Power Steering


New member
I took my 87 in to the shop and had the CV boots replaced. I told the doctor that the bus was making a noise like a wet power steering belt normally makes and that I had noticed a small oil type leak from the front end. When I came back to claim the newly booted bus, he told me that I had a leak in the power steering rack. He quoted $480 for a rack. What I want to know is if anyone has experience using rebuilts (which are half that much) or if there is a less expensive method of patching the problem. As a student, $500+ is too much for me at the moment. The moan, he said, was that I was too low on PS fluid. (I need a tune up too.)

Thanks, in advance.
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Capt. Mike

There are two basic levels of rebuilt power steering racks -- OE and aftermarket. Both are serviceable and the aftermarket versions are considerably cheaper than factory.

Home rebuilding is probably outside the equipment and ability of most owners. Even shops are reluctant to attack that chore because indivudual parts are hard to obtain and there is little, if any, savings that route. VW dealers won't be stocking the internal parts, which I'm sure will be a 'dealer only' item.

A relative had to make that same decision on a '90 and elected to go with a Bus Depot version. It was NOT OE manufacture and arrived so poorly packaged parts where hanging out and damaged. It was more expedient for them to have the unit repaired than lose vehicle use for another couple weeks (handicapped's vehicle), so it was repaired & installed. There have been no problems since -- about 2 years and 25,000 miles. They have reported no difference in feel or function.

Since a factory remanufactured steering gear is double that, he's probably already quoting you an aftermarket unit. You will have to contact aftermarket vendors to determine if that's a good price. That's outside the function of the tech boards. There is, however, a PARTS forum giving some aftermarket dealer experiences. Don't forget installation is not easy and will also require a full alignment. Thus installed will run considerably more.
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Bill Scholz

New member
I replaced the rack in my '85 Westy a couple of years ago. Opted for the Bus Depot's rebuilt unit after I picked myself off the floor following the dealer's quote.

Like Capt. Mike's relative, my rack came in a box that was definitely worse for the wear, sort of a Frankensteinian affair fashioned out of two or more boxes which had each been smaller in their previous incarnations. Mine was, however (and thankfully), undamaged, and though there was some minor confusion over tie rod ends (didn't need 'em - thought I was gonna get 'em anyway - didn't) the replacement went without a hitch.

Do note that this is one of those "wish I had a third hand in the middle of my chest" kinda jobs, as the memory of lying on my back and wrestling with the rack as I tried to match up its splined shaft is a less-than-pleasant one. As I remember, a length of baling wire ended up freeing one hand before I was done.

You'll need to refill the power steering system afterwards, though (thankfully, again) letting the pump run dry for a short time after the original unit failed doesn't seem to have had any long-term consequences. Also remember to give your car at least a poor man's front end alignment before you hit the road, lest your new rack cost you a new pair of tires.

The whole episode probably ran an hour or two with a break in the middle as I pondered how to grow that third hand.

Though I've only put 15,000 - 20,000 miles on the rebuilt rack, it's worked like a champ from the start.

Best of luck!

Capt. Mike

Kieth had a good follow up question. Here's our off-site email.

> Capt. Mike:
> One quick question of clarification. I was reading the big shop book on the bus and it said that racks may leak if one or more of the seals are gone. I have not been able to tell if that might be the issue, but I was wondering if the "not rebuilding the rack" that you were talking about was the seals. It would seem to me that replacing a seal is less expensive than a rack.
> Thank again.
> Keith

I based my earlier answer on two things -- the first that my VW bus guru at Southern States VW (See Post under Mechanics -- South or Mid-Atlantic) basically said "you don't want to go there" when my Mom had the very same thing happen to her. An end seal had gone and filled the boot with fluid. He's a 30 year award-winning, everything-certified guy and has forgotten more about VW's than I'll ever know. I greatly value his opinion.

But it's also based on the Bentley factory shop manual Section 48.7 which states "If steering rack seals are leaking, disassemble steering gear and replace ALL sealing components . . .." When you look at the seal
replacement pages 48.10 & 48.11, you'll see you are getting near a full rebuild.

Many times -- and I'm as anti-"parts changers" as anyone -- you have to balance several factors, including mileage and whether something like this is an isolated seal failure or just the first of a generally deteriorating assembly. By the time the seal at the end goes where you first see it, the O-ring behind it has gone and in all probability the support rings and work piston seal (48.6). The seal may have gone because of dirt or corrosion. So you may find a corroded & pitted barrel or scored rack which suddenly kicks combined cost up far in excess of the rebuilt unit because the sum of the NEW (you won't be able to get reman internal parts) is more than the whole assembly. If the barrel or rack are gone then all the previous expense is lost and you'll have to reassemble it anyway to get core deposit back or lose that, too.

To repair it, you have to R&R the full assembly anyway, so now you're swapping the cost of the rebuilt unit for the added labor (my dealer just went to $70/hr) and parts. Parts will surely have to be special ordered because dealers don't stock parts with little or no turnover. Finally, you take on the risk that any subsequent failure won't be warranted because you can't establish the seal you might have replaced was the defective part.

If you have the shop facilities, are doing all the labor and have the many special tools & press described in 48.12 - 48.14, then it might be an acceptable risk, but even your own time has some value to you. That's one I personally wouldn't tackle.

I know this isn't the answer you wanted to hear -- do get a second opinion -- but when you're getting into 14 year-old cars, they're like all teenagers. /infopop/emoticons/icon_frown.gif Lots of upkeep!
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Capt. Mike

Leak Seal in Fluid

KeithHay, Junior Member, 05-20-2001 02:30 PM

A while back I posted a note about a leak from my power steering rack. Being a graduate student, I have not had the money to replace the rack. Thankfully, the leak does not seem to be getting much worse.
While I was buying stuff to do my first tune-up (which went well). I noticed that I could get a dexcron III ATF fluid with a leak sealant. Next to those were power steering fluids that also had sealants, but they were not Dexcron III compliant. Could I use either of these to try and stop the leak in the power steering rack. I realize that it would be at best a stop gap measure, but it might buy me a few more months that I need to complete repairs.

Thanks, in advance, for the help.

Capt. Mike

You're right; it's at best a stop-gap. There's never been a magic mechanic-in-a-bottle. But you have nothing to lose. If it holds off the inevitable for a few months, so be it. If not, it's not likely to make things worse than they are.

Per the tech bulletin posted under Vanagon fluid capacities on the TIPS page, Vanagons do use Dexron ATF fluid, the one exception to VW's changing to a hydraulic fluid on all other models' steering gear.


New member
Hi Keith,
I just installed a rebuilt rack from Autozone. $224 w/$150 Core. It came in box where the tie rod arms had punched hles in either end. The installation went fine, with the exception of my knuckleheadness draining some oil inadvertently on the driveway.
Rack had a slight knocking when correcting to the left on the highway. 600 miles later the seal is leaking. I called the 800 number nad the customer service said to pull it out and send it back with many apologies.
Remember to replace the Powersteering filter at the same time to protect your new rack. Aftermarket the filter was $11.
I'm pulling the Rack back out this weekend and returning it.
Biggest bummer (outside of the redo) is having another $40 alignment to do.

Capt. Mike

P/S filters are cleanable since they are a metalic-ceramic material, however replacing after a new pump is still a good idea unless you can be sure of getting the filter clean. I recommend changing fluid every 30K, but I'd also change (and clean filter) about 600-1,000 miles after a replacement to pick up any trash or particals that have come adrift with all the work.

Capt. Mike

Transferred from another post to consolidate same topics.

Steering fluid leak

cremmart Junior Member # 591 posted 03-09-2001 09:04 AM

I have an 85 Westfalia with a steering fluid leak coming from the boots (the end that connects to the steering gear). Could this be created from something loose that is allowing the steering fluid to leak or could the problem be that the boots are just loose? It looks like the tie rods have a threaded section going into the steering gear. If the potential problem is the boot, is it possible to add a clamp onto the steering gear to seal the connection between the boot and the gear.
Any help would be greatly apprecitated!

Thanks in advance,

Connie Emmart

lono Member # 148 posted 03-09-2001 04:36 PM

Our 85 Vanagon had the same symptons. It leaked about 1/2 inch in a few days when it was about 15 degrees F outside. In the next 1000 miles it leaked another 1/2 inch with some dripping on the driveway. I had the stearing fluid power flushed and refilled. Fred's Garage in Redwood City CA said it would cost about $400 to rebild the actuator. After re-filling and 2,000 miles to Arizona and back it quit leaking! Must have been some dirt in the seals. I am keeping my eye on it.

Good Luck,
Sunnyvale, CA

New information 07/24/01. After driving an additional 7000 miles; the leak only happens when the temperature is below about 20 deg F.
It leaked about 1/4 inch overnight but nothing at higher temperatures. ??


Capt. Mike

cremmart: Your answer's already posted above. I know you don't like it, but repair/replace the rack are your only viable options.

lono: It means your seals have hardened. They are worse when the weather is cold. Warm weather and hot fluid will often allow them to expand and temporarily reseal, but the only cure is replacement. You risk a major seal blow-out and dumping of the fluid, with possible fatal damage to the pump, if you don't. Don't delay.


New member
Hmmm, same thing happened with the Space Shuttle's O-rings. Then they warmed up, resealed, but only temporarily, and then...


New member
I took your advice Capt. Mike and had my 1985
Vanagon stearing rack rebilt by Fred's Garage in Redwood City, CA. The charged $119.85 for a rebild kit and $235 for labor, including allignment. Total $354.85. They do the rebilding in house.

lono /infopop/emoticons/icon_smile.gif

[ 08-23-2001: Message edited by: lono ]

Capt. Mike

Transferred from another post to consolidate same topic

Power steering retrofit

ywg396 Junior Member # 870 posted 09-07-2001 12:11 AM

How feasible is it to retrofit power steering to my 81 westy?

Bentley says the steering knuckles are different... any comments

I would be using a jetta pump from my donor 1.8 that is going in this winter.

Even with the 18 inch steering wheel, the wife says it's too hard to park.



My power steering lines are rusted in places and the return line has started leaking. A call to the local dealer reveals that the total for all the hoses, lines and connectors is close to $1000! Has anybody had experience with having a hydraulic shop make up a set of new hoses and lines?
The pump and the rack are fine and leak free. '90 blue Westy.


New member
Good day Clark,
The original power steering hose can be easily replace by flexible heavy industrial hydraulic hose, mostly use on the "Big Rig" and other heavy machinery, if I remember right, mine are 3/8 in diameter. The material is not expensive ($100 to 200 at the most) if you do some research. You will need some standard flexible hydraulic hose and the most important, all the fittings and small adaptors needed. The job is not difficult but messy, so I suggest that you find a garage or a shop that specialize in hydraulic, it's a 2 hours job at the most for a professional mechanic. There is one problem to that conversion, the hose need to go under the fuel thank!!! The old original hose can simply be cut, before and after the fuel tank, new hose can be slip under the tank, I don't remember why but I pass mine beside the tank? If you need more info I can do some research to find the exact size and fitting needed for the job. Good luck, Ben


New member
Hey Ben!

Good day to you. Thanks for your reply. It's nice to know that somebody found a reasonable cost way of replacing the lines. The dealer wants $653 just for two sections of each line! I am a little confused about your term "hose". Presently, I have short lengths of hose connecting the pump to steel tubing that runs the length of the van and connects to the rack. There are connectors in the middle that I suppose make the lines not totally unreasonable to install. It is the rusty steel tubing that I want to replace -- the return is oozing now and just a prayer is holding the high pressure line together. I found a place that will sell me a 25 foot roll of 3/8" steel brake line ($33) which will replace the pressure side. He is pretty confidant that he can put on fittings that will match. The return is a different story because it is bigger -- 1/2" OD. He doesn't have it and I haven't found anybody who does. Hydraulic places that I have phoned seem to deal with hose not steel lines. I assume there is a reason why the return has to be bigger. If I can't find the steel, I will go with hose and cable tie it to the pressure line for support. Thanks again for the advice!


New member
Good day again,
What I mean is remove the 2-rusted metal tube (the small one that are molded to the chassis, the actual line for the fluid) and replace with standard flexible hose from the back (Pump) to the front (rack), those will simply hold with tie-rap!!!!, I did not have time to verifies mine but I am pretty sure that they are the same size (3/8 Interior Diameter), remember that I have a 87 but , just respect the inner diameter of each original line and ask a VW what is the reason for a bigger return original line, I do agree on OEM part especially on the engine but $1000 for some line that's stealing. So what you need is simply 2 hose that will go from the rack to the pump + fitting that will attach to those 2.
I did that this spring with one of my friend and the PO add already bought all the part so I can not tell you exactly where to find those but my friend (industrial mechanic) told me that they where standard part.
I can tell you that I have about 2 feet of one of the original metal line still hanging there under the fuel tank, and I also remember that we kept the tank there, to much trouble removing it (she was full at the time).
Keep your research (parts use, # of the part and adaptor use) up to date on this site; it's good advice for everybody.

Capt. Mike

Replacing hydraulic lines -- flexible and fixed -- is a routine task for most construction equipment dealers. The larger ones will have the equipment to cut, bend and fabricate fixed lines.

The 'how to' is not complicated but you must remember to DUPLICATE the factory diameters. The pump and rack are both designed to operatate on specific flow rates and pressures. Smaller diamter will increase pressure, leading to premature pump failure and leaking seals. Larger diameter will lead to lower pressure and may reduce power steering assist as well as require the pump to move more liquid.

There are a number of alternatives including stainless steel reinforced flexible lines that could be substitued. At that point it's imperative that your new lines are properly mounted and protected from chafage -- one of the main reasons factory uses fixed lines for segments -- and impact damage from road hazards. Having the lines fitted with the correct end fittings is sometimes a challange. Your system will be all metric fittings, though that is standard on much of the construction equipment nowdays. Check places like Bobcat and tractor shops as well as the 'heavy equipment' trade.

However, bear in mind this site is not to 'bargain hunt' when the factory parts are still available. I'm leaving the post because it provides info for systems where the parts have been discontinued.


New member
My 87' Westy is leaking about a quart per week out the right rack seal, and it's getting colder every day! I don't have the coin to pay for repair nor the facilities to do it myself. I don't want to keep refilling so I don't damage my PS pump - what's the best way to disconnect the system prior to getting it properly repaired?

Capt. Mike

/infopop/emoticons/icon_eek.gif Without the power steering, steering becomes so heavy it's unmanageable and unsafe. Since the steering is power assist, the type & ratios are changed. So it is NOT like returning to manual steering of a Type II. If you want to get an idea how bad, just disconnect the P/S belt and drive around an empty parking lot.

Park it until you can fix it!