The Basic Steering and Suspension Layouts
Steering Rack / Rack & Pinion
The Steering Rack is the assembly in a vehicle which turns the vehicle’s wheels from side to side in response to when the driver turns the steering wheel. The Steering Rack is what helps you steer when you drive.
Common Rack & Pinion Steering Problems:
Very Tight Steering Wheel
This is a sign that there is probably a problem either with your Steering Rack or a lack of pressure from the power steering unit. The solution could be to add more power steering fluid but it is always best to get it checked.
Leaking Power Steering Fluid
Power Steering Fluid levels only decrease and result in tight steering if there is a leak. This isn’t a big problem, However, the consequences for leaving it too long include causing the Steering Rack to overheat or gears to break.
Grinding Noise When Steering
A grinding noise from your Steering Rack comes from metal-on-metal contact, suggesting a lack of lubrication. You will be able to hear it clearly when you turn either left or right. Ask your mechanic to take a look at the problem, as your Steering Rack could need replacing.
Tie Rod Ends & Rack Ends
The Tie Rod Ends and Rack Ends function is to transmit the control force of a steering wheel to a wheel. It Keeps steering stable by absorbing the shocks and the vibrations from the road surface.
Common Tie Rod End & Rack End Problems:
Front Wheel Alignment is Distorted
If you feel that your car is moving unnecessarily to the left or right when braking or driving, the Tie Rod Ends could probably be badly worn.
Jittery Steering Wheel
If you feel that your steering is not responding or is jittery, the Tie Rod End may have a problem. You may feel the steering wheel shaking at high speeds which happens when a Tie Rod End is loose.
Wearing of Tires
When the alignment is out of balance due to a loose Tie Rod End, the tires feel the greatest effect. So if after some time you notice that a certain area of the tire is worn out, there is something wrong with the suspension components and the Tie Rod End is probably the main cause.
Steering Wheel Feels Loose
A faulty Tie Rod End can cause the steering wheel to feel loose or have excessive play. This is a dangerous condition, as it can lead to a complete lack of steering.
Any Squeaking or squealing while the vehicle is in motion can indicate undesirable metal on metal contact. A high pitched squeaking sound while driving especially around corners can indicate the Tie Rod End rubber boot that has cracked, allowing for a loss of lubrication.
Ball Joints provide pivoting movement between the steering knuckles and the Control Arms to provide a safe, smooth ride and allow you to precisely control your vehicle.
Common Ball Joint Problems:
Usually, the first indication of worn or loose Ball Joints will be a faint, intermittent clunking noise that seems to be coming from the corner of your vehicle. The sound may be more pronounced when going over a bump or a dip or when going around a corner. While the sound may be faint at first during time as the wear continues the sound will become louder and more frequent.
Problems with Steering
Worn Ball Joints can make the steering sloppy or stiff depending on how the Ball Joint is wearing. Feeling a vibration in the steering wheel while driving down a level, straight road or your vehicle drifting to the right or left when going over bumps may also be signs of Ball Joints wear.
Uneven tire wear may be a sign that your Ball Joints are wearing out. Specifically, if the inner or outer edges of your front tires are wearing out faster than the rest of the tread, there is a good chance that the cause is worn Ball Joints.
A Control Arm connects the wheel hub and steering knuckle to the frame of the vehicle. They are typically equipped with a bushing on the frame side of the vehicle and a ball joint on the wheel side of the vehicle that allows flex and controlled movement according to the road conditions and steering input from the driver.
Common Control Arm Problems:
Main Body Damage
Depending on the type of material used a Control Arm’s body may rust.
This happens if the Control Arm comes into contact with water or moisture over a long period. Rusts affect the structural integrity of a Control Arm. It also makes replacing the components at either end difficult. The body of a Control Arm may also crack, bend or break under extreme conditions. These include collisions, excessive vehicle abuse or the wheels hitting a curb.
Control Arm Bushings Damage
Control Arm Bushings over time and if subjected to extreme usage, the bushings can fail to allow the metal components of the suspension to touch. Bad Control Arm Bushings are loose and cannot restrict the movement of the Control Arm they are mounted to. They also do not absorb vibrations to dampen off the noise. That leads to rough rides and difficulties controlling the vehicle.
Control Arm Ball Joint Damage
Ball Joints especially those of Lower Control Arms support a lot of weight. They, therefore, do wear out quickly. It can make vehicle control a challenge. Driving a vehicle whose Control Arm Ball Joints is faulty can even be a safety risk.
Bumps and potholes cause stress to the Control Arms. If the weight of the vehicle is always high and the road conditions rough, the effects can be Control Arms that break down before the usual lifespan. It mostly damages the main body of the Control Arm by causing cracks and breakages.
Stabiliser Links / Sway Bar Link
A Stabiliser Link is also known as a Sway Bar it connects the vehicles left and right wheels through short links, reducing body roll whilst cornering, and absorbing shocks from potholes and uneven road surfaces.
Common Stabiliser Link Problems:
Clunking or rattling noises from the tire area
The Stabiliser links are supposed to fit incredibly snugly, without any play or movement except between rubber bushings. When the Links are worn they will begin to make these sounds especially when you are driving around corners or over speed bumps.
Poor Handling or Loose Steering Wheel
Since the Stabiliser Links are attached to the Lower Control Arm, steering and handling are also negatively impacted when they begin to wear out. Most of the time it is the bushings that are designed to take the majority of the impact and help to protect the metal parts from wearing out. The Bushings can also cause extensive corrosion, especially if oil, grease or other debris become embedded on the Stabiliser Link. A direct result is that the steering will appear to be loose and the body will sway from left to right more due to the fact that the Stabiliser Link and bushings are wearing out.
The Drag Link connects the pitman arm to the tie rod assembly. The Drag Link provides the ability to fine-tune the steering linkage system for precise control. It is a steering part that can change the tire rotation motion. The Drag Link sends force from the pitman's arm to the steering knuckle it receives both tensile force and press.
Common Drag Link Problems:
Abnormal Tire Wear
One of the first symptoms of a problem with the Drag Link is abnormal tire wear. If the vehicle’s Drag Link wears out at the ends, it may cause the tires to wear unevenly. The tires may wear at an accelerated rate on the inside or outside of the tread. This will also put additional stress and wear on the other steering components as well.
Steering Wheel Play or Vibration
If the Drag Link wears out or develops any play at any of its linkage points, it may be felt as play in the steering wheel. Depending on the amount of play, the vehicle may also experience shimmy or vibration in the steering wheel when the vehicle is in motion.
Steering Drifts to the Left or Right
A bad or failing Drag Link can also cause the vehicle’s steering to wander when it is in motion. The vehicle may drift to the left or right on its own. This will require the driver to have to constantly correct steering in order to maintain control of the vehicle and may even make the vehicle unsafe to drive.
The Idler Arm is a pivoting support for the steering linkage. The Idler Arm is designed to keep the centre link parallel to the road surface while allowing the connection to swivel both left and right.
Common Idler Arm Problems:
This is when a vehicle seems to wander or weave back and forth on its own. If you are being attentive and steady on the steering wheel but are experiencing road walking it will be genuinely difficult for you to keep the vehicle straight.
Play in the Wheel
While the vehicle is sitting still try moving the steering wheel. If you can move the wheel considerable from side to side without much resistance, your steering wheel has too much play. While you do not want your car to be unresponsive when you make steering manoeuvres, a wheel that has too little resistance is also bad and a sign that the Idler Arm is the problem.
The car must be raised so that the front wheels are suspended off of the ground. While the vehicle is raised, go to your front wheels and without manipulating the steering wheel at all, see if it is possible to move the front wheels from side to side. If the wheels do shift back and forth, its a sign that you should look into your Idler Arm.
The Pitman Arm is a linkage which precisely directs the movement of all the other steering links. It Limits wheel to wobble on bumpy roads and assures full wheel turning radius and also helps to reduce steering wheel vibration.
Common Pitman Arm Problems:
If your steering has lots of play while you are driving, such as the wheel turns more than it should before the wheels engage then the chances are your Pitman Arm needs to be looked at.
Wandering to the Left or Right while on the road.
If your vehicle is pulling to the one side or the steering seems difficult then you must have your Pitman Arm checked. A bad or failing Pitman Arm can cause your vehicle to not respond appropriately when you turn the wheel. It can have lots of play and can be highly inaccurate or seem to have a mind of its own while you are driving down the road. This can be especially dangerous during hazardous weather conditions or on a busy highway.
Inability to Steer
When the Pitman Arm completely fails you will lose all steering in your vehicle. The Pitman Arm should be replaced before the problem gets to this point. If you do lose the ability to steer, do not keep driving. Slow down to a stop and call for assistance.
The Rack & Pinion System
The Steering Box System
The Double Wishbone Layout
The McPherson Strut Layout