“The belt’s still there and the fluid’s up—although it does look black. Maybe the belt just slips until it warms up.” After tidying up across the street and tidying up yourself, you try backing out again—with both hands on the wheel. The steering feels fine now—no groans and plenty of power steering boost. If the belt is 4 years old or more, go ahead and change it because it’s due anyway.
But don’t be shocked if the problem returns the next chilly morning. Power steering that awakens slowly on cool days has so-called “morning sickness.” It won’t go away. It’s caused by wear inside the steering assembly (aka the “rack”). The fluid’s black, metallic look is a result of metal worn from the inside of the housing. The fluid is abrasive, and the wear will worsen with time. The rack is shot—replace it and use the opportunity to flush the junk from the pump and lines.
Step 1: Can I Do It?
But you should still check the service manual. For one thing, it’ll let you know if there are nuts and bolts that must be replaced with new ones, for safety’s sake, when changing the rack. You will also want to know the torque values for all fasteners. Are there any O-rings involved? They’ll need replacing. The manual will tell you. Before chickening out, look at a replacement rack. You’ll see the location of bolt holes and the fluid pressure and return line ports—the only fluid lines you’ll need to disconnect and reattach at the rack. Safely support the car and check clearances.
If you find you can’t grasp everything you need to work on from under the car or by reaching around the engine, you may opt to send the job out. Lastly, before deciding, talk with people who know the job, such as the front-end pro who’ll align the car after you’ve swapped the rack, or a dismantler at a local salvage yard. They may know legitimate shortcuts.
Step 2: Doing It
If you’re reusing the old outer tie rod ends, don’t take them off the knuckles with a fork-type remover—it’ll wreck the grease seals. Use a puller-type remover. Better yet, you probably can leave them in the uprights. Just loosen the jam nuts and turn the tie rods with a pipe wrench. The rods will unscrew from the ends—clockwise on one side, counterclockwise on the other. Unbolt the rack from the chassis. Now you can disconnect the fluid lines and capture the power steering hydraulic fluid as it drains.
Step 3: Flushing
Now it’s time to twist, wiggle and snake the old rack out of the vehicle. Expel any minors from the garage, as they may find the language necessary to persuade the rack clear of the vehicle unacceptable.You may need to unbolt and slightly move some other components to get the rack out of its tunnel. Lift, twist and wiggle in the new rack and reconnect the fluid lines. It may be easier to get a wrench to swing on a fluid line attachment once you’ve unbolted the rack and moved it a bit. Also, reattaching the lines may be easier before the new rack is bolted in place. Use a tape measure to check the overall length of the rack and tie rod assembly.
Set the overall length of the new assembly to this same dimension by twisting the tie rod ends on their threads. Keep the rack centered and split the overlap difference between the left and right rod ends as you do this, or the steering wheel will be off-center when you’re done. Connect all the lines, the steering shaft and the rack-attachment hardware. Use fresh cotter pins in the tie rod ends’ castellated nuts.
Reattach the front wheels. Once the new rack’s in, reconnect all hoses except the reservoir return line. Point it into a bucket, then refill. Start the car, and run fluid through until it looks clean. Reattach the pressure line. Note: You may be able to install an aftermarket inline filter so any crud you miss won’t harm the new rack. Have an alignment shop reset the toe-in adjustment or the car may handle strangely and wear out its tires rapidly.