Your power steering system is responsible for making your steering wheel easy to turn and responsive. If it goes out, you’ll be in for a real workout—making turns might require you to use quite a bit of physical exertion. This, as you might suspect, can be dangerous, especially for someone who has never driven a vehicle without power steering before.
The good news is that before failing, your power steering system will likely display a few warning signs. If you recognize them, you’ll have a much better chance of resolving the problem before it gets worse, saving money on repairs and, more importantly, avoiding a potentially dangerous situation.
Let’s take a look at how to recognize four common signs that your power steering system might be having a problem:
#1 – Difficult Turning
Note that a power steering problem might begin with slightly or somewhat more difficult turning; what we described above isn’t necessarily an all-or-nothing situation. The problem might simply be low power steering fluid, however, this is usually indicative of a more serious problem like a leak. Simply refilling the fluid might not resolve the problem. Leaks are usually found in the power steering rack. If there’s a leak, it must be repaired by a professional as quickly as possible, otherwise you’ll be at risk for more expensive repairs.
#2 – Squeals, Whines, or High Pitched Noises While Turning
Once again, these sounds can be caused by a loss of power steering fluid, however, the issue may also be caused by a faulty power steering belt. If it breaks entirely, you’ll be left without power steering. If the belt is damaged, it should be replaced as soon as possible.
Sometimes a whine can be heard when turning the steering wheel quickly or while driving at slower speeds. This can often signal that the power steering pump is starting to fail. If the pump goes out, fluid won’t be properly distributed in the system and your power steering will go out. Occasionally you can also know that there’s a problem with your power steering pump if the car “clunks” when you start it.
#3 – The Steering Wheel Vibrates
Unlike some of the other warning signs that we’ve examined, steering wheel vibration usually doesn’t have to do with low power steering fluid. Instead, this is likely caused by the power steering belt being misaligned. If the belt isn’t properly aligned with the drive train, or even broken, it can cause steering that feels choppy.
If the steering wheel vibrates even while the car is idling, this can be a sign of your drive belt failing as well. Replace or re-tension the belts to resolve this issue.
#4 – The Appearance of the Power Steering Fluid
It’s perfectly normal to not need to replace power steering fluid for very long periods of time, however, it of course doesn’t last forever. Take a look at your power steering fluid from time to time. It should be red and have a fairly noticeable smell; fluid that looks darker and has no smell likely needs to be replaced.
If you ever notice foam or bubbles accumulated in the fluid (whether it’s new or not), it’s usually an indication of air or water in the line. This could be from a minor leak or even be the result of problems with the power steering pump.
What Should I Do if the Power Steering Goes Out While Driving?
A power steering failure while driving can be quite a jarring experience. It can even feel like your steering wheel has become unresponsive—it hasn’t, it’s just going to require a lot more elbow grease to turn.
Like any other potentially dangerous on-road problem, begin to slow down. Never slam your brakes, instead slow down gradually and, if possible, pull over to the side of the road. Put your emergency lights on and, if you’re in traffic (particularly of the high speed variety) honk your horn periodically to alert other drivers.
Once parked, turn your vehicle off and then on again. This can sometimes temporarily resolve the issue depending on the cause. If your steering still feels difficult, you’ll have to either drive without power steering to the nearest mechanic or call for roadside assistance. Don’t “wing it.” If you’re not confident, don’t drive the vehicle!
While you’re thinking about it, now might be a great time to read our post Take This Quick 5 Question Quiz to See If You Know What to do if Your Car Breaks Down on the Road.
Yes, The Products You Use Do Have an Impact on Power Steering
…And, naturally, we recommend you use BG’s high quality power steering products and services. Not all power steering fluids and services are made the same.
If you’d like to get an inspection or need a repair, make sure to look for your local BG certified shop.