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RX-8 Steering Rack & Steering Column Replacement

RX-8 Steering Rack

I have a new page in my static site's How To section:

Replacing a Steering Column and/or Steering Rack in a 2006 Mazda RX-8

I had to do this recently, but unlike most other car projects I do, I couldn't find a write up, tutorial, or YouTube video walking you through it (and thanks to the wealth of information usually on the Internet, I've never invested in a Chilton's or Hayne's manual - I'm not even sure they have one for an RX-8). In fact, one forum I read even said something to the effect that a steering rack replacement is too much work for a home mechanic, and that if that really was your problem, you should just take it into the shop. Well, I may not be a great mechanic, but I learned enough helping out my dad that I can replace just about any part on a car (diagnosis & speed are where I fall short compared to good mechanics). So, I tackled the project, took a lot of pictures during the process, and made my own write-up to help anybody else who might need to do this. To be honest, once you know the process, it's not that hard, and should take less than a day to do.

Here's the full back story. The car had developed a weird grinding feeling when turning the steering wheel. A little Googling indicated that weird feelings in the steering were often due to the lower U-joint in the steering column going bad, so I pulled the steering column to inspect it. I didn't find any problems with that, so I sort of jumped to conclusions, reasoning that the only other major part in the steering system was the rack & pinion, so I decided to replace the steering rack, as well. I say 'sort of', because I didn't really see any major problems with the steering rack, so I wasn't fully convinced that was the problem, and so only ponied up the money for a junkyard part. I'll note in my defense that I also had an old hot water heater going out that needed to be replaced right around the same time, so I was a little rushed trying to figure out the problem with the car before getting to the water heater.

I spent two days replacing the steering rack, on one of the coldest weekends we've had here. The temperature dropped down to the teens overnight, creeping up to the 20s and low 30s during the day. And my garage is too full to work on the car there, so I did it all out in the driveway. Unfortunately, the problem didn't go away, and further inspection found the real culprit - a broken bracket holding the engine that had allowed the whole engine to drop and rub against the steering column. I should have done enough diagnosing at the outset to notice that that was the real problem, but looking on the bright side, it was a valuable learning experience. It was the first major maintenance I'd done to the car, so I did learn a whole lot about how to work on that car, and any future maintenance will go a lot quicker. Plus, since it seems the steering rack wasn't the problem, and I didn't feel like pulling the 'new' one off, I now had a spare steering rack just in case.

So, after replacing the broken engine bracket, I did take the car into the shop to get a front end alignment. I don't have the tools to do it, and the shop doesn't charge that much to do it, so that's one of those projects where I don't mind taking the car in. Well, as soon as they got it up on the lift, they found a problem that I should have noticed myself. The junkyard steering rack had a bent inner tie rod. I could have probably stolen the one from the original steering rack to put on the 'new' one, but I figured that the original was probably in good working order, and was probably closer to being aligned correctly, so I decided to swap out the 'new' steering rack for the original one.

Knowing what to do made a big difference. Remember I said it took me 2 days to replace the steering rack before, and that was actually after a good part of a day pulling the steering column. This time, it took me 4 1/2 hrs to pull the steering column and replace the steering rack. And that even included a short break for lunch. Like I said, the first time through was a valuable learning experience.

Anyway, that's the story. If I'd done the proper diagnosing to begin with, it would have only been a relatively short project replacing that engine bracket. But on the bright side, not only did I learn a lot, but now the Internet has a write up that didn't exist before, which will hopefully save someone else some time down the road. Here's the link one more time:

Replacing a Steering Column and/or Steering Rack in a 2006 Mazda RX-8


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