2001 Toyota 4Runner – Rack and Pinion Repair
Mark: Hi, it's Mark from Top Local. We're here with Bernie Pawlik of Pawlik Automotive in Vancouver, Vancouver's best auto service experience and 21 time winners of Best Auto Repair in Vancouver as voted by their customers. And we're talking cars. How are you doing today, Bernie?
Bernie: I'm doing very well.
Mark: So today's victim is a 2001 Toyota 4Runner that had a steering problem. What was going on with this SUV?
Bernie: Yeah. So the vehicle came to our shop. The owner did move to Vancouver and needed an out of province inspection on the vehicle. So we proceeded to do that. And one of the items that we found is that the steering rack and pinion, not only had a torn boot but also had a leak as well. So that was a required replacement item to pass the inspection.
Mark: So what does the rack and pinion do?
Bernie: Well, basically, the rack and pinion connects your steering wheel to your wheels. More accurately connects your steering wheel to the steering column, and the rack and pinion connects to the steering column. And from there, it transmits the movement of your steering column and wheel out to the road wheels through a couple of tie rod ends. And so the rack and pinion, this is where the power assist occurs in this vehicle. Some racks are not power assist, of course, most are but that's just where the power assist occurs. And also the movement from creates a movement from side to side.
Mark: And rack and pinion is a replacement for steering box?
Bernie: It is, you know, used to be that you would have a steering box in place where the rack and pinion would be in the rack. And pinion provides a couple of advantages. It's simpler, there's less moving parts, and it's, it's a tighter because there's less moving parts as well. It's also tighter. There's a, it gives a better control over your steering. So it was quickly adopted. It's been around for a long time, but really kind of commonly came into use around the 1980s. And ever since it's been used in most vehicles. I mean, there, there's some that still have steering boxes and you'll find those, you know, like in large trucks, they still use steering boxes cause they do provide it. They're very good and heavy duty applications. But for most vehicles and light trucks, the steering rack does a great job.
Mark: Yeah. So if you've ever driven a vehicle from the sixties or fifties that didn't have power steering, you know that it took, they had big steering wheels and it was a, it was a long ways before you turn the wheel, before the wheels would turn. And that play was basically what made the steering box operate. Rack and pinion took that away.
Bernie: Exactly. Now, in all fairness, you know, some vehicles do have steering boxes that have pretty tight steering, but as things wear, they tend to get a lot more movement and looseness. Why don't we just get into some pictures here?
Mark: How durable are rack and pinions in the 4Runner?
Bernie: Oh, yeah they're really good. You know, they do wear out. I mean, this one I would say is certainly original, and this is a 2001 vehicle, so we've got about 18, 19 years of usage, so that's pretty good. I know on these vehicles, they have and I'm not sure if this model year, whether it's slightly nerve, but there's a bushing that used to wear on the rack and pinion, or would cause the rack to get a little sloppy. So if your steering had a bit, there's a little more movement in your wheels, a little less controlling your steering, sometimes the rubber bushings would wear and you could actually replace them.
Anyways here's a picture of the rack and pinion as removed from this 2001, 4Runner. The arrow here points to the actual ripped boot which and this part can be replaced separately. It doesn't require a whole rack, but in this case, there was fluid leaking out in this area. And you know, that's a sure sign the rack and pinion is worn out. So there's no sense in changing a boot when you, when you have a leaking rack. there is fluid here. This is just because the rack and pinion has been removed from the vehicle and it's leaked fluid out of where the power steering hoses connect. So that's not a problem, so to speak. Getting into some other pictures here.
What have we got here? Here's a close up. This is the, a torn boot. The boot basically keeps water and dirt from getting inside the, you know, you can see, this is a very shiny piece. This is the actual rack. It's a toothed piece. so inside the rack and pinion inside here, there's a very long shaft. You can see a little bit of it here. Big long shaft. And in this section of the shaft from about here to here, there's gears on it. And so, and this part here, which is the pinion has another little tiny gear, and that'll move the rack back and forth as you turn the steering wheel. This part here connects up to your steering column and your steering wheel. And we'll do it a little more close up of that particular piece, which is here. So in here you can see this is where the steering column attaches. There's the power steering pipes that go out to the rack and pinion. And then if this was a non power steering unit, it wouldn't have any of these pipes or hoses. And it's very rare to find a car with non-power rack and pinion steering. But there are some around, and probably just in generally more older models. This here we have ran into one other issue with this vehicle. You know, sort of based on age and maybe climate conditions with the hose required replacement. When we went on and do the fitting, it was basically seized and snapped off. So it's also required a power steering pressure hose. Usually not a very common thing to replace at the same time unless it's leaking. But you know, sometimes we're in the middle of a job and expect to unbolt something that normally unbolts and it doesn't. So that's a, this arrow points to the fitting that was leftover from the power steering pressure hose. And this fitting here is where the return goes. So fluid flows in one direction and returns out the other way. And what else have we got here? Just a quick view of the engine compartment in this 4Runner, a 3.4 litre, V6 engine, very common in these vehicles, used for a long time. Fairly reliable, but there are some issues and we can talk about that in a little bit.
Mark: So any other leaks or issues common to rack and pinions?
Bernie: The only other issue, I mean leaks, 95% of the racks we replace as a matter of fact, almost a hundred, I think 100% of the racks we replace these days are for leaking , you know, which happens on every vehicle sooner or later. But the, the other issue we used to see a lot, and especially in the 1980s, was a, it was something we called morning sickness. And what happened in the, in the 1980s, GM Ford, Chrysler, all the American manufacturers went fully in on rack and pinion steering. Everything had rack and pinion steering. It was like the big new thing. And you know, for good reason. But in their haste to manufacture them or figure things out, the rack and pinion's used a soft aluminum housing with hard metal seals or graphite. They were hard type of seal. And over time, these seals would wear the aluminum housing. So it would create a gap in inside the housing and the allow fluid to flow past. And so when the vehicle was cold, you got to turn the steering wheel and you have no power steering. It was known as morning sickness. Super common problem. We replaced racks on pretty well every GM vehicle back then and many Fords, I can't remember about Chrysler's, but certainly GM and Ford was a big issue. And it just turned out to be again, the solution was just to put some, a hardened metal in where the aluminum housing was and that would prevent the problem from happening. And of course, it got figured out. It never happens anymore. But it was a big issue way back when. So I haven't seen a morning sickness vehicle in a long time.
Mark: So aren't many steering racks these days, electric, how does that work and what issues do you see with them?
Bernie: Yeah, so a lot of steering racks are electric. One of the bigger, couple of reasons, it's more efficient. I mean to have power steering in the traditional sense, you need to run a hydraulic pump and it tends to run all the time. And really you only need it when the engines idling or maybe at very slow speed maneuvers. Other than that. Once you get in the highway, you don't need it. So there's a pump that's being driven. It's a waste of energy. So electric is awesome because it's just completely on demand. They generally use an electric motor in the rack and pinion, but some actually put it on the steering column. But that motor provides the power assist and it'll do so only on demand situation. The other advantages as we've got to into vehicles, not only hybrids and electric cars, but vehicles with start, stop technology. It's essential to have electric rack and pinion because you've got to have power steering even when the engines off. So that's a critical component. But as far as problems, we've never replaced an electric rack and pinion in our shop ever. They are very reliable, not 100%. I know that there are some that do have issues, but I think a lot of them have been covered by manufacturers warranty. The problems had been kind of figured out quite quickly. And besides getting maybe in an accident where you actually bend the rack or create some other problem there, they're usually really reliable. That's good news for vehicle owners. And of course, they are very much more complex and much more expensive. So it's a kind of part you don't really want to be replacing.
Mark: So with the 4Runner, how difficult of a job was this?
Bernie: It's not really too difficult. I mean, it's a few hours work to take the rack and pinion in and out. You do need some special tools and big tools. And doing it on a hoist is critical, but it's not the, racket and pinions vary from being, you know, really simple to remove to some, some are really buried in under the frame of the vehicle and require a lot of finagling to get in and out. This one is pretty straightforward.
Mark: So this 4Runner is 18 years old now. Is it still a worthwhile vehicle to keep?
Bernie: Yeah, it is. I would say, well, you know, it depends on how well it's been maintained, but 4Runners were really well built vehicles and they still retain their value really well. I remember there was a time when, you know, a 4Runner, had the lowest depreciation rate of any vehicle on the road. I might still be the case, I'm not sure. But I mean, they are a really well-built vehicle. I would, I like to say not a lot goes wrong with them. I mean, there were some issues with this. You know, I showed a picture earlier, and maybe I'll just get back into a screen share we'll look at the engine here. So this 3.4 litre, 4 cam, 24 valve engine, they did have a lot of head gasket problems with these particular engines. And a lot of them were covered by warranty, but yeah, head gaskets were definitely a big issue. This is also a timing belt engine, so it does require a timing belt replacement and that's, you know, obviously a critical thing to do. You'd never want your timing belt to break on one of these. But many Toyotas and I'm not saying this as one of them, do not have interference fit engines so that if the timing belt breaks, you're just going to be stranded on the road but not damaging your engine. And I believe this is one of those such engines, but I never liked to think of that. It's never good to take that chance because if you do bend any valves or cause any damage, it costs a lot more money to fix. But a timing belt is a maintenance item on these engines. So that's, you know, something that'll probably cost you in a one to $2,000 range. You know, changing the water pump and all the other tensioners and pulleys and pieces of seals that should be done at the same time. Yeah but other than that it's a generally good solid vehicle. You know, 18 years old. Of course, things will go wrong, but it's a well-built truck. And you know, if you can get a good used one for a good price, you can afford to spend a bit of money on maintenance because it's a good vehicle.
Mark: So there you go. If you need service for your Toyota 4Runner, the guys to see in Vancouver are Pawlik Automotive. You can reach them at 604-327-7112 to book your appointment. You have to call and book ahead. They're always busy. Check out the website pawlikautomotive.com. Hundreds, over 600 articles on there, videos all makes and models of vehicles, repairs, maintenance items. Of course, the YouTube channel Pawlik Auto Repair, over 350 videos there now and growing every week. And of course, thanks so much for watching listening to the podcast. We really appreciate it. Thanks, Bernie.
Bernie: Thanks, Mark. Thanks for watching listening.