A daily driver is just that—a vehicle that is driven daily for work, school, or other important transportation. I'm sure many of our readers use Fox, SN95, or New Edge Mustangs as a daily driver. They're cheap, fun to drive, and economical to service (especially the Fox Mustangs). Unfortunately, due to the daily use needs of such a driver, the vehicle sometimes ends up becoming a little “long in the tooth" when it comes to service and repairs. We often just don't take care of our daily drivers as well as we do our weekend toys/show cars. We've all had to tackle a weekend repair to keep our daily driver going and that often means a trip to the corner auto parts store and the purchase of a remanufactured part like a water pump, alternator, brake master cylinder, or a steering rack. However many assurance steps are used in the rebuilding process of said part, it is still very much “hit and miss" whether you get a part that lasts (or even works right out of the box!).
Case in point is the rack-and-pinion steering unit on our 23-year-old daily driven Fox. The original rack went 20 years and nearly 200,000 miles. It never leaked a drop of power steering fluid but finally succumbed to severe wear on the inner tie-rod end ball-sockets (wiping out our front tires in the process). Investigating the purchase of new inner tie-rod ends, we found that a remanufactured rack assembly, which includes inner tie-rod ends, was only a few bucks more. Sounds like a sound purchase decision right? For a few bucks more you get a complete rack that takes less time/labor to swap out and you get one of those cool lifetime warranties with it too, right? Sign us up.
Fast forward a scant three years later and our “new" steering rack is eating front tires and drinking power steering fluid like a college student at a kegger. That's an expensive diet for our Fox to be on we might add! A peek under the car netted us an instant diagnosis; the right rack seal had failed, filling the dust boot with fluid. A return trip to the auto parts store netted more bad news; they no longer carried that brand of rack (so much for the lifetime warranty) and the only recourse possible would be to get a refund for the rack we had and buy another one with a new lifetime warranty. Of course, the bad news continued when the counter person explained that there were no replacement racks in stock at the store, warehouse, or even the remanufacturer! At this point we made the conscious decision to swear off remanufactured parts and head to the performance aftermarket to get our Fox back on the road.
Brothers Performance offers high-performance steering parts, including steering racks from AGR Performance. AGR offers Mustang rack-and-pinion units that are custom built and available with different pinion valve ratings, steering ratios, and inner tie-rod end sizes. These various offerings allow a user to customize their steering rack to the exact feel that they desire for street or track use. Brothers Performance also offers AGR's high-flow replacement power steering pump for a matched steering set, as well as other popular steering hardware like rack bushings, tie rod ends, bump steer kits, and more to ensure your Fox, SN95, or New Edge steers and handles just the way you want it. We ordered the AGR .230-inch “firm" pinion valve for increased road feel over the stock pinion valve. AGR offers a .245- and .265-inch valve for heavy track use (check with Brothers Performance to see if they can special order for you).
1. We were using nearly a quart of power steering fluid a day and this image clearly shows why. On the bright side, the whole right underside of our Fox will most likely never rust!
2. Raise and secure the front of your Mustang and remove the two front tires. Evidently the inner tie-rod ends were wearing quickly on our remanufactured rack too by the looks of the inner tire wear we found on our less than two-year-old Falken Azenis PT722 all-season rubber. These will have to be replaced in order to perform an accurate alignment.
3. The rack assembly has but two fluid line connections to remove, the pressure line from the pump and the return line which will either be attached directly to the pump housing or to the cooler in the front bumper depending upon year and engine options. There’s no need to remove the transfer line fittings. The fittings are a little tricky to get to so have patience.
4. Remove the cutter pins securing the outer tie-rod end retaining nuts and then remove the retaining nuts. Usually a sharp hit with a hammer on the “eye” of the spindle will free the tapered tie rod studs. You can also rent or borrow a tie-rod end separator.
5. The rack-and-pinion assembly is secured to the engine cradle via two long through bolts. Remove the retaining nuts found on the front of the cradle and then push the through bolts out through the back of the cradle.
6. The final step to remove the rack-and-pinion is to free the pinion shaft from the steering shaft. Remove the steering shaft pinch bolt and push the steering shaft and coupler back towards the firewall (the steering shaft is a slip fit).
7. Snaking the steering rack out from between the sway bar and the engine cradle will take a little patience but is doable without unbolting/removing anything else.
8. Since we’re reusing our outer tie-rod ends (just a few years old and installed when the previous rack was installed), they are removed on the workbench and set aside to be installed on our new AGR rack from Brothers Performance. Be sure to measure your current rack’s overall length so you can adjust the new rack close enough to drive it to your alignment shop of choice.
9. The new AGR rack-and-pinion ships stock with high-performance urethane bushings and new steel sleeve inserts. Due to the fact that our Fox Mustang has been lowered with lowering springs, we opted to upgrade to offset rack bushings from Brothers Performance. Here we’re driving out the AGR sleeves and bushings with a deep socket and brass hammer.
10. The new offset rack bushings simply press into the rack housing by hand (a block of wood or plastic faced hammer will help stubborn bushings go in that last little bit). The offset should be towards the bottom, or at the 6 o’clock position, as the whole idea is to raise the rack back up to where it was before lowering the car with springs.
11. The assembled AGR rack is ready for installation back onto the engine cradle. If you didn’t remove the stock bolt sleeves when removing the rack from the car, do so now, as it makes slipping the rack into place much easier. Don’t forget to line up the pinion shaft with the steering shaft as the rack goes back in place.
12. Reinstall the rack sleeves to support the rack, then slip the long rack mounting bolts in from the rear of the engine cradle. This photo was taken just before securing the rack and you can see how the offset rack bushings move the rack up to better line it up with the spindles and to reduce bumpsteer caused by lowering springs.
13. Once the rack is in place and the steering shaft/pinion shaft secured, the rack retaining nuts can be reinstalled to secure the rack to the engine cradle.
14. AGR’s rack-and-pinion kit includes new Teflon sealing rings for the rack’s fluid lines. Follow the instructions to soften the sealing rings and slip them over the threads of the fittings. Be cautious to not overly-stretch the sealing rings.
15. Thread the pressure and return line fittings into the new AGR rack and tighten. The tube portion of the hoses will have some allowable movement for engine vibration/torque so do not try to over tighten the fittings thinking that they are loose.
16. Return the tie-rod ends to the spindle’s steering arms and secure with the original retaining nuts. You’ll need two new cotter pins (not included with the rack) to finish the tie-rod end installation. Slip the cotter pin through tie-rod end stud and bend back over the stud as shown.
17. Moving on to the power steering pump, the pump’s pulley will need to be removed to access the pump’s mounting bolts. You will need a pulley remover tool and a pulley installer tool for the job, which can be borrowed, rented, or purchased as you see fit.
18. With the pulley out of the way, you can easily access and remove the three pump mounting bolts. If you didn’t remove the pressure and return hoses from the pump earlier, you will need to do so now to remove the pump from its mounting bracket.
19. The new AGR flow-matched power steering pump ships complete with new reservoir and fluid cap. It’s a direct replacement for the Fox Mustang pump.
20. Once the AGR pump is secured with the original mounting hardware, the power steering pulley can be returned to service. Start the pulley onto the pump shaft by hand and then seat the pulley using the proper pulley installer tool. There is not a hard stop to pulley mounting; you need to align the pulley with the existing pulleys for quiet belt operation.
21. As noted earlier, our Falken touring tires had ½ to ¾ tread life left, but the steering rack issues ruined our front tires. We opted to stay with Falken for our rubber choice (the PT722s offered a smooth ride and great wear) but decided to step up to a more performance oriented tire more befitting a 5.0L Mustang with a rack-and-pinion offering better road feel. To that end, we ordered a quartet of Falken’s Azenis FK453, its summer performance tire.
22. The Falken Azenis FK453s all mounted, balanced, and ready to carve up the road with our new AGR steering setup. The FK453 features an asymmetrical tread pattern with large shoulder blocks for great handling wet or dry. Its rigid design enhances high speed stability and cornering, something the Fox Mustang could use a little help with. At the time of this writing, we’ve had the FK453s mounted up for about a month. They’ve worn well and make highway on-ramps a lot more fun! MM