Power steering on today’s automobiles is something most of us take for granted. But if you’ve ever had it disappear, you’ll appreciate it a little bit more.
It can be kind of scary, especially here along the Front Range. You’re driving. Heading to the office, or maybe off for a weekend in the mountains. You’re singing along with the radio, talking with the family, and suddenly it’s very difficult to turn the steering wheel in your car. What do you do when your power steering goes out?
Depending on what’s wrong determines the right course of action. Not all power steering problems require extensive repair work. But like other car repair issues, quick action can often save you time and money down the road.
Understanding Power Steering Technology
Power steering isn’t new technology. In fact, it was put in place as the first automobiles started flowing off the production line.
Hydraulic steering uses a pump to supply pressure. Driver control is authorized by use of rack and pinion. Fluid pressure is created within the pump, and pushed against a piston. As the wheel turns, pressure builds and flows, causing the piston to move. This piston is also attached to the steering mechanism, and with the air of hydraulic pressure, the steering wheel is moved and controlled by whoever is driving.
It all comes down to a highly sensitive valve system. When the steering wheel is straight, the steering valve is at rest. But as you turn it, fluid begins to flow around the valves, through the reservoir, and into the cylinder. The fluid moves and flows to different pressure chambers, depending on the direction you turn the wheel to control the gears. When the steering wheel is released, it returns to its neutral position.
When The Power Steering Goes Out
If there is a problem with any part of this hydraulic system, you’ll know it. Even a slight turn of the steering wheel will exert pressure, be more stubborn and stiff, and require more power to create the action of turning. If you drive for any distance, it can actually leave you a little sore. It also begs the question: what’s wrong?
One of the simplest solutions is power steering fluid is low. This could be caused by a leak somewhere in the system. It could be caused by a lack of maintenance over the years, and your fluid has simply run out over time.
It might be due to contamination within the power steering fluid. As you drive your car, parts wear down and start breaking off. These tiny pieces can end up in the power steering fluid and corrode the functionality of the power steering fluid.
A more serious problem could be that the pump itself is failing. While this isn’t a common problem, it does happen from time to time. The best way to prevent any of this and stay on top of a potential problem is to be proactive from the start. If you take care of your system, provide regular servicing, this shouldn’t be an issue.
You can also watch for a potential leak by paying attention to what’s underneath your car. If you leave it set for any length of time, check for fluid. If you see a pink or amber puddle, it might be steering fluid. You can add power steering fluid yourself, or get it into our shop quickly so we can evaluate your entire system and ensure everything is working up to par.
Can It Be Something More?
Keep in mind that your car is put together with thousands of pieces all interlocked together, relying on each other to make sure everything works as it should. When one thing goes wrong, it can create a snowball effect, causing more pieces to go bad.
Every movement your car makes has enough force to impact different pieces. A shimmy or a shake is absorbed by the steering gear. If tires are low or out of balance, it can increase the likelihood of a recurring shimmy every time you drive. If the force is strong enough, it will damage bearings and impact the gears. This gives the drive system free play, meaning it starts the process of making steering difficult to control. It’s not an all-or-nothing problem. It occurs gradually over time.
Many drivers are misled to thinking you can control this shimmy by adjusting the nuts on the top of the steering gear. You can’t. Turning this will not eliminate shimmy, and may actually do more damage to the gears then leaving it alone. This can bind the gears together, essentially making the problem even worse.
It may also be from worn out steering valves. If power steering seems fine when you first turn your car on, and becomes increasingly more difficult as you drive, it may be the steering valves. A reputable repair shop can help make the diagnosis and fix the problem.
What If Your Power Steering Goes Out While You’re Driving?
What if you miss all the warning signs and the power steering goes out while you’re driving?
Don’t panic. The important thing is to slow the car down and remove yourself from traffic. Turn on your blinkers to signal moving over to the side of the road. You can turn on your hazards as well, further indicating to those around you that you have a problem.
Don’t stomp on the brakes. Depending on how fast the car is going, this could send you into a tailspin. And without the ability to steer, this could put you in a hazardous situation. Brake slowly and move over to the side.
Once you get the car stopped, turn the car off and on again. Test the wheel, can you move it easier? Sometimes the act of turning the car off can reset your system. This may give you the chance to move your car from traffic and get it in to our shop as quickly as you can. If you still notice problems, your best bet is to call for a tow truck.
Keep Your Power Steering In Good Health
Like all systems, your best bet is to keep your power steering system in the best shape possible to avoid potential problems when you least expect it. If you can’t remember the last time your power steering fluid was changed, maybe now is the time.
Use our coupon for a power steering flush. We’ll ensure everything is working the way it should, to keep you and your family safe every time you get into your car and head out into traffic.