While carrying out a service or before doing any front-end work it is advisable to give the Steering a thorough health check to identify any problems before they become major issues.
Worn steering can result in increased tyre wear and a vehicle that is both unsafe and difficult to drive. Thankfully the majority of car manufacturers are using the rack and pinion steering system these days, leaving behind the old steering box set-up which had many moving parts to wear out.
The first step is to lift one side of the car with the jack until the wheel is off the ground. It’s a good idea to check for noisy wheel bearings while your at it and by spinning the wheel as fast as you can and listening for any ‘deep, growling’ noises.
Generally you will know if you have a noisy wheel bearing, a ‘deep growling’ type noise that increases with road speed is a dead give-away. For repacking and replacing wheel bearings see my wheel bearing post.
Once you have determined the condition of the wheel bearings place your hands at 12 and 6 o’clock on the tyre and using a push-pull motion check for any play in the wheel bearings. If there is play in the wheel check the wheel bearing post and adjust the wheel bearings before going any further. Play in the wheel bearings can sometimes be confused for play in the steering rack and it’s a lot easier and cheaper to adjust the bearings than replace the tie rod ends or rack ends!
Next place your hands at 3 and 9 o’clock on the tyre and use the push-pull motion to check for steering rack play. If any play is felt we need to determine if it is in the tie-rod ends, steering rack ends or internal movement in the rack itself. The easiest way I have found to do this is to grasp the compnents one at a time and use the push-pull motion on the front of the tyre with your spare hand.
Tie rods are in view and easily seen, rack ends are inside the rubber boot so place your hand around the boot and feel for a ball and socket type joint. If there is movement here when ‘wiggling’ (for want of a better word!) the wheel it is time to replace the rack end(s). A visual inspection of the ball joint while ‘wiggling’ the wheel is also nescessary as a worn ball joint can feel like rack play as well. We will cover replacement of ball joints in a future post.