Imagine cruising down the highway on your way to work. You put on your turn signal, hoping to merge onto the exit, and turn left or right to reach your final destination. The only trouble is your steering wheel isn’t cooperating. You tug at it, push it, try to control it with all your might. Why is your steering wheel hard to turn?
When your steering system fails, it impacts the performance and safety of your vehicle. If you can’t move spur of the moment, adjust no matter what happens on the road in front of you, you’re putting your life, the lives of the other occupants in your car, and all those around you at risk.
At the first sign of trouble, act quickly.
Getting to the root cause of your steering wheel problems
The steering wheel problem mentioned above isn’t uncommon. If you drive, at some point you’ll find yourself in a situation where you have trouble controlling the steering of your vehicle. If it suddenly becomes stiff and hard to turn, your steering column didn’t suddenly break. Instead, it’s quite possibly an easy fix you can troubleshoot and repair quickly.
Most newer cars today use what’s called rack and pinion steering. It contains two main parts: the pump, and the rack and pinion unit.
The pump provides power steering fluid to the rack and pinion unit. As a driver moves the steering wheel, the power steering control valve allows fluid to flow into the piston, giving the driver the ability to turn the wheel. As the wheel turns, the pinion moves against the rack, pushing it in the direction the driver wishes to go.
Before power steering, this gear shifting and movement took more power from the driver. It was a more strenuous ride, as more of the power relied on the driver controlling the turns. With power steering, the process has improved, making it easy for a driver to control steering in all kinds of conditions. If you have to make a split-second decision, it’s nice to know that your vehicle gives you the option to react quickly.
When your steering wheel is hard to turn, there are a number of things that could be wrong.
Your power steering fluid is low
Your car is filled with different types of fluids to keep it operating the way it should. Power steering fluid provides fluidity to the rack and pinion gears. Without it, it will be difficult to move. If your car is low on power steering fluid, refilling it can be a temporary fix. If it’s low, you’ll have to get to the root cause of why it’s disappearing out of the power steering system. There’s a good chance one of the hoses or connectors is loose, cracked, or broken, allowing the fluid to disappear out of the system.
It might not be your steering wheel at all
Cars are finely tuned machines that work well when all systems are operating correctly. When something goes wrong, all systems are thrown off balance. If you’re having trouble steering your car, take notice of when it occurs and what it does to your vehicle. It might not be your steering system at all. In some cases, if your tires aren’t filled to their proper levels, it can make the steering process more difficult. When was the last time you had your tire pressure checked? Make sure they are inflated according to your car’s make and model guidelines.
It could be hoses, belts, or connectors
Like every system in your car, the steering system is made up of many different parts. It has hoses and belts that connect pieces together, connectors that hold everything in place. If any one of these fails, your power steering system will act up, making your steering wheel difficult to turn.
Between the steering column and the rack and pinion shaft is a thick rubber piece that absorbs the shocks of the road. This rubber can wear out over time.
The steering wheel and the rack and pinion shaft sit at angles to each other. Couplers are used to keep these angles in perfect alignment. Of course, anything created to work at an angle has the potential to go out of alignment if the angle isn’t correct. If this coupler fails, it can throw the entire system out of whack.
The power steering system is controlled by two central hoses. Both are attached to the rack and pinion and the power steering pump through brass fittings, secured by hose clamps. This system is constantly under pressure by carrying power steering fluid to the appropriate parts, and by the movement of the vehicle against the road.
It might be a bad steering rack
The rack is connected to your power steering system through a series of shafts and u-joints. Even under normal driving conditions, the rack will wear down over time. If your steering wheel is stiff from the moment you turn on your vehicle, it’s most likely a problem with the steering rack. The wheel will gradually loosen as you drive and it heats up, giving the lubricant a chance to move in and start to work. You can keep driving with this condition for a while, but keep in mind the problem only escalates as the steering rack continues to deteriorate.
It can also be a power steering pump failure
Just like other pieces of equipment in your car, your power steering pump is designed to last for thousands of miles. It has a major role in creating the right amount of pressure in the power steering system. When the pump comes under pressure, is damaged, or simply wears out, it won’t do its job the way it should. When it reaches the point of failure, it won’t cause the system to stop working. But it does start to give signs it’s time for replacement. The steering point often makes noise to signal it’s time for replacement. Your steering wheel will become harder and harder to turn. If you notice these changes in your vehicle, it’s time to have it serviced and replaced.
What’s the easiest way to ensure your car is always running the way it should? It starts with a regular maintenance schedule. Check all fluids at regular intervals. Bring your car in for diagnosis whenever you think your car might have a problem. If your steering wheel is hard to turn, it’s signaling you it needs attention. Stay safe, and let’s solve the problem to get you back on the road again.