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Replace steering rack on a Volvo 850

MVS reader Nathan sent me a finely detailed writeup on how to replace  steering rack on an 850… and all Volvo P80 models. Volvo used two different racks, and you must replace your rack with the same rack. That means you must check that part numbers match.

How to change a power steering rack on your 850

(specifically, a ’97 wagon, p80 chassis S70/V70 should be similar. )

Changing the steering rack is a very big job. Here’s why.

If you live in Canada like me or a similar climate, you’ll know about rust and galvanic corrosion. My car is 18 years old, and most of the bolts I removed were untouched since new. Furthermore, the lower U joint, where the steering column connects to the rack, is probably corroded together because Volvo put an aluminium U-joint on a steel spine.

steering rack

This means you will need to remove a lot of stuff to get the rack out, far more than the factory manual suggests. Finally, you have to jack the engine up off its side and rear mount and drop the crossmember at the same time because the engine is supported on the steering column and you have to drop the crossmember to wiggle the rack out.

I found an engine support stand and some chains really helped because I could work under the car without a jack or axle stand being in the way. Penetrant and a good impact gun are your friend.

You’ll need a good assortment of tools. Deep and shallow sockets, combination wrenches, 1/2, 3/8 and 1/4 drive ratchets. A breaker bar and an impact gun are highly recommended too. If you need an exact list, you probably shouldn’t do this job.

Obviously, this is how I did the job. If something goes horribly wrong and/or you injure yourself, I will not be held responsible.

steering rack


1) Break your front lug bolts free (unless you have in impact gun). 19 mm or 3/4 inch

2) Jack the car way up in the air – 6 ton axle stands are good idea. The axle stands on the front need to go just behind the triangular suspension plates (which connect the rear crossmember bolts to two smaller bolts on the body). I used a 2 by 4 over the axle stand. It should be noted that you cant really support the car on the crossmember for this job because you have to lower it to get the rack out. You probably could support the car on the frontmost part of the crossmember, but that will make crawling in and out a huge pain. I recommend also jacking up the back of the car too.

3) Remove the front two wheels.

4) Remove the outer tie rods from the steering rack. I think a 22 mm worked well on the big “alignment” nut that butts up to the outer tie rod. I had to use a lot of penetrant and a propane torch to to get these apart. Turning the tie rod out is aided by two different sizes of wrenches ( in addition to the 22mm ), one for the narrow profile of the tie rod, and one for the wide profile – the reason for this this is you will have an easier time pulling your hands together with the two wrenches not too far apart – if the two wrenches are at 90- 180 degrees the tie rod tends to fly around. Try not to move the nut too much because you need to get the right number of turns when you put the tie rods back on.

IF you need help releasing the ball joints, “Eric the car guy” on youtube has an excellent video. The ball joint nut is 19 mm.

5) Remove the sway bar connection in the wheel wells. Grab (I think) a t30 bit and a 15 mm box end wrench. Break the nut free first. Now use your t30 to hold the bolt end and remove the nut with the 15mm. Its probably a good idea to blast the torx-end of the bolt with brake cleaner or something so the t30 bites better.

6) Climb up on the engine and remove the nut on the top of rear motor mount. I mention this now because the engine will tend to drop with the crossmember and steering rack otherwise. This is the sam motor mount that sits on the steering rack.

7) Now, to disconnect the steering column you’ve got two choices. If your car is just spotless, remove the bolt connecting the lower joint to the rack’s pline. Now give it a smack with a crowbar or something from below. The steering column is telescopic so it will slide up.

steering rack

If your lower u joint is just galvanically f$*&ed like mine, crawl into the driver’s side footwell and remove the bolt on the other end! You’ll have remove a rubber boot thing and get it out of the way. You will have to take out the rack with U joint attached (the bolts, by the way are strange – its 10mm on one end and 13 mm on the other). You probably wont have to remove as much stuff as I did if your u- joint popped off.

8) The passenger’s side motor mount is accessible behind the plastic wheel liner. Get a 2 by 4 under the oil pan and jack up the engine very slightly- this takes pressure off the side motor mount bolts. Remove the two small bolts on the passengers side motor mount (14 or 15 mm). Now the side of the engine can lift a bit.

9) If you have a support stand go grab it and put it across the top of the engine bay (read the instructions). Use a chain or something and wrap it through power steering bracket and over the top of the support stand. (You can use the jack to lift the engine up, tie on the chain, and then drop the jack with the chain now taking the weight and holding the engine up). Now move your jack over to the transmission support arm and jack it up there too (with your 2 by 4, of course). You also need to remove the bolt that goes through the torque arm bushing at this time too. There’s a bracket on the torque bushing with has a spare hole for a chain – use this to support the right side of the engine (the procedure is the same as the left side). MAKE SURE THE ENGINE IS SUPPORTED!

If you do not have a support stand, you could probably also use axle stands, but this will make the job a lot more cumbersome.

10) Put a jack under the rear of the crossmember. Loosen the big bolts (18 mm) on the back of the crossmember about an inch or two (you also have to remove the two bolts on the back of the triangular plates). Lower the crossmember onto the now- lowered bolts (you may find they don’t actually take the weight of the crossmember, but I leave them in there just as a back-up). If you are paranoid, you could even use axle stands, but I found these didn’t do much. Get the jack out of the way.

11) Remove the 4 bolts securing the sway bar to the crossmember (14 or 15 mm I think). Wiggle the crossmember out of the car; I found this easiest to do right to left. This will require some trial and error, and in my case, lots of expletives.

12) I strongly recommend an impact gun for this next part: remove the 6 nuts holding the steering rack to the crossmember (they are different sizes). The nut closest to the middle actually holds a very small bracket that has its own bolt that runs through the rack – you may not have to remove this bracket, but I did just to make the clump of stuff i had to remove at once that much smaller. There is also a big bracket that has a crescent shaped support for the rack on the left side. I would remove this big bracket too for the same reason. Both brackets have captive bolts. The four smallest bolts just pop out (I used a big extension).

13) There is a black piece of metal that wraps around the around the motor mount and the bracket on the steering rack that supports the motor mount. Theres 1 bolt that holds this “beavers tail” to the engine. Remove said bolt and get the beaver tail out of the there. You will have to wiggle the motor mount through the beaver tail because it has a big bolt built into it (the other end of which is that nut I said to remove from above). The bottom of the motor mount also has a small bolt that secures it to the rack (this is easy to remove, do so now).

14) Before reading on, see if you can take the rack and hydraulic lines out as one – if this doesn’t work for you then read on. Remove all the little stupid brackets you can get at and drop the flexible ends of the lines down through the bottom.

With all the bolts broken free you can now open the hydraulic lines on the rack. The top is 16 mm, the bottom is 19mm. Up till now, there just wasnt enough room to open the lines. I found I had to swing the steering rack clockwise to make just enough room to turn the nuts. It still took about an hour to loosen both nuts. In retrospect, it would have been easier to remove all the brackets on the hydraulic lines, disconnect them at the pump and remove the hydraulic lines and and rack as one. On reassembly I put the lines and rack in as a unit.

I managed to get the steering rack out of the car diagonally, dropping the right side through the inside of the crossmember as opposed to through the wheel well.

15) Now you are more than halfway done. Clean all your hardware thoroughly (wire brush, castrol super clean, varsol, etc). I cleaned the worst of the crap off the top of the crossmember too.

Take your old rack over to a workbench. Put your old tie rods back on, but only until they touch the alignment bolt. Now remove the tie rods, keeping track of the number of turns it takes to remove them.

Remove those nuts OR go get new ones if yours are all frozen on there (M14 by 2.0, I think).


16) Put everything back together in reverse order. I hit a major snag lowering the engine back down because the rear motor mount bolt (the one of the top) wouldnt line up right with the engine. My advice is leave the beaver tail in there loosely and motor mount in loosely too- just get the removable bolt on the bottom of the mount – the one that goes through the rack – started first. Before there is any weight on it, line up the bolt on the top of the mount with the aluminium arm on the engine where the bolt goes through carefully. Make sure you can catch the threads with a nut and you can snug the engine back onto its mount incrementally just by slowly tightening the nut.

I changed the o- rings on my hydraulic lines and greased or put anti-sieze on almost every bolt. You may want to change your passenger side motor mount at this time too.

When re-connecting the column, connect the bottom of the u joint first, and the top second. Leave the steering wheel loose – it makes it way easier to put the joint together, and it only goes together one way anyway.

17) Fill up your reservoir with ATF/ power steering fluid. I think it was a little less than 2 quarts. Be mindful that the levels will take a while to stabilise as the air escapes as you turn the steering lock to lock. You might want to not let the car run very long the first time you start it because the level will REALLY drop. It will probably burp ATF all over the floor too. Be patient with this step.

18) Go get an alignment!