A steering box check involves raising the front of the car but keeping its weight on the wheels, and getting underneath it while a helper turns the wheels a short way. The safest way of doing this is to drive onto a set of ramps unless you can get access to a proper inspection pit.
In case you have to use ramps, be sure they rest on a level surface and are directly under the wheels. Apply the handbrake firmly, chock the rear wheels and put a rear-wheel-drive car in gear. Check the steering box for leaks and damage whenever you inspect the rest of the steering system. The box is filled with oil, so a leak can make the steering stiff. If you notice stiffness, check at once. A low oil level in the box is a sure sign of a leak.
Other than this there are other symptoms to know how to tell if a steering gear box is bad or not.
What Does A Steering Gear Box Do?
The steering gearbox contains the gears that transmit the driver’s steering inputs to the steering linkage that turns the wheels, and it multiplies the driver’s steering changes so that the front wheels move more than the steering wheel.
How To Tell If A Steering Gear Box Is Bad?
Here are a few symptoms or warning signs that alert you to a potential problem brewing with your steering rack.
1. Tight Steering Wheel
Today’s rack steering systems are supported by a power steering unit that utilizes hydraulic pressure to allow easy and quick steering wheel handling. When the steering wheel feels tight or is harder to turn than usual. It is typically due to the steering rack or gearbox building up more heat or a loss of hydraulic pressure from the power steering unit.
Either way, it’s a problem that won’t go away and should be inspected as soon as possible by an ASE-certified mechanic. Sometimes it’s as simple as adding more power steering fluid or a minor adjustment that can solve this problem and extend the lifespan of your steering rack.
2. Leaking Power Steering Fluid
Sometimes tight steering is indicated by low power steering fluid. However, since the steering box is hydraulically powered, the fluid levels won’t decrease unless there is a leak somewhere in the system. Once you start to leak power steering fluid it means there is a loose-fitting, broken gasket, or another mechanical issue. It causes a leak that must be fixed as soon as possible. Failure to do so will cause the steering rack or gearbox to develop excess heat, potentially breaking gears and other components that could lead to a crash.
Leaking steering fluid can be distinguished from other fluids by its smell such as a burning oil smell. It is also typically red or pink in color and will be dripping from the back part of your motor.
If you discover this type of fluid under your car, contact a mechanic as soon as possible to inspect the leak and repair it before the leak causes additional damage.
3. Grinding Noise
A bad or failing gearbox is typically caused by a lack of proper lubrication and service. The excess heat causes metal-on-metal contact and thus creates a loud grinding noise when you turn left or right. You can really notice this sound if you are turning and hit a bump at the same time. If you notice this grinding sound when you steer left or right, contact a mechanic so they can quickly diagnose and replace the steering gear box if needed.
4. Burning Oil Smell
A less common warning sign of a damaged steering rack or gearbox is the smell of burning oil. Since the power steering fluid itself smells like burnt oil, the strong aroma of burnt oil will be present when the steering gearbox is hot. In this case, stop your vehicle immediately. Find a safe place to park your vehicle and call a mechanic as soon as possible. Continued driving when a steering gearbox is overheating may result in fire and catastrophic damage.
5. Steering Wheel Vibration
While this is often an indication of wheel alignment problems, steering wheel vibration can also indicate a problem with the power steering. A build-up of contaminants in the system can cause the steering wheel to vibrate when the wheel is turned fully in one direction or another. A power steering flush would normally fix this problem. These is the symptoms from where you can know how to tell if a steering gear box is bad.
6. Steering Wheel Slips
The steering wheel slips when you attempt to turn it or hold it in a turned position. This is another sign that the power steering is failing. Other causes of power steering failure apart from leakage include faulty pumps, worn steering rack mounts, and loose or worn steering belts.
7. Worn Steering Gear
The vehicle wanders or pulls to one side. This often indicates a problem with worn steering gear. Premature steering gear wear can be caused by a lack of lubrication from power steering fluid, so you should also check for any power steering leaks when replacing a worn steering gear.
Excessive play in the steering wheel can also point to the worn or faulty steering gear. If you have to turn the steering wheel more than an inch before the wheels begin to turn, then you can be fairly certain there is a problem with the steering gear.
8. Screeching Noise
Screeching noise when you turn the wheel. This is often caused by a loose or worn power steering belt. This is the belt that connects the power steering pump to the engine. The screeching noise could also be a symptom of low power steering fluid levels.
9. Foaming In The Fluid
Foaming or discolored power steering fluid. This indicates that air or water has gotten into the system and the fluid is not lubricating the components properly. This is another symptom from where you will know how to tell if a steering gear box is bad.
Is It Safe To Drive With A Bad Steering Gear Box?
When the box wears out over time, shows damage, or completely breaks over a long time of use, the steering can compromise and not work properly. If this happens during an inopportune time while you are driving, then this can be quite dangerous.
How Much Does It Cost To Replace A Steering Gear Box?
You will pay anywhere from 600$ to 800$ for a steering gear box replacement. Labor should run you between 150$ and 190$, while parts should cost somewhere between 470$ and 630$.
By having your vehicle regularly services and free from general wear and tear. And also staying alert for any of the warning signs mentioned above. You will have a much better chance of finding and fixing a steering problem before it becomes costly and dangerous.