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Should I buy a used car that needs a new rack and pinion?

Hi there,

I am considering buying a used Toyota Corolla 1999 with 60,000 miles on it. The current owners said the car has a broken rack and pinion and leaks steering fluid. They said I have two options: replace the rack, or do what they do: refill the steering fluid with about 12 oz fluid each month.

Should I buy it?? How much would a new rack and pinion cost for parts and labor??

Why do you want to buy a car with known problems?

The fact that the owners are unwilling to deal with the steering rack leak tells me they are also probably unwilling to deal with other maintenance/repair issues, meaning the car most likely suffers from a lack of routine maintenance. This is common with Corollas, bacause people have the idea they never need anything.

I’d find another car. One with no known problems.

If the steering rack is replaced, end of problem - well that problem. Have a pre-sale inspection done on the car by a mechanic and find out what all repairs might cost. The rack and pinion is a pricey part so just for that repair you are looking at $500 to 1,000. Adding fluid every month will keep it going for a few more months but if you plan to own the car for a few years you’ll need a new rack and pinion. The current owners got away with adding fluid because they were ready to sell the car.

I’d be concerned about other “deferred” maintenance since it is obvious the owners were just driving the car without keeping it in the best of shape.

I would suggest calling a mechanic and state the issue and ask for estimate. This type of repair cab approach $1000 dependent on your locale.

Hopefully car has a good price.

DO NOT OVERPAY because it has 60k miles that is irrelevant on a 12 year old car.

I know a three Corolla owners who make it 8-10 years without any sort of maintenance but occasional oil changes. They move on with the spent car and some unlucky soul gets it next. Not sure if this one falls in that category.

If the car is nice otherwise, It might still be a good purchase. There are not very many 12 year old cars without some problems. I would get it checked out by a shop who can also give you and estimate and check out the rest of the car.

As others have said, get a price on how much he rack and pinion would cost to replace and then use this as a part of the deal.

I once bought a Corvair that both the dealer and I thought needed a valve job. I bought the car at a very low price figuring that I could live with the problem until I had vacation time, then taking the heads off the engine, sending them to a machine shop and then putting the car back together. We hadn’t had the car very long when we drove it when we went out to eat. A sudden rainstorm came up and the car ran so poorly I didn’t think we would get back home. I replaced the distributor cap and spark plug wires and the car ran beautifully. I had a real buy.

Even earlier, I bought a television set that had a problem with the sound cutting in and out. I got a good price and decided to take a chance. The seller told me that the set had been in the shop several times, but the problem was never solved. I pulled the chassis out and found a cold solder joint at the volume control. A minute with the soldering iron and I had a great television set that we used for years.

Sometimes, buying something with a problem can be a great purchase.

You must not be a married man! All women come with problems–a man just has to decide which problems are manageable when he gets married.
The same is true in buying a used car–they all have problems. You just have to decide which ones you can handle.

I’m Always Skeptical When I Look At A Car That’s For Sale And The Owner Mentions Something That Has Been Neglected To Explain A Puddle Under The Vehicle.

What else has been neglected ? . . . That’s my first instinct.

Get a car with no major flaws, even it requires saving longer or creative financing. Haven’t you got enough problems without purchasing a new one ?


“or do what they do: refill the steering fluid with about 12 oz fluid each month.”

I doubt that it’ll stay that way, leaks get worse. I know, my Toyota product (ES300) started leaking PS fluid, slowly at first, but more every week. Ended up having to replace the high pressure hose, not cheap (it’s buried). So only buy this if you have an independent mechanic thoroughly examine the car, diagnose the problem(s), and give you a good estimate of the costs to fix. Then make sure you’re paying a heavily discounted price to leave you the money you’ll need, because you WILL have to fix it

I’d sure be looking around for other cars without obvious problems.

No, you should not buy it. The seal is on the verge of blowing out completely, and you’re then facing a very expensive repair on an old beater of a vehicle. And who knows what else is wrong with it.

Keep looking. Never buy a used car with even one known serious problem.

“Never buy a used car with even one known serious problem.”

Unless . . .

. . . Your local fairgrounds has a “demolition derby” or an “Australian pursuit” coming up that you’d like to enter. Even then, make sure it’s suitable and don’t overpay for it.


Parts and labor. That’s the big question. More than it was worth to the previous owner. Then there is the quality of the work to wonder about when it is done. When a door is left open, a problem can enter.

It’s like Storage Wars (bidding on abandoned storage units) when you have to guess that you can make a profit. The results vary wildly in some cases.

They have rules that say you can’t go in the unit and you can’t open any boxes.

You don’t have that rule so you can check the underside of the car to see if it’s a gooey mess that could catch on fire at any moment. 13 months of leaking and there has been a gallon of fluid poured in.

Expect to also have to replace the power steering pump soon. You should worry before you buy, not after.

I would avoid a car with a known serious problem, unless you can get it for cheap, and can budget replacing the R&P if it totally fails. Depending on what’s leaking, adding one of the available power steering “stop leak” products might buy you some time on it. It has worked for me on several cars over the years.

Well, on the bright side, the owners were honest in letting the OP know it needs replacing. Maybe they just decided to sell it since the cost to fix might be more than they could get for the car in a trade-in or even selling it outright(how many of those questions do we see each week?).

My rule on buying cars that need repairs is that the price of the car gets cut at minimum 3 times what the repair will cost.It is up to the seller to present a well maintained vehicle, or suffer the consequences. Do not follow this rule is someone offers you something like a genuine Shelby Cobra that “needs a little work”, you can ignore my rule in a case like this.

Add the cost of a new power steering pump into the equation too. If the fluid is run low the 12 year old pump has likely been pushed to failure also. I would also change out the power steering hose while at it too. As it will get disturbed during this whole process of repair.

You may not need all this but factor into purchase price.