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Shawn, Auto Service Technician
Category: Ford
Satisfied Customers: 3756
Experience:  16 years experience Ford,Nissan and Honda dealership in all areas
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how can I tell if my rack and pinion is bad

Resolved Question:

how can I tell if my rack and pinion is bad
Submitted: 7 years ago.
Category: Ford
Expert:  Shawn replied 7 years ago.
Hi surgetech082507.

Thank you for asking your question on JustAnswer. The most common symptoms would be a looseness in the steering wheel (excess slack) also the steering wheel will not return to center after a turn. Please let me know what problems you are experiencing. Hope this helps you out.

2003 Windstar Workshop Manual

Steering System Symptom Definitions


Some amount of the following steering noises is considered acceptable. If in doubt of the acceptability, compare to another vehicle.



Pull is described as a tugging sensation felt by the hands on the steering wheel that must be overcome to keep the vehicle going straight.

Drift describes what a vehicle with this condition does with the hands off the steering wheel.

  • A vehicle-related drift/pull on a flat road can cause a consistent deviation from the straight-ahead path and require constant steering input in the opposite direction to counteract the effect.
  • Drift/pull can be induced by conditions external to the vehicle, such as wind or road camber.

Excessive Steering Wheel Play

Excessive steering wheel play is a condition in which there is too much steering wheel movement before the wheels move. A small amount of steering wheel free play is considered normal.


Lack of Assist or Inconsistent Assist

Lack of assist or inconsistent assist is experienced when the steering wheel effort is higher than normal. Hard steering can remain constant through the full turn or occur near the end of a turn. It is important to know the difference between hard steering/lack of assist and poor returnability/sticky steering.

Hard steering or lack of assist can result from either hydraulic or mechanical conditions. It is extremely important to know if this concern occurs during driving or during high-effort parking maneuvers.


Poor Returnability/Sticky Steering

Poor returnability and sticky steering is used to describe the poor return of the steering wheel to center after a turn or steering correction is completed.



Wander is the tendency of the vehicle to require frequent, random left and right steering wheel corrections to maintain a straight path down a level road.



Steering System Noise Definitions

Belt Squeal

Belt squeal is a high frequency air-born noise generated by accessory drive belt slippage on the P/S pump pulley. Squeal increases with system loading and at the steering stops.



A short-duration high-pitched noise associated with a slipping drive belt.



Clonk is a structure-borne noise heard as a loose-sounding rattle or vibration coming from the steering column. Clonk is identified by driving and turning over cobble stones, rough roads or high frequency bumps, such as 1-2 inch tall tar strips or frost heaves. Clonk is a noise heard only while cornering over bumps. Clonk requires a tie-rod load impact. Clonk can sound identical to Column Knock, that also occurs when driving over cobble stones or rough road. Clonk may appear to emanate from a location closer to the floor than for column knock.



A heavy or dull, short-duration, low-frequency sound that can be temperature sensitive. Clunk can occur when accelerating or decelerating abruptly. Also described as a thunk. Clunk can also occur when cornering over a bump.


Cold Start Noise

Cold start noise is the air-borne noise generated by pump cavitation when hydraulic fluid does not flow freely through the suction hose from the reservoir to pump. Zip is primarily a cold weather start-up phenomenon. Some noise during an extremely cold start (-12.2°C [-10°F]) is normal and should improve as the steering system warms up (usually within 60 seconds).


Column Rattle

Column rattle is a metallic sounding noise created when applying a highly impulsive force to the steering wheel. Column rattle is often used to combine the more general group of column noises including Clonk and Knock. Column rattle noises can be caused by clonk, knock, loose column components, extra loose parts such as fasteners or broken plastic pieces, etc. A series of parked, straight-line driving and cornering tests must be used to isolate the source(s).



Hiss or valve hiss is a high-frequency sound coming from the steering gear when the system is loaded. It is a rushing or "swish" noise that does not change frequency with rpm. Hiss is the general noise generated by flow of hydraulic fluid though restrictions in the steering system and typically worsens with increasing temperatures. Restrictions include the rotary steering valve, power steering tubes, connectors, tuning orifices, etc. Hiss can be air-borne and structure-borne, but the structure-borne path through the steering intermediate shaft is usually dominant.



Grinding is a low frequency noise in the column when the steering wheel is turned. This is generally caused by interference between moving components, such as steering wheel to shroud.


Grunt (Squawk)

Grunt is a "honking" sound elicited when coming off one of the steering stops. The phenomenon may also be tactile. Grunt is a structure-borne noise (and vibration) generated at the steering valve. Grunt frequency is system dependent and in the range of 30 Hz to 200 Hz. Grunt is generally excited during parking maneuvers with a low to medium speed steering input.



Knock is a loose-sounding rattle or vibration generated by the steering column shaft contacting other portions of the column assembly. The noise is both audible and tactile. Knock is generated driving over cobble stones or rough pavement. It is not necessary to turn the steering wheel to create this noise.


Moan is the general structure-borne noise of the steering system. Moan is typically in the frequency range of 100 Hz to 600 Hz. Moan is primarily transmitted to the driver via body structure, through the pump mount, engine mounts, power steering lines and brackets. For problem vehicles, moan is a loud humming noise, often present when the wheel is turned and the system is loaded. It may change in frequency with rpm and if the system is loaded or unloaded.



Shudder is a low frequency (10-20 Hz) oscillation of the entire steering system (tires, wheels, steering gear and linkage, etc.) when the vehicle is steered during static park or at low speeds. Shudder is very dependent on road surface.




Squeaks are noises due to friction or component rubbing anywhere in the steering system. Squeaks have appeared in steering linkage joints, in steering column components, steering gear rotary seals and steering wheel trim parts.



Whine is the general air-borne noise of the P/S pump. Whine is in the frequency range of 1 kHz to 4 kHz. Whine is generated when engine rpm, pump rotational natural frequency and pump/bracket natural vibration frequency align.


Whistle is similar to hiss but is louder and of a higher frequency. It is also more of a pure tone noise than hiss. Whistle is air-borne and is generated by a high flow rate of hydraulic fluid through a small restriction.

Thank you again for trusting us with your problem. Please reply as soon as possible so that we can finish answering your question.

Edited by Shawn on 4/1/2010 at 8:24 PM EST
Shawn and 6 other Ford Specialists are ready to help you
Customer: replied 7 years ago.
There is very little play in the steering wheel, but the growling noise is quit loud could it be that the new power steering pump is also bad.
Expert:  Shawn replied 7 years ago.





Thank you for the reply.

The most common cause of the problem you are experiencing is most likely there is air in the system, since you have replaced the pump, you will have to purge and flush the system. I am sending you the purging and flush procedures to remove the air from the system, hope this helps you out.

Power Steering System Flushing

MERCON® Multi-Purpose Automatic Transmission Fluid
XT-2-QDX (US); XT-2-LM12 (Canada)



WARNING: Do not mix oil types. Any mixture or any unapproved oil can lead to seal deterioration and leaks. A leak can ultimately cause loss of fluid, which can result in a loss of power steering assist. Failure to follow these instructions may result in personal injury.

  1. Remove the power steering fluid reservoir cap.
  2. Using a suitable suction device, remove the power steering fluid from the reservoir.
  3. Disconnect the power steering fluid return hose from the reservoir.
    • Remove the clamp.
  4. Plug the power steering fluid reservoir inlet port.
  5. Attach an extension hose to the power steering return hose.
  6. NOTE: Do not reuse the power steering fluid that has been flushed from the power steering system.

    Place the open end of the extension hose into a suitable container.
  7. CAUTION: Do not overfill the reservoir.

    Fill the power steering fluid reservoir with new fluid.
  8. CAUTION: Do not allow the power steering pump to run completely dry of power steering fluid.

    Start the engine while simultaneously turning the steering wheel to lock and then immediately turn the ignition switch to the OFF position.
  9. CAUTION: Avoid turning the steering wheel without the engine running as this may cause air to be pulled into the steering gear.

    CAUTION: Do not overfill the reservoir.

    Fill the power steering fluid reservoir with the approved power steering fluid.
  10. Repeat Steps 8 and 9, turning the steering wheel in the opposite direction each time, until the fluid exiting the power steering fluid return hose is clean and clear of foreign material.
  11. Remove the extension hose from the power steering return hose.
  12. Remove the plug from the power steering fluid reservoir inlet port.
  13. Install the power steering return hose to the reservoir.
    • Install the clamp.
  14. NOTE: It is necessary to correctly fill the power steering system to remove any trapped air and completely fill the power steering system components.

    If, after correctly filling the power steering system, there is power steering noise accompanied by evidence of aerated fluid and there are no fluid leaks, it may be necessary to purge the power steering system.





Thank you again for trusting us with your problem. Please reply as soon as possible so that we can finish answering your question.

Customer: replied 7 years ago.
Can this hurt the power steering pump if it is not fixed right away?
Expert:  Shawn replied 7 years ago.
No, not really. The noise can be very annoying, but don't put it off for a long time.
Expert:  Shawn replied 7 years ago.

-Do you need more help?

Thank you again for trusting us with your problem. Please reply as soon as possible so that we can finish answering your question.