Ever since we’ve used vehicles for getting around, we’ve had some form of steering system.
Sitting on top of a horse, you take in the reins, gently pulling one side or the other to go in that general direction.
If you’ve hopped on a sled and sailed down a hill, you’ve used your weight to control what direction you move.
Taking a slight turn off the path takes gentle movements. For more profound directional changes, you’ll need to put more force into your actions.
Your vehicle works in a similar manner.
Your car works using four different wheels for control. If you make a right-hand turn, both front wheels angle and lead into the turn.
That’s where the complexity of the steering system lies. Your car’s front wheels are interconnected to position correctly and turn at the appropriate angles to get you where you want to go.
Rack and pinion steering
The rack and pinion steering system is the most common type of steering on today’s vehicles.
It starts with a shaft extended down from the steering wheel. This shaft is connected to a round gear called a pinion.
The pinion sits in a metal rod, also known as the rack. It extends the full width of your car, connecting to both your right and left wheel.
As you move your steering wheel left and right, the pinion moves through the different notches on the rack. As this rod moves, it controls the movement of your wheels.
Not all rack and pinion steering systems are the same. If you’ve ever been in a vehicle that doesn’t handle as well as another, or noticed the turning radius of one car doesn’t match another, it’s because different vehicles have different steering ratios.
Why your steering system might be giving you trouble
If you’ve ever driven your car and tried to turn, only to have your steering wheel be almost impossible to turn, you might have been frustrated with the inaction. Steering wheel issues can be caused by one of several things.
A power steering pump failure
In order for your steering wheel to turn easily as you drive, a power steering pump ensures the proper amount of pressure is applied to complete the turn. If this mechanism stops working, your steering wheel becomes that much more difficult to turn. It might be a simple repair – a piece has broken loose. Or it could be the entire power steering pump needs to be replaced.
Power steering fluid issues
Like other parts of your car, the steering system uses fluid to create hydraulic pressure within the system. Over time, this fluid can dissipate, creating issues with your ability to turn. As a part of your regular maintenance plan, have your power steering fluid checked according to the manufacturer’s guidelines.
A problem with the steering rack
The rack isn’t one solid piece, but instead is a series of different shafts and joints that connect the steering system together. As these parts wear down through use, the stress can cause additional problems with the steering rack. When this happens, you might notice the steering capabilities shifting and stiffening up. It might not be an immediate problem with safety, but it is an indicator that a mechanic should check out as soon as possible.
Improper tire pressure
Your tires are the baseline for every system in your vehicle. If they aren’t filled to the proper levels, it can be difficult turning the steering wheel, especially if the tire pressure is low. Make checking your tire pressure a routine maintenance item, checking it once a month as you pull into the filling station.
Damage to the serpentine belt
The serpentine belt is one long, continuous belt used to control multiple devices within the engine compartment, including the power steering pump. Because this belt is used so often and in so many ways, it’s easy for it to wear down or become damaged. Depending on what damage occurs determines how it impacts the steering wheel. This is another reason why you should schedule regular maintenance visits with a mechanic to ensure your vehicle is running smoothly.
How steering and alignment meet
Your vehicle is a complex set of components, all working together to get you where you want to go. Sometimes it’s a little more difficult finding out where the true problem lies.
If you’ve checked out the different parts of your steering system, checked the pressure on your tires, and still notice a problem with the way your vehicle steers, it might be an alignment problem.
Proper steering and wheel alignment go hand in hand.
When your vehicle was initially manufactured, every part fit perfectly together. The wheels were in perfect alignment. All parts fit tightly and securely together. When you turned on your vehicle and started driving, the wheels were set to move straight and drive smoothly. That’s due to having a proper alignment designed to work in conjunction with the rest of your vehicle.
Unfortunately, as you drive, a variety of things can go wrong with your car. When you hit a pothole, the alignment begins to erode. Normal driving begins to wear down parts. Until eventually, your car no longer moves the way it used to.
Pay attention to how your car drives on a straight road. Does it veer to one side without adjusting the steering wheel? Have you noticed your steering wheel is crooked when you’re driving straight ahead? Do you notice your tires squealing without any other reason? Your car may be in need of an alignment.
Proper alignment means your car will move in the direction you steer it. It also means you’ll have more control as you run across daily driving situations, and keep you and your vehicle’s occupants safer as you navigate driving situations.
Are you having trouble driving?
If you’ve noticed a change in the way your car drives, and it’s impacting the way your car steers into curves and corners, it might be time to check your steering system. Our technicians will inspect your car’s steering and suspension system to ensure everything is running its best. Schedule your maintenance visit with us today.