Power steering is something most drivers take for granted. Until they have steering problems.
Modern vehicles all use power steering to make driving easier. If you’re under the age of 40, chances are you’ve never driven anything without power steering. Cars today use a hydraulic power steering pump that provides help while you steer.
Go back in time to when cars entered the marketplace. Cars were built so the driver controlled the moving process. When a driver wanted to turn right or left, they would have to crank the steering wheel and physically adjust the wheels to get the car to move in their desired direction. That required physical strength that some people had trouble with. Inventors set out on a course to make the process easier. By the 1960s, power steering was an option for most vehicles, with it becoming standard by the 1970s.
Of course, a lot has changed over the years.
How power steering works
Today’s vehicles use power steering to respond to even the smallest of adjustments you make. That makes it easier to control, and easier to stay in the lane as you drive, no matter what your speed.
Power steering systems use either an electric or hydraulic device to turn and steer the wheels.
Hydraulic power steering uses hydraulic fluid to amplify the action of turning the wheels. Hydraulic fluid is pressurized by a pump driven by the engine, which provides hydraulic pressure for the steering system. As you turn the steering wheel, hydraulic pressure is applied to the steering gear, which makes it easy for the wheels to turn.
Electric power steering uses an electric motor that draws energy from the electrical system to provide steering ability. As a driver adjusts the steering wheel, sensors detect movement. This data is fed into a computer system which evaluates how much assistance to apply. The biggest benefit of an electric power steering system over a hydraulic system is better adaptation to specific driving conditions.
Electronic power steering, also known as EPS, is growing in popularity because of the performance improvements. Electric steering can give the driver the option to switch between different driving conditions for a different experience in driving. Comfort, standard, sport – you’ll find these steering systems and more depending on the make and model you drive.
Common power steering problems
Today’s vehicles have over 10,000 parts. Two main power components with the steering system include the pump, and the rack and pinion unit. It also includes a variety of hoses and connectors to ensure the system works well. If there is an issue with any of these parts, you won’t get assistance as you turn the steering wheel, making it difficult at best. That can put you in danger as you respond to actions out on the road. In general, five things may be wrong with your vehicle if you’re having trouble turning the steering wheel.
Low power steering fluid
One of the most common reasons for decreasing power in the steering wheel is low power steering fluid within the system. This usually occurs when the fluid is leaking from the pressurized hoses. If the hose is cracked or wiggles loose, it can cause the fluid to leak out. This fluid is required to keep the entire system well lubricated. If there isn’t hydraulic fluid within the system, the steering wheel gets more difficult to turn. You might be able to drive it, but it is a sign of a problem within the system. Eventually the steering pump will fail, and replacement is a lot more expensive than adding in new power steering fluid.
Bad power steering fluid
Parts and systems today are designed for years of use. But that doesn’t prevent fluids from getting old and stopping working. Even if hoses and joints are still in good shape, holding power steering fluid inside, the fluid itself can become thick and corroded over time. If it’s too thick to lubricate the system, you’ll notice it in a steering wheel that doesn’t move properly. You can check if your power steering fluid is thick and dark. That’s a sign it needs flushing and replacement as soon as possible.
Broken serpentine belt
Another common problem is an issue with the serpentine belt. If the serpentine belt is damaged or cracked, you’ll feel stiffness in the way the steering wheel turns. This belt is in constant action as you drive and make adjustments according to road conditions. It can wear down fairly quickly, especially here in Colorado where we face weather extremes throughout the year. If this is the problem, the belt will become looser as you drive. If it breaks, you won’t be able to drive the car at all. Heed to the warning of a problematic steering wheel to avoid bigger repair bills if it fails.
Bad steering rack
The steering rack contains the rack and pinion. Different joints and shafts are responsible for keeping the steering rack attached to the steering wheel. As this rack wears down or is damaged, it will prevent you from steering your vehicle properly. You’ll know when the steering rack is going bad when you notice the wheel is tight only from a cold start. Once it warms up, the lubricant warms up and the steering action improves. It may loosen up as you drive, but the potential for problems is still there.
Power steering pump failure
The power steering pump is what produces the right amount of pressure to allow you to move the steering wheel freely. If this pump no longer works correctly, it becomes more difficult to turn and control the steering wheel. As it wears down, you’ll be required to put more force into the act of turning the wheel. The heavier the vehicle, the harder it will be to complete this action. Bringing it in early means we can check for loose connections or other potential problems before determining if you need a new power steering pump.
Do you have power steering problems? If you see yourself in any of the conditions above, it might be a problem with your power steering system. Bring your vehicle in today and we’ll inspect it and pinpoint the issue.