How do the steering components work?
Steering components are designed to maneuver the car easily in the direction indicated by the steering wheel. Essentially, they translate the circular motion of the steering wheel into the left and right motion of the tires. The steel ball and the nylon socket along with a thin layer of grease makes this happen. The tightness of the ball socket design keeps the front tires parallel, yet there is enough flexibility to allow these parts to rotate while turning and to compensate for the up and down movement of the car over uneven surfaces. Ultimately, the front end geometry or wheel alignment moves in unison.
What are the symptoms of faulty steering components?
End of useful life for steering components can be diagnosed quickly through checking the amount of free movement or play. To check for this condition, a technician lightly shakes the tire back and forth and feels for this free movement. This should be performed every time the car is in for service.
The most common components for wear are the ball and socket type, variously called tie rods, idler and pitman arms, and center links, which serve as the connection between the rack and pinion or steering gear and the front wheels. Their location and constant use lead to sometimes frequent replacement. The original quality and design of the part, the type of vehicle, and how the vehicle is driven will have an impact on the life of these steering components. The harder the vehicle is driven the more stress placed on the part, the shorter the lifespan. Adding grease (a lube job) during regular service will help to extend the life of these parts.
The remaining principal components, such as the rack and pinion, steering gear, steering wheel and any power assist unit only need to be replaced when fluid cannot be retained (large visible leaks) or internal failure to the part (worn or broken gears, seized pump). This may only happen once in the life of a car. Regular service of power steering fluid will help to keep these principal components from premature failure or wear.
What is the severity of a faulty steering component?
Worn steering components can affect tire wear, steering performance, and the safety of the vehicle. At first, a worn part will cause sloppy, unresponsive steering. The ball floats around slightly (tenths of a degree) within the socket, so the steering wheel needs constant re-compensation to keep the car driving straight. Furthermore, because of this lack of tightness, the wheels will not be aligned or parallel. In this situation, the wear accelerates along the outer or inner edges of the tires. Eventually, the tire will wear down to the steel belts and become very dangerous. If these steering components continue to be neglected, wear between the ball and socket increases. At this point the vehicle is at risk, as the ball and socket within these components will separate and the driver will not be able to safely steer the car.
What is the typical cost to replace steering components?
This type of repair will most likely require a diagnostic check so the mechanic can pinpoint the problem. Costs can vary widely based on the diagnosis, with some ballpark figures outlined below.
- Estimated diagnostic cost: $100
- Estimated part(s) cost: $110–$500
- Estimated labor cost: $100–$350
Service article written by an ASE Master Technician