Change The Steering Rack on a Lotus Elise or Exige
Steering feel and performance is critical to how the Elise and Exige feel and perform. If you need to replace or upgrade a worn out steering rack, this guide has everything you'll need from start to finish.
It can be done in a few hours, but it's most likely a half day of lazy wrenching.
I replaced mine due to high mileage and a clunk or pop noise that had been getting more and more noticeable over time. It didn't end up solving the problem, but it put my mind at ease that there was something critically wrong with the steering rack.
As a bonus, the rack I bought is much better quality than the OEM Lotus rack. It's tighter and has fewer turns from lock to lock. The result is a really amazing race-car feel.
After going through all 5 stages of grief, I was finally able to locate the cause of the clunking / popping that plagued my Elise for months now. It ended up being the upper A-arm bolts being tight but not properly tight.
The best method to locate the noise was to forcefully and quickly push and pull on the wheel. Go both directions, top then side to determine which motion most readily creates the sound. I couldn't exert enough force without the wheel to cause the noise.
Hitting or punching the tire doesn't help as the impact sound from your hand can overpower the actual clunk. In my case it would sometimes make noise turning left and right - but 100% of the time if I pulled then pushed on the top of the wheel.
- 10mm, 13mm, 17mm sockets
- T-40 Torx bit or socket (hard top screws)
- 5mm allen hex key (steering wheel and U joints)
- 6mm Allen hex socket (seat rails)
- 3/8" drive ratchet & extensions
- 1/2" Drive breaker bar (wheels)
- Jack Stands with Pads
- Torque Wrench
- Philips head screw driver
- A set of pry bars to help position the steering rack.
- Pickle fork and Hammer OR a scissor style ball joint separator
Disconnect The Battery
Jack up and remove the front wheels
Make sure the emergency brake is engaged so the car doesn't roll.
Loosen the lugs on the front wheels. Do not remove them, just break them loose while the weight of the car can hold them still for you.
The stock wheel lock and wheel lug tools use a 17mm socket.
Place jack stands at jacking point 'B' so that both front wheels are off the ground.
To do this, use a jack under jacking point 'A' to lift one side of the vehicle at a time. It will lift the whole side high enough to place a jack under jacking point 'B'.
Finish completely removing the two front wheels.
Remove the Roof
I was in and out of the car a whole bunch on this project, so I strongly suggest you remove the roof. Look at it this way, if you've never had it off before, you can go for a few topless cruises after the job's done.
Remove the 3 T-40 torx screws holding front trim panel on.
Remove the 2 rear bracket covers. They're just velcro'd in place.
Remove the 4 T-40 torx screws at each corner that hold the roof on.
Pull the roof off and place it somewhere out of the way.
Remove Driver's Seat
You'll have to spend some time with your head under the dash. It's very tight for most normal humans so you'll want the driver's seat out of the way. It's fairly easy to remove and it'll give you a chance to hunt for that coin that's been making noise under the seat.
Remove the 4 bolts holding the seat rails to the car. There's one at each corner, bolted downward directly into the car's frame.
Mine used a mix of 6mm allen hex socket screws and regular 13mm hex head screws. You'll need some ratchet extensions to reach the rear 2, it's tight back there.
Take note of which bolt comes from where. They have different heads, and different lengths!
There are whole discussion threads where owners are trying to figure out which bolt is supposed to go where - and everyone's seems to be different. So keep track of where your's came from and just put em' back in the same spot.
Before you move the seat around, place a cloth under the front legs of the seat to keep them from scratching up that nice aluminum cross beam.
Disconnect the 2 wires for the seat belt receiver located under the seat. Before you remove the seat, lean it forward or to the side and disconnect the wires by pulling the bullet style connectors apart. They are just short enough to be slightly annoying to connect/disconnect.
Remove Air Bag and Steering Wheel
I removed the steering wheel to make being in the foot well more "comfortable". This may not be necessary for everyone, but I vowed I'd never stick my head in the driver's side footwell again without removing the steering wheel. The only time I've ever experienced claustrophobia is under the dash of this car with the steering wheel making it extremely difficult to get out. It was very unpleasant, and I'd much rather enjoy my time working on the car then dread it.
Remove the 2 5mm allen key screws on the left and right sides of the steering wheel.
Important: make sure the battery is completely disconnected first.
Carefully pull the loose air bag out of the steering wheel so you can reach the back.
Slide the small green tab in the center of the larger green connector completely out first.
Disconnect the air bag plug by pulling it straight out of the air bag.
If you can, avoid powering the ecu while the air bag is disconnected. It'll trip a warning light on the dash that requires some specialized equipment to reset (it's not a regular engine trouble code).
Disconnect the horn wire. Mine was tucked into the back of the wheel housing. I used a small flat head screw driver to pry the locking tab up and disconnect it.
Center the steering wheel so that it's straight up and down and the wheels are in the straight ahead position.
Don't rotate the steering column after this step.
Now mind you, you can move it left and right slightly as needed, just don't accidentally rotate it 360 degrees.
Why not rotate it? The clock spring. Its the mechanism that allows electrical connections to the air bag and horn to work. It can be broken if you later re-assemble the wheel too far in one direction or the other. The wires in it can only support so many rotations in either direction.
So mark the hub now, and make sure you don't accidentally rotate the steering 360 degrees while we have it apart.
Remove the 4 5mm allen key screws that hold the steering wheel on.
Mark the clock spring to steering hub location with tape or paint.
Remove Plastic Steering Wheel Trim
We need to disconnect the steering rack from the lower steering shaft (the one with 2 U-Joints above the pedals). I've read several people say they couldn't get enough clearance to fully disconnect the U-Joints without unbolting the steering column. I had the same experience. However, you should probably give it a try at this point to see if you can save yourself some time.
Jump to "Disconnect the lower steering shaft" to give that a try now.
There's a special order to installing and removing the trim around the dash that'll help keep you from snapping the fragile plastic pieces. Follow these directions to hopefully avoid having to buy or repair these parts.
Remove the 2 screws on the sides in front of the signal stocks.
Remove the 2 screws on either side of the bottom cowling, right up against the dash.
Remove the 2 screws on the bottom front of the bottom cowling, facing upward.
Remove the small top trim piece.
There are 2 fragile little tabs that flair outward, meaning you can't just squeeze it in and out of the bottom cowling.
Let the larger bottom half of the cowling drop down away from the steering column slightly. This will give you enough room for the tabs that slip under the gauge cowling to disengage and you'll be able to remove the little top trim piece.
Drop the larger bottom cowl trim away from the steering column.
It'll get caught slightly around the key hole and the rubber boots on the stalks. Just be patient and work it a little till it drops off.
Disconnect the connector for the button on the lower cowling trim.
Optionally Remove the wiper stalks.
They have a plastic tab on the top and bottom that lock them in place, simply press those together with your fingers and slide them out, away from the center.
The plugs are somewhat more difficult to disconnect, I just left them tethered. and tucked the stalks out of the way.
Remove the gauge cowling.
There are 4 press-in metal clips that clip straight into the aluminum dash. There is also a square of velcro at the top front that keep it from vibrating on the dash. Take your time and be persistent, these little tabs are way harder to dislodge from the dash then they need to be.
Remove Gauge Cluster
Unscrew the 4 screws around the gauge cluster.
Disconnect the 2 electrical connectors at the back of the dash cluster.
Mine were rather snug and required some wiggling.
Remove Switch Pack
Remove the 2 13mm bolts at either side of the steering column.
They hold the steering column and switch pack in place.
Disconnect Lower Steering Shaft
All of the work of removing the gauge cluster is to gain access to the the 13mm bolt at the top rear of the steering column. Removing this bolt will give you enough play in the lower steering shaft (the one with 2 U-joints) to fully disconnect it from the steering rack.
Remove the last 13mm bolt holding the steering column in place.
It's on the top rear of the steering column. You'll be able to see it deep inside the dash opening we just cleared space to work in. In my car, it was sort of obstructed by the wire harnesses in the dash. Find a way to work around them and remove that bolt.
Remove the bolt connecting the lower steering shaft to the steering rack. It uses a 13mm nut with a 6mm Allen bolt.
The bolt actually slides into a notch on the shaft, preventing the u joint from being disconnected off unless the bolt is completely removed.
Slide the U-Joint off the steering rack input shaft.
You will probably need to pull the steering column out slightly to gain enough room.
Remove the Steering Rack Bolts
Remove the 4 bolts that hold the steering rack to the frame. The larger ones are 17mm and the lower ones are 13mm. You'll want 2.5 feet worth of extensions if you to reach them with enough room to really apply any torque. It's possible without the extensions, but a little more difficult.
I needed to remove the rubberized trim on the sides little brackets in order to fit the socket around these bolts.
Disconnect Track Rod Ends
Remove the 17mm nylock nut from the ball joint at the end of both track rod ends.
Free the tapered track rod end from the steering uprights.
One of mine was easy to remove with one hit from a small hammer. The other required a pickle fork. If you're not replacing the track rod ends, you'd be better off using scissor style ball joint a separator.
Remove the Steering Rack.
To remove the rack, you'll need to rotate it about 40 degrees to get the geared shaft out of the passenger compartment.
I found it easier to move the rack around using some long pry bars. Once the steering shaft is clear, simply slide the rack out one side.
Prepare the new Steering Rack
Run your 4 steering rack bolts you removed from the footwell into the threaded holes on the new rack to make sure they go in smoothly.
I found out after installing that mine had some yellow powder coating in the threads that made it difficult to screw in. It's better to deal with that issue when you're not under the dash.
Add the track rod ends to your new steering rack.
Measure the overall length of the old rack. Use that measurement to get close to the original length for your new rack. Make sure both track rod ends are the same length.
Once they are in place, hand tighten the jam nuts.
Using a long sharp tool (screwdriver, pry bar, pickle fork), hammer out the unused rivnut shown in the photo below. It's on the front of the channel, just perfectly in the way.
It interferes with the housing on most aftermarket steering racks.
Install the Steering Rack
Slide the new rack into the channel in the frame.
Rotate the rack up so that the steering spline lines up with the hole into the foot well and the flat ends of the flanges are flush against the side of the channel.
It's difficult to just twist the steering rack because the ends easily rotate. I had 2 friends help me with this step, one on each side of the vehicle with a long pry bar. I don't think it requires 3 people, but you'll definitely need a friend for this step.
While the steering rack is rotated into position, you'll need to get under the dash and thread the 4 (17mm and 13mm) bolts into the rack.
I suggest starting with the 2 on the driver's side. You can help guide the rack's position a little by pulling and pushing on the steering splines sticking through the hole.
Apply thread locker to these bolts. If you're re-using the old bolts, clean the threads before installing.
Get all 4 bolts treaded before tightening them to make installation easier.
- Torque the 17mm M10 bolts to 33ft-lb or 45Nm.
- Torque the 13mm M8 bolts to 16 ft-lb or 22Nm.
Finish installing the tapered ends of track rod ends into the steering arms and install the 17mm lock nut.
- Torque to 23 ft-lb or 30Nm.
Try to manually center the front wheels / steering rack as much as possible.
Connect the lower steering rod U-Joint to the steering rack.
Be careful not to damage the splines. You're probably going to have to disconnect and re-connect these several times to get the alignment right. Do not install the retaining bolt yet.
Center the Steering Wheel with the Rack
Now we'll work to make sure the steering rack and steering wheel are in alignment.
The idea is simple. We'll turn the steering from left lock to right lock and try to find the center. We'll have to remove and re-engage the lower steering U-Joint till the wheel is at the same angle at each lock.
This can be done with the steering wheel off, but I found it much easier with the steering wheel on. It just gave me a better mental picture of what's going on being able to see the spokes and where it stopped.
Temporarily install the steering wheel. Only thread in 2 of the small allen screws.
Turn the wheel all the way to full left lock.
Take note of the angle of the steering wheel.
Turn the wheel all the way to full right lock.
The steering wheel angle should mirror the position from the other lock.
Adjust the lower steering U-Joint as needed till the steering wheel angle is the same in both directions.
If they aren't equal, we'll need to adjust the U-Joint position. Disengage the lower steering U-Joint from the steering rack.
- Right lock turns more : Disengage and rotate the U-Joint counter clock wise a few teeth.
- Right lock turns less: Disengage and rotate the U-Joint clock wise a few teeth.
Install the rear most 13mm steering column bolt.
- Torque to 45Nm
Re-attach the switch to it's aluminum bracket using 2 Philips head screws.
Install the 2 13mm upper steering column bolts.
These are rather difficult to line up with the receiving nut. It's captured in the extruded aluminum dash housing that I was just barely able to find a way to reach with my pinky. These may test your patients.
- Torque the 2 bolts to 22.5Nm
Install the lower U-Joint bolt using a 13mm wrench and a 6mm allen key.
- Torque to 35Nm
Install the dash cluster.
Re-attach the wire connectors and install all 4 philips head screws.
Install the dash cluster trim
Install the turn signal stalks if you removed them.
Install the steering column Trim
Connect the lower cowling's switch connector.
Position the lower cowling, making sure the hole for the key lock is lined up. Don't install any screws just yet.
Install the small top piece of the cowling.
The rear edge of it slides under the gauge housing trim and the front has those 2 little legs that break very easily.
Having the whole cowling loose will help you assemble this little puzzle without snapping any plastic bits. Arrange all the parts so they fit together and line up.
Screw in the 2 bottom screws in the bottom cowling.
These two seem like the most robust out of the 6 screws. Go ahead and get them slightly snug.
Screw in the 2 side screws in the bottom cowling.
Screw in the 2 top/side screws that connect the two cowling halves.
Don't over-tighten any of them, but especially take care with these 2 little ones. I wouldn't say mine are "tight".
Install the steering wheel. Make sure it's lined up correctly in the center.
Install the 4x 5mm allen screws.
I can't find the torque setting for these, if you know it, please comment below.
Reconnect the horn wire harness.
Reconnect the air bag wire harness.
Fully seat the connector harness into the rear of the air bag. Insert the locking tab.
(again - make sure the battery is disconnected)
Install the 2 5mm screws that hold the air bag into the steering wheel.
Install the Seat
Place rags down to prevent scratching the aluminum with the seat rails.
Connect the seat belt wires.
Reconnect the battery, starting with the positive, then the negative terminal.
Turn the key on and test the gauges and make sure no new warning lights are on.
Turn they key off when everything looks fine.
Install the 4 bolts around the seat.
Again, mine used 6mm allen and 13mm hex head screws of different lengths. Just put them back where they came from.
Install the wheels. The lug tools use a 17mm socket.
- Torque to 77ft-lb 104Nm
Install the roof (rather, why not leave it off for a while?)
Get an alignment
Take your car to your favorite alignment shop. Tell them you've just replaced the steering rack.
I'm super lucky to have a small shop I trust within a few miles. If you're in the Orlando or Daytona area check out [Performance Tire & Wheel] in Orange City(http://performancetirewheel.com/). Steve is a racer himself and he runs a great small shop with good equipment.
When you get home, double check that the track rod end jam nuts are tight.
While you're there, make sure the steering rack's boots are not all twisted up.
One of mine was zip tied so tight that it didn't slip on the steering shaft and was twisted pretty tightly. I clipped the zip tie, rotated the boot, and reinstalled a new zip tie.
- Wheel lug tools: 17mm. Lugs 77ft-lb
- Hard top screws: T-40 Torx
- Seat rails: 13mm hex head and 6mm allen. No torque spec avail.
- Air bag screws: 5mm allen
- Steering wheel screws: 5mm allen
- Steering column Bolts: 13mm hex (rear is 45Nm, front 2 are 22.5Nm)
- Steering shaft U-Joints: 13mm hex and 6mm allen (35Nm)
- Steering rack bolts: 17mm (33ft-lb/45Nm) and 13mm (16ft-lb/22Nm)
- Track rod ends: 17mm (23ft-lb/30Nm)