Ever wonder why your car’s steering wheel is so easy to turn? Well its because of a power steering system. This system multiplies the force you apply to the steering wheel, enabling your wheels and your vehicle to turn.
Power Steering Components
The power steering system is a mechanical/hydraulic system that is directly connected to the steering wheel. The hydraulic system is composed of the following :
1. Power steering fluid. Power steering fluid is the fluid that puts pressure on the piston that ends up turning the wheels in the direction of the steering wheel.
2. A pump, The pump is driven by a belt which is connected to the crankshaft. The pump is usually either a gerotor or rotary vane pump. The pump fluid pressure and moves the power steering fluid through the system.
3. The rack and pinion. The rack and pinion is a system of components that connects the steering wheel to the actual wheels. The pinion is a gear which rotates as you turn the steering wheel. As the pinion rotates it pushes the rack in the appropriate direction.
4. Steering Arm connects to the wheel hub assembly. This functions to guide the steering components when turning the wheels.
5. The Fluid Reservoir is located near the pump and it is easily visible when popping the hood. Most reservoirs will have a max or min level of power steering fluid.
6. The tie rods connect the steering rack to the steering knuckles, and they assist with turning the wheels when you turn the steering wheel.
7. The steering knuckles turn and pivot the two front wheels when the steering wheel is rotated.
Power Steering Problems
Power steering failures can be more than just an inconvenience, it can also be a dangerous safety issue. A faulty system could go out at any moment making your car difficult to handle. That’s why it’s important to recognize the signs of a power steering system issue before it fails.
Power Steering Fluid Leak
A power steering fluid leak can show itself in several different ways. The first and most obvious is seeing fluid under the front of the engine bay. Power steering fluid is usually red, however it can be brown if the fluid gets contaminated. If you notice brown fluid that isn’t oil, open the power steering fluid reservoir and check the color of the fluid.
The next sign of a fluid leak is the fluid sitting below the min fill line on the reservoir. To check your fluid level, open your hood and look near the top right of the engine bay for the fluid reservoir. Most will have marks on the exterior for min or max fill. If your vehicle doesn’t have this, then there should be a dipstick on the cap of the reservoir.
Stiff Steering Wheel
Are your arms getting workout turning that steering wheel? Chances are your power steering system is to blame. This system assists with turning the wheels of your car, and if the system malfunctions or doesn’t work properly you’ll notice your steering wheel stiffen up. Steering will be especially difficult at slow speeds, while at high speeds it won’t be as noticeable.
If you have this issue, the first thing to check is the fluid level. If there’s no fluid in the system, there’s nothing the pump and piston can do to create pressure on the steering components. A faulty power steering pump can also cause this issue.
Groaning Noises from the Engine Bay
Hearing groaning or whining noises from your engine is never a good thing. Many times these sounds can be traced back to your power steering system. Low power steering fluid or a failing pump will cause groaning noises from the front of your vehicle. As a side note, groaning noises can also be caused by a failing water pump. To learn more about your coolant system check out are article on water pumps here.
Low fluid levels must be addressed immediately because the fluid also functions as a lubricant. A lack of proper lubrication, and your power steering components will wear out significantly faster. This can cause permanent damage leading to costly repairs, or worse, it can cause a total loss of handling. If you find that your fluid is too low, check your owners manual to make sure you are adding the correct fluid. Not all fluids are compatible with one other, and you should never exceed the max fill line on the fluid reservoir.
If you do notice that your fluid levels were low, then you have a leak. Leaks can occur because loose hoses, worn out seals,
Another possible cause for whining noises is trapped air in the steering fluid. Trapped air bubbles can cause whirring and whining noises as the pump is trying to force fluid through the system. Air bubbles can also cause vibrations. Trapped air can be resolved by either flushing your system and refilling it with the correct fluid, or by opening the bleed valve on the steering box and turning the steering wheel left and right.
Faulty Power Steering Pump
If you’re having trouble turning the steering wheel, and your fluid level is within the min and max fill lines, then the likely cause is the pump. The pump creates the pressure “muscle” required to turn the wheels. However, just like any other car component it can wear out and lose efficiency or even break down. Pump wear can be caused by contaminated fluid, improper amount of fluid in the system, or simply just the strain of everyday driving.
If you notice a lot of noise while turning the steering wheel especially to full lock position, its likely that the pump is struggling and could be close to failing.
Another sign of a faulty power steering pump is that your vehicle is slow to respond to steering inputs. If you are experiencing this along with noise while turning, its very likely that the pump is at fault. Be sure to have your vehicle inspected as soon as possible.
The power steering system is a very important system for your vehicles handling and safety. If your vehicle is experiencing any of these symptoms be sure to inspect it right away. It is very important not to ignore these noises as failure to address them can lead to a total failure of your steering system costing lots of money in repairs or worse endangering yourself or others on the road.