Car Maintenance And Repairs

What Happens When A Rack And Pinion Goes Out?

Mike Cross
Updated Oct 18, 2020
What Happens When A Rack And Pinion Goes Out

Your steering system is a very important part of your car. Most people think of the engine and brake system as being important, but the steering system plays a vital role as well.

If you can’t steer your car, then how are you supposed to drive it? Well, the answer is you can’t. All the systems of a car work together to make the car useable and if any fail, then the car will not work right.

Your steering system is just one of those systems, but it is one that is overlooked a lot of times until there is a problem. One of the main and biggest problems that can happen with your steering system is the steering rack and pinion going out.

In this article, we will explain what happens when the steering rack and pinion fail and also signs to help you notice it before it occurs so you can prevent it.

What Happens When A Rack And Pinion Goes Out
What Happens When A Rack And Pinion Goes Out?

What does it do?

Before going into what happens when the steering rack and pinion fail we will first explain what the steering rack and pinion is and what it does.

The rack and pinion steering system in most vehicles is actually multiple parts. The main part is the gearbox in the middle. The more common name for the gearbox is the steering rack.

The steering rack is the part that receives direct input from the driver. It is what the steering column goes into, and when the driver turns the wheel, it is the steering rack that sends the proper information to the other parts of the steering system.

The steering rack is the heart of the steering system, and all the other parts connect to it. The other parts are revered to as the pinions.

This includes universal joints, main and intermediate shafts, and other things such as the tie rod. These parts can also wear out over time but isn’t as major as when the steering rack goes out.

So now that you know that the steering rack is the main component of the steering system, you may really be wondering what happens if it fails, or if some of the pinions fail.

The steering rack is the part that receives direct input from the driver
The steering rack is the part that receives direct input from the driver

What happens if steering rack or pinion fails?

Well, if the steering rack fails completely, then major issues occur. The most important thing that happens if the steering rack completely goes out is that you will lose control of the car.

That is because turning the wheel will have no effect. If the steering rack is out completely and not making contact with other parts, then it can’t send the information needed to the other parts of the car as you try to steer.

If the steering rack is just starting to go out though and hasn’t failed completely, then it will just be hard to steer. Depending on what is wrong with the steering rack will determine how hard it is to steer the vehicle and also how much it will cost to fix.

If a pinion or other part of the steering system fails completely, then again you can lose complete control of the steering. This is because the system might be broken to the point of not working.

If however, just a pinion component is starting to fail, then the steering might be harder. There are a lot of different signs though that you can pay attention to, to notice if the steering system is starting to fail.

Paying attention for the things to follow is important because if the steering system goes out while driving, then there is a good chance you will wreck. That is why it is key to pay attention to the following things and fix a minor problem before it becomes a major one.

Signs Steering Rack or Pinion is Starting to Fail

One of the first things you might notice when the steering rack or pinion is failing is tight steering. The steering might get to the point of being very tight. This is especially true if your car has power steering.

If your car doesn’t have power steering, then it might not tighten up as much. The reason tight steering is a sign of problems is that it means that the gearbox might be getting too hot or that there is not enough power steering fluid getting to it.

Also, tight steering can mean a loss of hydraulic pressure to the steering. If you notice tight steering, then you should have your car checked out. A lot of times the problem is minor and easy to fix if caught early.

An obvious sign of problems with the steering system is leaking power steering fluid. The power steering fluid is what helps lubricate the system and also helps with the hydraulic pressure.

If it is leaking, then the steering will not act right, and also there is an obvious problem as it should not leak. Leaking fluid could mean a part has a hole in it or that there is a break in the system preventing it from being sealed.

If you repair the leak early, then most other things should be fine, but if you drive with low power steering fluid, then it will damage more parts of the system.

Any fluid under your car is a sign for concern, that is why you should keep an eye on these types of things, and if you notice a leak from anywhere in your vehicle, then you should have it checked out and fixed.

The next issue can be caused by a variety of things in the steering system, but it is grinding sounds while steering. These sounds can occur at any speed from slow to fast and can mean different things depending on when they happen.

The key thing to remember though is that your car should not make noise when steering. If your car does make any kind of grinding, squealing, whining, or any other type of sound while steering, then it means issues are going on.

Normally it means that something is worn out, but replacing it early will prevent other things from getting damaged and prevent bigger problems.

The last sign of a steering rack or pinion failing is a burning oil smell. This is less common than most of the others, but still a sign that there is a problem.

That is because power steering fluid burning normally smells like burnt oil, so if you smell this smell and it is coming from the steering system, then it likely means that the gearbox is getting too hot.

If the gearbox gets too hot, this can lead to fire and major damage. That is why if you notice this smell and think it is the gearbox and not oil burning that you pull over and investigate the problem.

Let the gearbox cool off before driving again and get the vehicle to a mechanic to have it looked at.


So, now you know what happens when the power steering rack and pinion goes out. You know that if they go out completely that you will lose control of the vehicle and wreck.

You also know though that normally they don’t go out all at once, but instead, minor things start to happen like noises and tight steering.

If you notice any of these things, then you now know to have your vehicles steering system checked out and the problem fixed before it gets worse.

A lot of time the steering system is not too expensive to fix and caught early. However, if you let the problem go on the fixes can get expensive and be dangerous. If the power steering rack fails completely, then you are in trouble.

Mike Cross
Life is too short to drive with stock audio

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One comment on “What Happens When A Rack And Pinion Goes Out?”

  1. Car broken into.on console the letter p was taken out
    What in the hole to do with stirring
    Wheels locked to left
    Try to turn steering wheel spring back it happens so quickly it could break your wrist.
    What is problem. How to fix

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