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1997 Grand Caravan - symptoms of steering problems?

I have recently had my 1997 Dodge Grand Caravan in the garage for repairs on an unrelated problem. When the mechanic called to let us know what needed to be repaired, he added that our “rack and pinion” needs to be replaced along with the tie rods that he said, “…are about to fall off.” My question is, what are the symptoms? I did not take the van in for steering problems because I did not know I had them. If indeed the tie rods are about to fall off and the rack and pinion assembly needs to be replaced, wouldn’t I feel something bad in the steering? What I’ve found so far is that there might be a clunking noise over bumps, and loose steering or abnormal wear on the tires… None of which I experience. Our power steering fluid does leak a bit and we have to check it all the time.

I was told initially that this is a $900+ job but then when I said I can’t do that just yet as our other problem cost us $400, later he changed to saying he could just replace the tie rods for $150. At the very least I want to take it somewhere to have a second look at it.

Whats your take?

What kind of a shop is this? Is it a big corporate chain type of shop? If so, just find a good, local independent. Don’t go to the corporate chains.

You said that you do have a leak, and if that is so then the rack isn’t out of the question. You’d need to know that this is where the leak is from. It is also not necessarily the case that you would notice a problem in the way the vehicle steers. Of course there are leaks and then there are LEAKS. If it is a minor leak from the rack then you don’t necessarily need to do it right away, but it will get worse over time and you can count on a replacement. It is the steering, so asap makes sense.

If the tie rod ends were “about to fall off” then this you should notice in the steering. I would be suspicious of that. Here is one problem with that though - these things wear very very slowly over time. The change in handling is then very gradual. Its amazing what people can get used to. I.e. you might think the steering is good - but then get new tie rids & think - wow, how could I have driven around that way.

Anyway - without being able to actually look & drive, no one would be able to confirm or deny the shop’s story. I would certainly be looking for a second opinion - from a good, local, independent shop.

Oh, and if it comes to having the rack changed out, it would make little sense to me to put the old tie rod ends on a new rack.

Thank you for your well-written response. That helps tremendously. Its not something I wanted to just let go but that I wanted to get confirmation that its a good idea to get a second opinion. It is a small independent shop, but I don’t know them very well yet and don’t have any friendly recommendations for them from anyone either so i’m in the dark with that. I appreciate the explanation about the rack and how it relates to the leak so I will put that on my list of things that are quite possibly needing to be done very soon. :slight_smile: Also, it does make sense about the tie rods being replaced at the same time. There is a small amount of shimmying in the front end but its somewhat minor in my experience compared to what I’ve driven in the past. Hopefully it will hold out for a short while longer if they are wearing, due to the costs.

You don’t always feel or hear anything. A FWD vehicle can mask tie rod end problems so well that you can sometimes drive one until the end falls out. Second opinions can help you decide what to do.

i have a 2000 grand caravan. The tie rods weren’t so good, but the shop showed me exactly where they were worn - you couldn’t feel it at all. It is a safety thing, and should be replaced. Is it inner or outer or all of them that need replacing? (Makes a difference on the price) I would go for a second opinion somewhere. Sorry, no idea about the rack.

Thanks again. We are indeed getting another opinion from a mechanic that was recommended by a coworker of my wife’s. I think that is the best way to find a good garage, based on opinions from people you know.