Saturday, March 20, 2010

Replacing a Steering Rack in a Dodge Intrepid.

I'm sorry I don't have pictures for this one as the work was bad enough without having to try and document it with the camera. Most if not all of the steps will be self evident if you have more than a little mechanical inclination. Again, if there are any doubts, take the car to a competent mechanic to avoid perpetrating expensive damage to your ride. I am not responsible for your errors and cannot warrant that my advice is correct. Do this repair at your own risk. You can take credit for doing the job right. This is a job for an experienced mechanic. I've been fixing my own as well as friends and families cars for 25 years. I'm experienced, but don't know everything by a long shot.

The steering racks on the Dodge Intrepid, Chrysler Concorde, 300M and LHS are basically the same, save that some models have speed-proportional steering. This simply means that the rack will adjust the power assist to max for low speed manuevers and minimum for highway driving for better steering feel. This rack will have an actuating valve with a couple of wires hanging out of it. These are NOT compatible with cars without this feature, as power assist will be minimal all the time, i.e., you will not be able to drive your car unless you happen to be Hanz or Franz. This will also be a stubborn source of leaks. If you get the wrong part RETURN IT and do NOT use a 25 mm plug to seal off the hole as this will not work, despite the insistance of the rebuilder. These units have a plastic plug where the actuating valve screws into that will pop out and spew power steering fluid all over the place the moment you try and turn the wheel with the engine on. The racks without this feature will NOT have this (25 mm) plastic plug. It pays to pay attention. God is in the details.

You will also want to purchase new lines and remove the reservior from the power steering pump. The fittings going to the rack are 19 mm and 18 mm. The pump may have a 19 mm and will have at least one or two lines on the reservior (I have a 2.7 liter engine, with the reservior on the pump. 3.5 liter people have the reservior in a remote location) Be careful when removing the line from the reservior as this part is brittle and expensive. The Dodge dealer sells this for over $90 as of this writing. Used parts can be a bit hard to find. The reservior has a screen inside, which should be cleaned with clean power steering fluid. Do NOT use brake cleaner on any power steering part as it will damage the seals. Those lines are also bolted to the frame rails. You could also try and save the lines and just flush them. Don't tell me I didn't warn you. You will need new O rings on the ends of the lines going into the rack of you go this route. You will not be able to access anything anyway until you start digging in, so to speak.

The wiper arms will have to come off first. Pry out the plugs with a small screwdriver and unscrew the nuts with a 15 mm socket. Torx screws hold on the cowl, removing the left, then right side. Set these where they won't get stepped on. The strut brace, that black thing that goes over the strut towers, comes off next, using a 13 mm socket. Use a 10 mm to remove the 3 bolts holding the wiper motor and linkage. Disconnect the electrical connector and set aside, laying the bolts inside the holes where you found them. The air cleaner assembly comes out next, with one plastic bolt you pry out, clamp you don't want to break, an electrical connector you want to keep track of and the two clips as if you were replacing the filter. Lift this off and set aside, leave the part with the filter in place. Drain the cooling system at least halfway.

Now would be a good time to disconnect the negative battery cable and raise the car a little bit, or not. Raising the front is MANDATORY when putting things back together as I will explain later. You may want to raise the car or leave the battery connected long enough to turn the steering wheel all the way to the right until it is upside down. This will make life easier on all counts. The steering column will be locked, so you won't have to worry about damaging the clockspring, the tie rods will be accessible and the coupling nut and roll pin will be relatively easy to manipulate. DO NOT move the steering wheel with the rack removed. Remove the fluid from the reservior with a poultry baster and discard. A piece of cardboard under the work area would be nice too. Clean up any spills and try not to let the fluid stay on the paint; it will dissolve it. This also goes for any coolant.

The steering gear (or rack) is a center take off design. So the tie rods are going to be on the center. Use a 7/8 inch or 15 mm socket with a breaker bar to remove the bolts after peeling back the retainer tabs. Pull the bolts out and catch the washers behind the tire rods, along with the big washer up front and the retainer. You need to use NEW hardware to secure the tie rods to the rack. Inspect the bushings on the tie rods. If their condition is the least bit questionable, REPLACE THEM NOW. The O.E. ones are one piece and be pried out. Aftermarket ones commonly are two piece with a sleeve; these are the easiest and most cost-effective for the home mechanic to use. There is NO reason to replace the entire inner tie rod if the bushings are bad. These parts are about $50 to $130 a side plus the cost of a wheel alignment, which will be manadatory after replacing the rods. The bushings and all the other hardware come in a kit that's less than $15 at an auto parts store. You will want to get this ordered before you begin the job. DO NOT resuse the old hardware, lest evil befall you. Do not unscrew the rods as this will change the alignment.

Go inside the car and under the dash on the driver's side is the steering coupling. A captive nut and weird looking bolt hold the column and coupler in unholy matrimony. There's also a cotter pin (resuable) inside the bolt. Remove this and unscrew the nut, remove the bolt. The cross section of the mating surfaces are in the shape of a "U"; pay attention as this is the way they have to go back on. There are four bolts holding the gear (or rack) to the firewall (15 mm). You will have to remove the master cylinder from the brake booster (DO NOT disconnect the lines), and  disconnect the heater core hoses from the firewall first. Pull the gear away from the firewall until you see the coupler clear the seal a bit. Holding this together is a roll pin. Take a pair of vise grips and place to keep this relatively stationary. You can use a roll pin remover (I could not find one) or tap it out with a hammer and the longest bolt holding the brace to the wiper motor. Be careful and you won't have to replace the bolt or the coupling. The coupling should slide off the gear and you can remove the gear from the car. Be careful of the cooling core lines just above the gear and you might want to unscrew the lines at the end of the gear to make remove easier. DO NOT think about removing the cooling lines, lest evil befall you. Prepare for part two and take a break, you've earned it.

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