5 Symptoms of Power Steering Failure

A close-up image of the power steering fluid compartment.

The purpose of power steering is to allow the driver to steer the car with little effort on his or her part. Before there was power steering, a driver would have to use a lot of force to turn the steering wheel. When a driver inputs a movement on the steering wheel, the hydraulic pump, which is driven by the engine, provides the wheels torque. This allows the driver to provide minimum effort. When the power steering fails, it may come as a surprise which can cause an accident to happen. There are some tell-tale signs you can look out for to determine if your power steering is failing.

1. The Look of the Power Steering Fluid

When the power steering fluid is old it can cause the tubes that move the fluid to gum up which can lead to power steering failure. The appearance of your power steering fluid will also tell you a lot about the power steering pump. New fluid is clear and the odor is mild. Power steering fluid that has turned to dark gray can indicate oxidation. If foaming or bubbles are present in the fluid, this indicates water or air in the power steering line. Also look for flakes of chrome in the power steering fluid. This will indicate degradation in the power steering pump.

2. Fluid Levels

You should check the power steering fluid levels often. If the level of fluid is often low this can indicate a leak that needs repair somewhere in the system. You usually can spot a leak in the power steering line after your car has been parked for some time. Once you move it, look for oily splashes or see if you can catch the distinctive smell. A low power steering fluid level can also cause the pump to become noisy.

3. Squealing

Squealing in any car is not usually a good sign and can be many different things. If you hear squealing when you sharply turn the steering wheel or when driving slowly, it means the power steering belt is loose or pump is failing. If you start the car and hear a clunking or chattering under the hood, it can also be an indicator that the power steering pump is failing.

4. Vibrating Steering Wheel

A drive belt needs the right tension or it can cause the power steering pump to fail. The belt can slip off the drive train or break, and this means the pulley is not properly working. Heat can also be transferred from the drive belt to the shaft and pulley system of the power steering pump. This will present itself in your car by steering that jumps or is choppy. When your car is idling and the steering wheel is vibrating violently this can be a sign that the drive belt is failing as well. Check the drive belt often for proper tension and cracks once a month.

5. Hard Steering

Look for increased effort in steering which may be accompanied by pump noise. Low oil can cause this to occur as well as a loose pump belt or bad power steering pump.