Bad Power Steering Pump or Rack and Pinion? How to Know Which One

Bad Power Steering or Rack and Pinion

The power steering pump, rack, and pinion work together to make up the steering systems and gearbox connections.

Because the rack and pinion and power steering pump affect the steering wheel and the wheels' rotation, many drivers find it hard to know if the power steering pump is bad or if the issue is coming from the rack and pinion.

Faulty power steering pumps and rack and pinions have similar symptoms, including leaks, noise, and poor steering and controls.

In this article, we'll go over how to tell if the power steering pump or rack and pinion is bad!

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Bad Power Steering Pump or Rack & Pinion Video

What Is a Power Steering Pump?

The power steering pump is a hydraulic pump that handles the pressurizing of the hydraulic (steering) fluid through high speeds to provide pressure differentials supplied through the high-pressure line to the steering rack and back to the reservoir.

The power steering pump provides “power assists,” ensuring that your steering wheels are light and easy to handle.

Your power steering pump receives steering fluid from the steering fluid reservoir. Your car’s engine determines the motion of the steering pump through the connection of the power steering belt.

The steering belt transmits power through the engine to get the power steering pump to start spinning. The rotation of the steering pump’s rotor increases the fluid pressure transferred to the steering rack.

The steering rack contains hydraulic chambers (right and left). When filled with high fluid pressure, they provide power assists that make it easier for you to move your steering wheel toward the right or left location.

What Is Rack and Pinion?

The rack and pinion is a component of the steering system responsible for converting rotary motion to linear motion. The rack and pinion work as circular and linear gear to decide the smooth rotation of your vehicle’s wheels.

The rack and pinion steering system connects the steering wheel to the shaft, running through to the tie rod, steering arm, and wheel hub. The pinion connects the steering shaft while pointing straight to the rack.

The rack is a toothed bar that the pinion runs into. Movement on the steering wheel is transmitted in a linear motion that tilts the rack toward whichever side you turn the steering wheel.

How To Tell If the Power Steering Pump or Rack and Pinion Is Bad

Now that we understand that the power steering pump, rack, and pinion have similar uses, how can you tell when they are bad?

Here are seven common symptoms of a bad steering pump and rack and pinion:

1. Leaks

One of the common ways to tell that you have a bad power steering pump or rack and pinion is that you will notice fluid leaks.

The power steering pump reservoir might start leaking so much fluid that it becomes noticeable on the floors. You will start noticing some great loss of your power steering fluid.

The rack and pinion also leak. However, it is essential to know that the leak comes from the power steering system. The rack is lubricated with grease, and there are no fluids stored in the rack.

This will happen if the hoses and lines crack, there are loose connections, or the tie rods have issues. The connections along the rack can crack, dry, or become misaligned.

Fault: Power Steering Pump/Rack and Pinion

2. Loss of Steering

A bad rack and pinion steering system will have you driving down the highway without full control of your car’s movement. Your car will dangle right and left, even when you do not turn the steering wheel.

The pinion connects the steering wheel to the rack through the steering shaft. When the pinion or rack is bad, your vehicle will experience free play. This is a dangerous situation and can jeopardize your safety. It can lead to a fatal accident.

You should contact a technician or check your rack and pinion if your vehicle is moving side by side more than it should.

Fault: Rack and Pinion

3. Noise

A bad steering pump comes with a lot of noise. These are usually loud, squeaky, and grinding noises.

The noise might get louder the longer you drive or try to take turns. The grinding noise can also occur in the power steering pump because of air bubbles.

However, you should also consider checking your fluid level. A low fluid level in your power steering pump can cause strange noises.

Fault: Power Steering Pump

4. Stiff Steering

You have a bad steering pump if you notice the loss of “power assist” in your car. Driving in a car with a bad steering pump will feel like spending two hours in a gym. It’s not a pleasant experience.

This usually happens because you have less power steering fluid in your car or the injection of dirt has spoilt the pump. There are chances that they’ve leaked out, and there are no reserves in the reservoir.

The steering wheel will become stiff, and driving will become a labor-intensive task. You will have to apply more pressure to turn your steering wheels. This issue might escalate if left unattended to cause wear and tear in other parts of your steering system.

If your steering wheel is taking more than a quarter turn before your tires move, you should check the power steering pump.

Fault: Power Steering Pump

5. Overheated Oil

You need to park your car and check your rack and pinion if you perceive a strong odor of overheating and burning oil. The burning smell occurs when the gearbox is hot.

This creates an unavoidable stench that comes from the burning fluid. It is risky to continue driving in this condition. Your car might catch fire if you persist.

Fault: Rack and Pinion

6. Discolored Fluid

You might notice some discoloration in your steering fluids. Most times, it is usually dark brown. It can indicate that the steering fluid is oxidizing, and there’s a need to top up fresh fluid.

Other times, it indicates the presence of impurities, and this will damage your vehicle.

The discoloration presents a bad opportunity of clogging the bearings of your power steering pump, thereby damaging it.

Fault: Power Steering Pump

7. Steering Dead Spots

Steering dead, rough, or hard spots is a situation where the steering wheel turns without resistance. This usually leads to you turning the steering wheel more inches before the tire responds.

Dead spots are easily caused by racks, especially when the rack-pinion clearance is loose. Old and worn rack bushings can cause steering dead spots.

The fault can also come from the inner tie rods. Although the fault comes from the rack and pinion system, you must diagnose the car to verify the exact spot that is bad.

Fault: Rack and Pinion

What Are The Symptoms & Signs Of A Bad Rack And Pinion?

Here are four common signs of a bad rack and pinion:

  1. Steering dead spots
  2. Overheated oil
  3. Loss of steering
  4. Leaks

How Do I Know If My Power Steering Pump Is Bad?

Here are the four common symptoms of a bad power steering pump:

  1. Squeaky and grinding noise
  2. Leaks
  3. Stiff steering
  4. Discolored fluid
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How Do You Diagnose A Power Steering Pump or Rack and Pinion?

You can test your power steering system to understand the exact parts that are bad. Knowing how to test your power steering pump or rack and pinion will save you from all the guesswork and help you focus on the exact fault of your steering system.

Here are six ways to test a power steering pump or rack and pinion:

1. Fit a Pressure Gauge to Connect the Deadhead Valve and the Reservoir

The gauge should connect with the high-pressure line and run through the power steering pump.

The gauge will help you record readings that will help you diagnose the steering system. The gauge should stand between the gear and the pump.

2. Check the Fluid Level

You must recheck your fluid level to confirm the fluid quantity in your fluid tank. Use the dipstick to ensure the fluid remains up to the required level. Confirm that your choice of steering fluid matches the manufacturer’s specifications.

3. Start Your Car’s Engine and Turn the Steering Wheel

Start and run your car’s engine to warm up all systems. While the engine is still on, turn the steering wheel from side to side. Turning the steering wheel left and right will help you confirm the state of the rack.

You mustn't hold the steering wheel in one position for so long. The goal is to measure the maximum pressure the steering system can achieve.

4. Check the Power Steering Pressure at Idle

Check the power steering pressure that reads on the gauge. The pressure in a good steering system will not be too high or too low. It should sit between 125 and 200 PSI.

If you record a pressure that is too high, there are chances that there are restrictions in some parts of your steering system. Hopefully, there is no free flow of pressure in your hose.

5. Close the Valve

Close the valve and record the readings. The pressure readings should increase drastically at this point. Do not close for more than five seconds to avoid overheating the steering fluid.

The goal is to record the maximum pressure the power steering pump can achieve.

A good power steering pump should achieve between 1,425 and 1,525 pounds. Loosen the valve after getting the readings.

6. Perform a Deadhead Test

Run a deadhead test at 1,500 RPM. Running the test on non-idle points will help you notice relief valve issues that you didn’t notice at an idle state.

Tighten the restriction valve two more times, but do not forget the five-second rule. The pressure must record similar values across multiple tests.

Preventive Maintenance Tips

Regular maintenance is crucial for the longevity of your power steering rack and pinion. Here are some tips to keep it in top condition:

  • Regularly check and top up the power steering fluid.
  • Schedule periodic alignment checks.
  • Listen for any unusual noises and address them promptly.
  • Inspect for leaks and wear regularly.


You must understand how to tell if your power steering pump is bad or if the fault comes from the rack and pinion. This will not only keep your car in good condition, but it will also ensure your safety.

Most new car models have light indicators that tell when there’s a fault in your engine. If there isn’t any in yours, we believe this article will guide you on the best ways to diagnose your steering system and the signs to look out for.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can a bad power steering pump damage a rack and pinion?

Yes. A bad power steering pump can damage and ruin the rack and pinion. If it is a case of lack of steering fluid, there are chances that it wouldn’t only damage your rack and pinion but the entire steering system.

Are the rack and pinion steering the same as the power steering pump?

No. The power steering pump and rack and pinion are entirely different things. The power steering pump includes a hydraulic pump and a fluid tank. The rack and pinion just run from the steering shaft to the tie rod, steering arm, and wheel hub.

What is the difference between a power steering pump and a rack and pinion?

The main difference between a power steering pump and a rack and pinion lies in their functions within a car's power steering system. The power steering pump generates hydraulic pressure, while the rack and pinion translates this pressure into wheel turning motion for steering.

Does a bad rack and pinion make noise?

Yes. You will hear unusual noises, including clicking, clunking, knocking, or thudding. The noise in a bad rack and pinion will always occur when there is a loose steering system.

How often do the rack and pinion need to be replaced?

There is no defined rule on how many times you should replace your rack and pinion. You should be careful to notice when they are faulty, or you can replace the rack and pinion after every 100,000 miles.