The power steering assembly in your car transfers the hydraulic power from the steering fluid to each of the wheels so your car will be more responsive and easier to direct when driving. After a few years of use, you may notice the steering is not as good as it was. This may be a result of fluid leaks, often in the hoses or as a result of a bad steering rack. When this happens, there is a lot you can do to fix the problem yourself.
Step 1 - Use Some Brake Fluid for a Temporary Fix
Many people who have had some leaks with the rack and pinion problems will put some brake fluid into the power steering reservoir. This will not replace the power steering fluid, but will add it into the mix. This has been successful as a short term fix in order to get you home or to a repair center.
Step 2 - Park Car on Ramp
To get at the rack and pinion, you will need to crawl under the vehicle. A pair of heavy duty car ramps are a good option for safely lifting your car enough to work under it. Place the ramps on a flat surface and carefully drive the front wheels of your vehicle onto them. When you reach the top, put the car in park and turn off the engine. Place wheel chocks behind the rear wheels and apply the emergency break so it does not accidentally roll while you're working.
Step 3 - Clean Hoses
Take some time to clean the hose from the rack and pinion of any grease, dirt, and fluids. This will help you better determine where the leak is coming from. Also, look at the overall condition of the hoses while you are cleaning them. You may find that they are dry and brittle, in which case they will need to be replaced.
Step 4 - Locate the Leak
Fill your power steering reservoir only slightly with fluid, briefly turn your vehicle back on, and turn your steering wheel back and forth for a few minutes. Then, turn the car off again and carefully inspect your power steering hoses and rack. Since you just cleaned your hoses, any new fluid on them should tell you the source of the leak.
Step 5 - Drain Power Steering Fluid
Place a drip pan underneath the power steering unit, remove the bottom bolt, and drain out the fluid completely. You will always want fresh fluid in the system after a repair. Make sure you dispose of the old fluid properly as well.
Step 6 - Replace Hoses
The power steering hoses that are connected to the rack and pinion are high pressure hoses that will be bolted into place, so you will need to remove them with a line wrench or a socket wrench. Since they need to be on very tight, you might have trouble getting them off. In this case, you can use a lubricant to help. Loosen the top bolt on the hose first before removing the bolt down by the steering rack. Then, fit your new power steering hose in place starting at the bottom and moving to the top. Get the bolts nice and tight again so you don't have to worry about problems later.
Step 7 - Replace Gaskets
There are a few gaskets on the rack and pinion assembly that may need to be replaced if they are dried out and worn. Simply remove the old ones and make sure you buy suitable replacements. Then, refit them in the same spot and secure them.
Step 8 - Replace Rack and Pinion
Some leaks are caused because the rack and pinion is failing. When this happens you can use some Leak Stop to seal up some of the cracked areas, but you will need to replace the rack and pinion to stop the leaks entirely.
Start by securing your steering wheel so it doesn't move when the rack is removed. Then, take off both of your front wheels to give yourself easier access to the steering rack.
Unfasten and remove the tie rod from the vehicle; a new steering rack will not come with one, so you will have to attach it to the existing tie rods before you can finish the installation. Unscrew the rack assembly from the tie rod next, and then repeat the process on the other side of the car.
Next, remove the stabilizer bolts from the torsion bar and unbolt it from the frame. Slide this out of the way some so you can get to the bolts that actually hold the rack in place. You'll need to remove the power steering lines from the rack as well before you finally unscrew the pinch bolt on the steering column shaft so the whole assembly slides off.
Slide the new rack into this groove and begin reversing the whole process to secure it in place. Make sure your tie rod is aligned identically on either side to what it was on the old assembly. You should still take your vehicle into a shop after this repair for a realignment, however, just to be sure you're set.
Step 9 - Refill the Power Steering Fluid
Now that your leak has hopefully been fixed with new hoses, new gaskets, and a new steering rack, it's time to refill your reservoir with fluid.