2002 Jeep Liberty Rack and Pinion Failure

My rack and pinion began to fail and my Liberty developed sensitive steering (lane to lane and while towing trailers). I had it replaced locally and aligned but when I got it back it was more sensitive than before and borders on “unsafe to drive”. I can imagine what it would do if I put a trailer behind it. In my mind something is binding which is fighting the steering input. When you turn the steering wheel stays where-ever you steer to (does not return to center). My next repair is a known bad ball joint, but I don’t think that is causing this. My question is at 106K could my power steering pump be producing less than full power? Is there a dampener in this system that could have frozen up? I’m ruling out the alignment for now. This is the V-6, 4WD Limited. I truely intend to repair it forever, but if I can’t get past this it goes to the junkyard.

A bad ball joint CAN cause the vehicle to wander. Do not underestimate it as a cause of your symptoms.

Your damper could have worn weak too. It gets weak with age just like any other hydraulic damper. But until you get the ball joint(s) resolved, make no assumptions. You could, if you’re doing the work yourself, disconnect one end of t he damper and see if you can slide it easily. If you can, replace it.

You should have made sure all the ball joints, bushings, tie rod ends, etc. were good BEFORE replacing the steering rack

I don’t think the power steering pump is the problem. If it weren’t up to par, you would notice it during low speed parking maneuvers . . . because you would have little or no assist

The power steering plays very little to no role on the highway. Because it’s not needed at those speeds.

Ball joints and tie rod ends always take priority on front end repairs as those are the 2 things that can lead to your becoming a fatality statistic.

The vehicle is 14 years old and it would not surprise me if other components are not worn also. If one ball joint is bad then odds are others are right behind it.

The steering not returning to center can be caused by a faulty steering rack regarding pinion adjustment, binding ball joint or tie rod end, or an alignment issue usually related to caster.

I presume you paid for a steering alignment after replacing the rack

After replacing the ball joint and whatever else is worn out, you’ll have to pay for another steering alignment

If you had replaced everything at once, you could have paid for just one steering alignment

A failing ball joint can cause the symptoms you describe, more so than a rack and pinion problem. I would also inspect control arm bushings and upper strut mounts if your car has them.

Does the steering seem unusually easy when the car is sitting still with the engine running?

Inspect and replace ball joints , tie rods, and bushings and mounts as needed, align it and report back.

A power steering pump can not cause this problem.

Thanks guys, we’re going to do the whole front end inspect and replace - I think this is one of those things where I thought I could get away with incremental repairs. You’re right, not only did I start in the wrong order, I didn’t replace the sum total of what was needed. I’ll report back and let you know how this comes out. Thanks again.

Just got word back from the shop. They removed the tie rods and you were right, the wheels were close to being frozen. In other words, the ball joints were beyond toast. In hindsight I now realize when I first started getting ball joint noises I could have probably saved the R&P (or at least lengthened it’s life) if I would have repaired them then. The only saving grace in all this is that the shop is going to cover the second alignment. Thanks once again for all the help - great site.

There were several recalls for the lower ball joints on the Jeep Liberty.

I’m not a fan of Fiat the company nor do I trust them, but you might consider contacting the Jeep regional office and ask if they could cover all or part of the ball joint repair cost seeing as how there is a recall out on them.

My gut feeling is that they will not but it doesn’t hurt to ask.

Fiat didn’t own Chrysler when this car was produced, Mercedes did. If you live in the rust belt, a frozen serpentine belt tensioner can mimic a bad rack.


Check this out

Clearly, Jeep is not owned by Chrysler anymore. But recalls usually don’t expire. So there’s a chance you’re still eligible, if it hasn’t already been done by the dealer.

After you have that shop replace the ball joints, it might be worth your while to call your local Jeep dealer. Give them your VIN and ask if your vehicle has an outstanding ball joint recall. If so, submit the invoice for the ball joint replacement, and hopefully you’ll get some money back

@oldtimer 11 Fiat did not own Chrysler when that Jeep was built but the bankruptcy in 2009 wiped the slate of everything before that and Fiat is the bunch the OP would have to deal with now about any reimbursement.

It is possible the ball joints were replaced nine years ago and are now worn/rusted.
There are also recalls for the upper ball joint/upper control arms on certain build dates issued in 2010.

Owners can check for incomplete recalls at the manufactures web site (FCA); http://recalls.mopar.com/

Reimbursement is unlikely, FCA customer service will ask that the vehicle be brought in for the recall work so the vehicle can be removed from the VIN list.

Anyone interested in free recall repairs should update their vehicle ownership information at a nearby dealer or contact the manufactures customer service.

If reimbursement is unlikely, WTF do the recall letters always mention it?

I’m talking all recalls, from all car manufacturers

There’s always a provision to be reimbursed, for every single recall I’ve ever seen. And there have been many

If they didn’t reimburse anything at all, I would shove the letter in their face, stick my hand out, palm open and facing up, and I would say “Pay up, sucker”

I think blatantly NOT reimbursing somebody with a legitimate invoice might be illegal

i am aware that the provisions for recall plainly state that there is a monetary limit. In other words, if the shop that replaced the ball joints gouged you, you may not get reimbursed enough to cover the full amount

Vehicle manufactures are required by NHTSA to reimburse owners that had repairs done before the recall repair was made available.

If reimbursement was required at any time owners could chose to have their car repaired anywhere they wanted and demand reimbursement. That would be very costly.

Bubba, I’m only posting to thank you for the follow up post. It’s really good to hear the end result.

If somebody bought a vehicle secondhand with uncompleted recalls, paid for the repairs, and found out about the recalls AFTERWARDS, that’s not his fault

And from what I understand, he needs to be reimbursed, up to the allowable amount, which is plainly stated

And we know there are tons of second and third owners who are never notified about recalls. For various reasons