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Leaking rack & pinion assembly

Yesterday I took my 2000 Mazda Protege ES in for its yearly state-mandated safety inspection. It flunked, because the rack and pinion steering assembly was leaking, due, according to the mechanic, to worn-out seals. They said the only way to fix the problem was to replace the whole assembly, at a cost of about $1,100. So here's my question: Is it reasonable to have to replace the whole steering assembly just becauses of leaking seals?
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Comments

  • edited March 2011
    A complete rack from Rock Auto is about $380, new bellows are $12 Each and you need 2. So if it is leaking from the bellows it would be much cheaper to replace them. I am not familiar with your car but I don't think your rack would need to be removed.
  • edited March 2011
    The cost of replacing the seals would be somewhere in the neighborhood of the cost of replacing the rack with a remanufactured assembly. But, I am reluctant to believe that the seals are leaking. I would get a second opinion.

    How is the fluid level in the power steering reservoir? Have you had to add any fluid? Have the hoses been checked, especially the return hose? Even though the return hose isn't under much pressure, it is only held by circular clamps. They are more prone to leaking. A fitting on the high pressure side could be loose and drip fluid on the rack making it look like a leak.

    Where are your state inspections done? at a state run inspection station or at garages that also do repairs? If the latter, then definitely go somewhere else. If the second opinion does not confirm a leaking rack, then report the inspection station to your state officials.

    In some states, garages that do inspections are not allowed to do any repairs uncovered due to an inspection nor are they allowed to recommend another shop as this would be a conflict of interest. If this shop is pressuring you to have the repair done there or at another shop they recommend, then report them.
  • edited March 2011
    Maybe your mechanic is not very skilled at replacing seals. He dosen't want to take a chance with follow-up visits by you if the job was not done properly. Maybe that's why he'd prefer to replace the whole assembly.
  • edited March 2011
    The bellows are just dust covers. If the rack is leaking from the ends, the internal seals are bad and that means a complete disassembly to replace them. Not many shop mechanics are experienced or trained to do this and the labor to do that could exceed the cost of a reman.
  • edited March 2011
    Price the job around. You should be able to get it done for less than 1100 dollars.

    It's really not feasible to replace seals in a leaking rack for several reasons. Generally speaking, you can't even buy the seals needed as they are simply not available.
    Many of these seals are specialty hard seals that are very delicate and special tools are required for installing them. Finding the tools needed is often difficult if not impossible.

    Add in dust boots and replacement of both inner tie rods which are more than likely worn and even if one had the tools and seals in hand it's just not cost effective to repair a rack; assuming it could even be repaired and the spool housing is not grooved up.
  • edited March 2011
    Thanks, guys. I appreciate your inputs, which were quite helpful. To answer Keith's questions: the mechanic told me the power steering fluid was down about a half-inch, which is what he said tipped him off to the leaking rack. He apparently added some fluid, because the level is right where it should be now. In Virginia, the safety inspections are done by private garages licensed by the state, and there are no laws specifying where required repairs can or cannot be made. Anyway, I'm definitely going to get a second opinion and repair estimate. Thank y'all for your help.
  • edited March 2011
    You need to take it someplace else. This is a shop seeking extra work. If your rack was leaking enough to flunk inspection you'd be adding power steering fluid yourself regularly. A slightly low fluid level can come from something as minor as a seep at the seals. Try another shop.
  • edited March 2011
    Agreed...I almost had this same scam perpetrated on me at one of the larger national chains...took me totally aback when the guy told me I needed a new steering rack when I had never, ever added any fluid to the reservoir. I took it to my local independent garage and it passed with flying colors!
  • edited March 2011
    It's easy enough to tell if a rack is leaking or not. Leaking seals point to the pinion seal at the steering shaft or the rack seals on each end of the rack housing.

    If the dust boot on either end of the steering rack appear to be oily then the rack seals are leaking.

    If you can't inspect this yourself then get another opinion on it at the least. Inspection should take no more than about 30 seconds.
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