What Is a Rack and Pinion Steering?

There are 286.9 million registered passenger cars on the road in the United States. Despite their varying sizes, designs, and engine, they all have one thing in common. They use a rack and pinion system. 

Without it, we would all be stuck driving in a straight line. Yet, despite playing a crucial role in the operation of our vehicles, few people know or understand what a rack and pinion are. 

This helpful rack and pinion guide will help you understand your car better. 

What Is a Rack and Pinion System? 

A rack and pinion system is an actuator. It takes individual parts and has them work together to create motion. This specific type of actuator turns rotational motion into linear motion. 

This allows for the connection of multiple mechanical parts to generate directional motion from a stationary point. The rack is a circular gear on a post. The pinion is a long and straight linear gear. 

How Does a Rack and Pinion System Work? 

For a rack and pinion to work, the rack must spin. As this round gear turns, the teeth in the gear interlock with the teeth on the pinion. This causes the rack to “walk” up and down the length of the pinion. 

Do All Cars Use a Rack and Pinion System? 

Generally, yes, the majority of passenger vehicles use rack and pinion steering. The exception is oversized, heavy-duty, and commercial vehicles. These vehicles typically use recirculating-ball systems. 

For vehicles that have a rack and pinion, this system is what allows drivers to steer the car. On vehicles, the rack and pinion get hidden in a long tube. The rack connects to the axial rods, and the pinion connects to the steering shaft. 

When you turn the steering wheel, you activate the rack and pinion. This converts the motion of you turning the steering wheel into the directional turning of the wheels. 

Older vehicles used a manual steering system. This meant the driver had to provide all the force required to move these mechanics.

Modern vehicles have a power steering system. A hydraulic piston aids in the motion, making it easier to turn the wheel. 

What Are Other Uses? 

In addition to vehicle steering, rack and pinion designs can be found in scales, elevators, gates, and stair lifts. These setups are typically made of metal and have a lubricator to keep them moving smoothly. 

You can also find rack and pinion setups in manufacturing and industrial settings. These environments tend to be extreme or hazardous. In these situations, metal can have an unpleasant reaction to the present chemicals and heat. 

Instead of metal, plastic rack and pinions get used. The specially formulated plastic is resistant to heat and chemicals. It’s also self-lubricating to eliminate the need for additional maintenance. 

Utilize a Rack and Pinion 

While rack and pinion actuators have changed how we drive our cars, there are unlimited uses for these simple mechanics. If you think you have a use for one, it’s time to talk to an engineer. They can give you rack and pinion tips to bring your idea to life. 

Check out our other educational articles for more helpful guides like this one.