Power Steering 101 and Troubleshooting

Power Steering 101

What is Power Steering Anyway?

Power steering is a complex mechanical system with a pretty simple job. The power steering system makes it easier for you to steer your car. For this reason it is sometimes known as the steering assist system or SAS. Without it, steering would take its toll on your arms and your daily commute would be physically strenuous instead of just mentally stressful.

 

What are Some Common Problems with the Power Steering System?

Leaks are the biggest potential problem facing the power steering system. The pump, hoses, or reservoir can develop cracks and leaks over time. Loss of fluid will mean a loss of pressure. That means the power steering will give less assistance. You will find steering difficult, especially at lower speeds. Low fluid can also cause the pump to wear out mechanically more quickly, which will also reduce the power steering performance.

 

The pulley that runs the power steering pump can also become worn or warped. If that happens, the pulley will struggle to bring the pump up to speed, which will make the pump run inefficiently. As you may have already guessed, this will make steering difficult.

 

Problems with power steering cooling devices can lead to damage to other power steering parts. Also, as mentioned above, problems with the power steering pressure sensor could cause the engine to stall while turning at low speed. The check engine light may also come on if the power steering pressure sensor stops working.

 

Power Steering 101

 

 

How do I know if my power steering pump needs to be replaced?

If the power steering pump fails, you may find yourself transported back to a time before power steering (only worse since vehicles with power steering have tighter steering ratios than manual steering vehicles), at least as far as your handling is concerned. You will find the vehicle hard to steer, especially at lower speeds. Rolling tires offer less resistance than slow-moving or stationary ones.

 

The power steering pump can leak fluid making it much less effective. If you have a power steering fluid leak, you may notice a red, oily discharge where you park. Parking over a piece of cardboard or butcher paper may make the leak easier to identify. A power steering fluid leak could also come from the hoses or the rack and pinion or steering box, so be sure to check them first.

 

If the pump is trying to run on low fluid, it might make a high pitched squealing noise. Running the pump too long or too often with low fluid can wear out the internal parts and should be avoided.

 

Rack and Pinion Power Steering

 

How do I know if my power steering pump reservoir needs to be replaced?

Over time, the power steering pump reservoir can develop cracks and leaks, leading to lost fluid. If you have a power steering fluid leak, you may notice a red, oily discharge where you park. Parking over a piece of cardboard or butcher paper may make the leak easier to identify. You may also find that the power steering fluid level is frequently low. Be sure to check the fluid level with the vehicle parked on a flat surface.

 

The appearance of the fluid itself can indicate leaks in the power steering system. If the fluid has turned from a reddish color to grey, then the fluid is oxidizing. If there are bubbles in the fluid, then air has gotten into the system. Either of these things could be signs of cracks, which could also lead to leaks. A power steering fluid leak could also come from the hoses, so be sure to check them first.

 

Low power steering fluid can making steering difficult, transporting you back to a time before power steering (only worse since vehicles with power steering have tighter steering ratios than manual steering vehicles), at least as far as your handling is concerned. You may find the vehicle hard to steer, especially at lower speeds. Rolling tires offer less resistance than slow-moving or stationary ones.

 

How do I know if my ­­­­ power steering hoses need to be replaced?

Power steering hoses face both the high pressure and temperature of the fluid inside them – sometimes over 1500 pounds per square inch and 300 degrees Fahrenheit – as well as the heat from the engine.  All that pressure and heat can really wear a hose down.  The hose may become soft or brittle, and it may develop holes that cause leaks.  Similar problems will develop regardless of which hose has the leak.  You can determine which of your hoses need to be replaced by visually inspecting them for leaks or wear.

 

If your power steering hoses are leaking, it will make your power steering less effective.  You may find it harder to steer at low speed, and you might hear a groaning noise as you turn the wheel.  The lack of fluid will also put strain on the pump, which you may notice as a whining sound.  Too much of this kind of overwork can wear out the pump, and leave you with a big repair on your hands.

 

You may also find that, if you check your steering fluid reservoir, the fluid level is low.  Fluid leaks put you at risk by making it harder to steer.  They are also a fire hazard, because the steering fluid is oil which can ignite if exposed to the hot engine.

 

 

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