The joys of auto repair - ford focus steering rack replacement

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iantm's picture
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The joys of auto repair - ford focus steering rack replacement

Hey everyone, here's a topic that's always fun. Auto repair. As some of you know, my wife and I were in an accident back in September when someone smacked into the front right corner of my 02 ford focus. Unfortunately, the car was disabled from the accident. The steering rack was toasted (five months after having a brand new one installed), there was some mild body damage, and some parts of the front suspension were toasted.

Well, here's where I'm at. The car has been sitting in my garage for 3 months waiting for me to get started on dealing with it. At the time, it was cheaper and easier to sell my macbook and buy a cheap car to tide me over. Enter the $500 Volvo. While I love the Volvo, I'm at the point where I'd like to get my four, soon to be five year old car back on the road. Since I'm a tinkerer at heart, I'll be doing the bulk of the work myself.

Now, for a little bit about my background. While I've been tinkering and working on computers for years, I've also been doing some automotive tinkering. When I was a young teen, I was planning on becoming a mechanic. I was the local independant european car mechanic's apprentice (mom and dad were friends with him - he worked on their volvos). He taught me a lot about the different european cars and the simple fixes as well as the troubleshooting workflow that I use in my career to this day. When I was younger, my grandfather and I would work on my cars. It was a great bonding and learning experience.

In addition to the accident damaged parts, the focus needs some other work, the brake lining was low on all four wheels, so that'll be on my agenda as well. Fortunately, I'm comfortable with doing the body work, the brakes, and some of the little stuff here and there. However, what scares me is the time and labor involved in removing the steering rack from my focus. (the first two times it was changed, I had someone do it for me) I'm debating whether I'm better off doing the work myself or farming it out to a local mechanic. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

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well i can say that as a mech

well i can say that as a mechanic in training, go for it! take your time and think things through, get a manual that shows as much of the repair as possible. you can do that kind of a repair as long as you have the tools for the job, maybe talk to a few ford mechanics and see what they say about it? i once replaced the transmission in my car which seemed very daunting at the time but i studied the repair for about 2 weeks before attempting the repair, got all the right tools and it went very well for doing it by myself even. if you can handle brakes im sure you can do a steering rack, heck, might not be that hard. just pay attention to every detail possible and youll be fine. PLUS, there is nothing more satisfying then knowing you did the repair!

Jon
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The #1 person I can point you

The #1 person I can point you to is my friend ax0n, who has an account here and runs focushacks.com. He is high up in the admin structure over at focaljet.com. His advice would be good to take, IMHO. Of course, FJ would be a good place to ask, too.

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Rack

Changing the power steering rack is not a light-weight job.
I am dealing with this on my 1986 300ZX.
Often involves detaching the moter-mounts and lifting the engine.
Much easier with a lift and correct equiptment.
1) Find a mechanic you can trust.
2) Purchase a new rack, not used or rebuilt.
3) And most important in my opinion./ MAKE SURE the old power steering fluid is drained and flushed. The old fluid contains the same metal or other particals that caused your last rack seals to fail.
I learned this the hard way. Most mechanics install the new rack, attach the old PS pump and the new rack will fail quickly.
Have fun,

Dave

Jon
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One point, for your point 3,

One point, for your point 3, is that his PS rack is bad because of an accident not from wear.

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Re: The joys of auto repair - ford focus steering rack replaceme

iantm wrote:
(the first two times it was changed, I had someone do it for me)

WTF? You've gone through two whole steering racks?

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Rack

Don't be surprised. I have gone thru 2 steering racks also on my 300ZX.
My father had a Sentra that wet thru 5 steering racks.
All under extended warranty.
does not speak well for Nissan...
Again, make sure to flush the old PSU or you will contaminate your new rack.

Dave

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Durability of Ford components

In early 2006, I had to have the rack replaced with a new Ford OEM part, it failed within days of being installed, so another new rack was fitted. The second rack was working great up until the car got hit in the front right by that crazy unlicensed, uninsured guy with a warrant out for his arrest. I'm still in the midst of legal wranglings and don't expect to ever see a dime from him.

While I love my $500 Volvo, I'd like to get this fixed so I can sell this and the Volvo and get a newer, better Volvo within 12-18 months. My wife gave me the green light to get a new/newer Volvo when these two are dealt with and sold. Once the Focus is fixed and roadworthy to my satisfaction, I'll start refurbing the Volvo so that the car's next owner gets it in better shape than I did. (with a little bit of time and work, the Volvo could possibly be a profitable venture)

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UK Haynes Manual

Get a copy of the UK Haynes manual. The Ford Focus has been a European best seller for years and the procedures there will have been well tested. If you can get a copy of the factory manual from a local library, read it but be aware that factory manuals are more conservative in their disassembly procedures. Often the official disassembly is the reverse of assembly, meaning that you remove big bits unnecessarily. Haynes manuals are more adventurous and tell you which bits you need to loosen to s-q-u-e-e-z-e a part out with less disassembly. The Haynes manuals that I've read for modern cars are lousy for fixing engine management systems but fine for mechanical. I know the guy who wrote the engine management system for my car so I don't care at the moment.

Good luck. How warm is it this month where you live?

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Joined: Sep 21 2004 - 01:45
Nice rack...

heh so anyway, I'm a mechanic, and changing a rack really isn't a big deal most of the time. On some cars you'll have to loosen the front two subframe bolts and remove the rear two subframe bolts (some GM front drive cars), letting the subframe tilt enough to get at the rack. No biggie. The most you're going to find is that it'll take a while to finish, but that's not always the case, some racks will change out in less than an hour.

One thing to consider is whether or not your rack has removeable inner tie rod ends. Usually the inners are what's bent in event of an accident like that, and putting new ones on will cure the alignment issue, rather than spending money on a rack.

Like many have said, get a manual, do it one step at a time. Get some vacuum caps at your local parts store, and when you get your power steering hydraulic lines off, slip the vacuum caps over the ends, it'll keep the fluid from leaking out. Best thing to remember is not to be intimidated, it's just a job and just work, don't get discouraged working on a big job, just take it one step at a time.

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Power Steering Fluid

In the accident, there was a massive loss event of power steering fluid as well. I'm assuming that the seals in the rack and/or some hoses were toasted in the process. Driving it home afterwards was an adventure, as there was loud grinding, a burning smell, and squealing coming from the front end of the car. There was also a smoke cloud and keeping the car straight took lots of corrective action.

I haven't started on the mechanical end of it quite yet (planning to get the jackstands soon), but have started on removing the body panels and assessing how bad the car is structurally and how much body damage was done. So far, the frame wasn't damaged and the body damage is light. The mechanical end is where the big issue is.

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Re: Power Steering Fluid

iantm wrote:
... Driving it home afterwards was an adventure, as there was loud grinding, a burning smell, and squealing coming from the front end of the car. There was also a smoke cloud and keeping the car straight took lots of corrective action.

Your power steering pump siezed, and the grinding/burning/squealing was the drive belt slipping around the pump's pulley. I had a similar thing happen when the AC compressor siezed on my old car. I wish auto manufacturers would design pumps and compressors with breakaway pulley shafts, so that if the unit siezes, the pulley can keep spinning -- if a belt slips on a pulley for too long, the belt can break.

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