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So, two years ago, my beloved Taurus suffered a rack and pinion failure that took me a while to get repaired. Almost two years of fighting the wheel on the occasional trip I had to make for medical reasons, and because I was unable to work, was nigh-on impossible to afford to fix. Just lived with it, and spent a lot of time cussin' in parking lots, especially the one in front of my apartment building, a postage-stamp sized lot with six slots with a significant hump to get into the lot, 3 slots per-side. It was much easier to pull up on the street, then back up into the lot.

So, this February, I finally was able to order a new rack and pinion off ebay, after calling my favorite shop to see what they'd charge to install it. It was advantageous to order it there, since it was half the cost of an auto parts store, and I didn't have to front the core cost, they simply held up my Lifetime Warranty until the core was returned, which was fair. It arrived in a heavy cardboard box, with a return label inside. Simply put the old rack back in the box, seal it, and drop it off at the UPS Store.

I took it to the shop, where they took care of me in a few hours. Wow, it was like driving a new car again! So much nicer! Now I could finally get my car legal again! (Because until I got the rack replaced, it would not pass inspection, and I was a year overdue for plate renewal.) They'd done the inspection at the shop, so I was good to go.

But, within a day we were having problems. I noted a puddle formed by the left front wheel, running downhill. I popped the hood, and there was power steering fluid all over the place, with the lid blown off the power steering reservoir. I filled it back up, replace the lid, and the pump was clearly squalling, which told me it was a bad pump. Face-palm time. I kept filling the reservoir, but the fluid kept blowing out of the top. Thought I lost the cap once, but found it later.

So, now that the car was legal, had to wait a couple of months to get the pump replaced. Went through quite a bit of power steering fluid, but made it into April, where I finally got to get it replaced. I scheduled with the shop, and showed up at the appropriate time. I'd decided to let them get the pump and install it so it would be Lifetime Warranteed for parts and labor. I was there for a couple of hours when the owner called me over, and first, issued an apology. He'd misunderstood when I made the appointment thinking I just needed it checked out. They checked it, and it definitely needed to be replaced, but finding one was a major issue right now, there was a shortage of replacement pumps to be found in the area. There's a shortage of a lot of different parts, currently. Partly COVID-related, partly manufacturing issues, and partly, people are keeping their cars longer, getting them fixed and such.

He located one 30+ miles away, but by the time it could be delivered it would be too late to install it, could I come back tomorrow? Fortunately, I could. So I went back to town, and decided to get a couple of hotdogs at Sam's Club, two dogs and a drink for $3 is a pretty good deal for lunch. When I went back to eat in the car, (they took out all of their tables) and listen to the radio, half an hour in, I was starting to doze off, when suddenly, CLICK, everything electrical shuts down. I turned the key, it didn't even click at all. We'd been having electrical issues with the battery for months, despite Interstate battery's insistence that the battery still 'passed' their testing after they fully charged it. What they were really doing, it seems, was pushing the battery into proration territory, so they wouldn't have to pony up another free battery under the replacement warranty. I'd already had the charging system tested, and it passed with flying colors.

I got Sam's auto department to bring out a jumper, and the car started immediately. Apparently, there's a protection circuit of some kind in the system, but we'd been having to jump the car off regularly. I'd actually bought a charger to maintain it in cold weather. The battery would "charge" in under an hour, which told me something was wrong with the reserve capacity. Cold weather would kill it in nothing flat.

So, with the car running, at 4 PM, I checked Interstate's hours, put my tin in the wind, and ran up to Columbia, Missouri to their "All Battery" center. I walked in and told them it was time to replace that POS battery. The tech there told me that they'd have to test it, and I rolled my eyes, but went out and pulled into their bay. Inside, he pulled out a hygrometer and started testing cells. Six good tests, then he pulls out an electronic tester, hooking it up to the battery. A little bit down the line, the results come back, in red "Fail". A 590 CCA battery is putting out a whopping 425. As I suspected, it was shot.

He said, "Yep, you're due for a new one." We went in and he ran the proration numbers, dipping $84 out of my bank account for the new battery. I can assure you, this will be the last Interstate battery that goes in my car. Two failed batteries in 5 years (technically 4), their vaunted "5 Year" warranty with 2 year free replacement sucks. Interstate batteries are made in the same factories as Walmart batteries, Johnson Controls, Walmart's EverStart Maxx has the same CCA rating, and is 3 years free replacement for $120 vs Interstate's 2 year replacement for $146.

So, back home in time to pick my son up from work, and back to the shop the next morning. I'd already called and confirmed the shop got the new pump in before leaving Columbia, and they had it.

I arrived bright and early and lined the car up on the appropriate bay. They brought it in quickly, and changed the pump out, but I saw the mechanic come in and grab the boss, who came back in a few minutes later and started making phone calls. I did not take this as a good sign. And sadly, I was right. After a while, he called me up to tell me the news. Apparently, between the rack and pinion and pump issues, they'd 'conspired' to fill the power steering reservoir with debris from failed seals and such, which had blocked the filter in the reservoir. This was forcing the fluid out of the cap and blowing it all over the engine compartment. It was a fire risk, because fluid could land on the rear exhaust manifold, and potentially ignite.

He informed me then that Ford had discontinued that part, and there was no direct aftermarket replacement, nor is the part serviceable, with a replacement filter able to be installed. This baffled me, because I knew my power steering in my semis had a replaceable filter in them, but a car doesn't? Grrr. But he was still trying, and located a used one available from a parts shop in Columbia that would be delivered too late for them to replace it today, could I come back in tomorrow, again. I agreed, and headed home, where I quickly popped the hood to look in. It was smoking a bit, power steering fluid all over the place, the new pump was really blowing it out. I went inside, grabbed a roll of aluminum foil, tearing off a 3' piece and taking it to the car, I formed a baffle around the outside face of the unit, that would stop the fluid from spraying onto the engine, even if the lid blew off again.

The next morning, I dropped my son off at work, and went back up to the shop. They greeted me, and immediately took my car in to install the replacement reservoir. It took just enough time that I was able to eat my breakfast. When they handed me the keys again, I went out and opened the hood to look, all looked well, and I headed home. No more howling, no more spraying, it was good. I did have to add more power steering fluid, well transmission fluid, since that's what the power steering uses, after some of the air worked itself out, but so far, it's been good ever since.

They charged me $60 for the part, no labor, since they were making things right. The dealer, by the way, quoted $1200 for the new rack and pinion installation, here's what my local mechanic got for the entire power steering system replacement.

I paid $145 for the new rack. Auto stores wanted $290.

Install and alignment of new rack; $270.
Install of new power steering pump and stretch belt; $248 with lifetime parts and labor warranty.

New reservoir; $60.

Total: $723, all parts and labor inclusive.

This is why it pays to find a good mechanic rather than depend on a dealer. Just one phase of this repair would have cost me $477 more dollars at the dealer, and I'm pretty sure they don't lifetime warranty the repairs at all.
 
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