Power Steering Issues 101: An Overview

person driving car

Power steering has become a standard feature in every vehicle, which makes it startling and difficult for drivers when that power steering fails. Without power steering, the steering wheel will be severely difficult to turn, and it can put you at risk of an accident on the road.

The best thing you can do is learn the signs of power steering trouble before your power steering completely fails on you in an unsafe situation. Here are some of the causes of power steering trouble and the signs you need to watch for.

Low Power Steering Fluid

The power steering system is a hydraulic system. It relies on a steady, pressurized flow of power steering fluid through the system. When the fluid level drops, the pressure becomes too low and the steering does not respond the way that it should.

Signs of low power steering fluid are pretty easy to spot. You may notice that your steering becomes somewhat jerky, which means that the car will respond excessively when you turn the wheel just a little bit. The power steering pump can whine and make other noises when you turn if there is insufficient fluid in the system.

In addition, the wheel can become progressively harder to turn as the fluid level drops. The lower the fluid level, the harder the wheel will be to turn. This will worsen until the power steering completely fails.

Every car has a power steering fluid reservoir with a dipstick attached to the cap. Markers on the dipstick illustrate where the fluid should be when the engine is cold, and when it is hot. If the level is low that means there is a leak in the system somewhere. Locate the source of the leak and repair it, then refill the fluid to restore your power steering.

Power Steering Pump Pulley Issues

The power steering pump sits in the path of the car’s serpentine belt. The belt runs over a pulley on the power steering pump, and as that pulley turns, it engages the pump to keep the power steering functional.

Pulleys can wear over time. If the pulley binds, is worn, or does not spin, the power steering pump will fail. The good news is that power steering pump pulleys do not typically fail without some indications before the steering completely fails.

If the power steering pump pulley starts to fail or intermittently binds, you might notice that your car’s steering will either not respond well when you turn the wheel, or it will respond excessively.

When the pulley binds for longer periods of time, you may notice a burnt smell under the hood of the car. If the belt rubs on the pulley, or the pulley seizes, it causes this type of odor.

You can eliminate the pulley as the source of the problem by marking it with a permanent marker or chalk, then let the engine run. Observe the pulley as it spins to be sure that it spins smoothly, consistently, and evenly. If it does not run smoothly, have the pulley inspected and potentially replaced by your mechanic.

Power Steering Pump Failure

The power steering pump contains many sensitive components. If those components wear or fail, the pump will simply stop working. This cuts your power steering completely. As the pump fails, there are some key indications of the impending problem.

Power steering pumps will whine or grind when turning if they are failing. You may also notice tight steering response or slow response when you turn the wheel. If you notice these things in combination, that is a good indication that your power steering pump is about to fail.

Talk with a mechanic right away to have the system inspected and to resolve the issue. This preserves your steering and ensures your safety on the road. Contact us at Tire Works Total Car Care for more help.

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