How Do You Know If Your Power Steering System Is Failing?

Posted on: 6 January 2023

Most people driving today have no idea how beneficial power steering can be for making cars easy, accessible, and fun to drive. While power steering was once a luxury, it has been many decades since manufacturers haven't included this feature in all models. Even making simple turns can be challenging and strenuous without power steering.

Modern vehicles typically use either hydraulically-assisted power steering or electronic systems. This article will focus on hydraulic systems and how you can tell if yours may be showing early signs of failure. Recognizing and repairing a faulty power steering system can help you avoid the difficulties of driving a two-ton vehicle without a helping hand.

What's Involved In Your Power Steering System?

A modern hydraulic power steering system is a surprisingly complex system with numerous components that must work together in harmony. A typical design aims to translate the rotational motion from your steering wheel into a linear motion that can push your wheels left and right. This action would require a herculean force for even small adjustments through purely mechanical means.

Instead, your car uses a hydraulic pump to help provide a "boost" for your steering inputs. As you turn the wheel, the hydraulic pressure in the system amplifies your motions. As a result, relatively gentle motions on the steering wheel translate into large amounts of force that can push your car's wheels left and right.

What Goes Wrong With Power Steering Systems?

There are many potential failure points for power steering systems, but major mechanical failures of the steering rack or steering column are relatively rare in most cars. Instead, it's typical for problems to develop with the hydraulic-assist portions of the system. Common failures include faulty steering pumps, broken fluid reservoirs, and leaky power steering lines.

These problems can result in numerous potential symptoms. For example, a faulty power steering pump often produces a loud buzzing or straining noise as you turn the wheel. Power steering leaks may be relatively hard to notice initially, but a substantial fluid loss will drastically increase the steering force necessary for basic driving maneuvers.

What Should You Do If You Notice Problems?

Power steering failures will tend to worsen over time, so it's a good idea to address them quickly. Check your power steering reservoir if you notice a change in the way your steering feels. If necessary, add more fluid to bring it up to the appropriate level. Adding more fluid won't solve the problem, but running your power steering pump dry will potentially cause more expensive damage.

You can continue to take short trips in your car if you know you're losing power steering fluid, but you'll want to have a mechanic check on the problem as soon as possible. Avoid driving if you suspect your pump is struggling or you're losing so much fluid that there's a risk of running the pump dry in between top-ups.

Contact an auto repair technician for more information.