack Failure & Problems guide helpful. Check these troubleshooting and repair guides for more help on your vehicle.


  • Rushit Hila • ASE Certified

    Rushit Hila, an ASE-certified engineer (G1 Automotive Maintenance and Repair), brings over two decades of hands-on experience in the automotive world to his writing. With a strong educational background, including a Master of Science in Engineering and a Bachelor of Science in Engineering, he has honed his skills and expertise through years of practical work. As a respected authority in the field, Mr. Hila is dedicated to offering insightful and valuable content that resonates with both vehicle owners and mechanics.

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