Steering rack / gear boots - ? Damaged

So, I am learning to inspect the different systems on my vehicle. Today I am underneath looking at the steering system. I noticed something “wet” on the boots on the inner part of the tie rod. I believe these are the steering gear boots (also called rack boots?). On looking closer it looks like either they are two separate pieces that simply touch each other, or are simply torn into two pieces (I think the latter is actually the case). The thing is when I looked at the other side I saw the same thing. So two questions…

  1. I think these are each supposed to be one piece. i.e. there is only supposed to be one boot per side and I should NOT be able to separate the middle of the boot and see inside. Is this correct? This would mean I would need to replace the boots on both sides of the car before it snows around here.

  2. Can I do this myself? I have my Haynes manual and it looks like I could totally do this myself as long as nothing else breaks in the process. I plan on removing the tie end rod from the steering knuckle and tie rod, then sliding off the old boots and sliding new ones on, then reassembling. It would possibly need alignment after this but I plan on marking the rods to try and avoid this. Am I missing something and getting in over my head?

The most I’ve done is work on the break system and do basic maintenance. I’ve never taken the hardware down on the vehicle but it didn’t seem that hard when I was looking in the manual. Any other tips? Should I take it somewhere for this? I am calculating somewhere between 70-150 bucks to do this myself. Does that make it worth it?

What you are proposing is doable although it depends on the vehicle as to how difficult it is. However, if the steering rack boots are wet inside and have deteriorated as you described you probably have leaky seals at the both ends of the rack. If so, you probably should replace the rack with a reman unit since if the seals continue to leak into the new boots, they will just deteriorate again. Once the rack begins to leak like that it will tend to get worse as time goes on.

Thanks for the advice. I will keep an eye on them… and on the steering fluid level.

Any idea how much it would cost just to change the boots at a shop?

If fluid is leaking out of those rack boots (you called them by their correct name) then new boots will not fix the problem.

The fluid is leaking out of the rack seals which are damaged because of the torn, overlooked rack boots. Dirt and water got in there and it doesn’t take long at all to damage those rack seals.
If the boots were replaced all you would accomplish is stockpiling fluid inside the boots; fluid that should not be there.

You will need a new or remanufactured steering rack because even if you could find a new seal kit for the rack (the Holy Grail is similar) it usually requires special tools and so on to install them. Plus, they would be prohibitively expensive and it’s just not worth the trouble.

So then… drive it until the performance suffers / leak increases, then replace?

It looks like new steering racks come with the inner tie rods, boots and everything so anything I would make worse would get replaced.

It won’t hurt anything more to drive it like it is as long as you keep an eye on the fluid level. It can go for years like this. If you don’t want the expense just live with it and if it gets to the point where you’re having to feed it fluid every day that would be a good time to write the old rack off.

New or remanufactured racks come with new tie rods, boots, and so on. They usually do not come with new tie rod ends and those should be checked when they’re separated from the steering knuckle. Grasp the threaded part of the ball stud and rotate it in a circular motion. The rotation should be slightly firm and smooth throughout the range. Any looseness or catches in the movement means the ball stud is worn and the end needs to be replaced. Hope that helps.

Thanks. Very helpful.