Ah, the magic of power steering. Shockingly, people used to drive cars without power steering systems. Before these systems became standard in the 1950s, turning and parking were more challenging, making driving more stressful. While you won’t find a car without power steering manufactured today, you may find yourself in a situation where your power steering fails.
So what exactly does power steering do? This system assists you in turning your car, returns your wheel to the center after you’ve completed a maneuver, and provides more stability at high speeds by absorbing some of the shocks from road bumps. Your power steering system is a high-tech innovation that fades into the background. You forget that it is there until something goes wrong. When the system fails, it isn’t just annoying; it can be downright dangerous.
The best way to try and avoid losing power steering is through proper maintenance of your power steering system. While you are probably familiar with the maintenance records of a car you have owned for a while, if you have a used car or are looking to buy one, it is essential to ensure this system works properly. Be sure to inspect the power steering system if you are unsure of the car’s history. It is one of the many reasons to buy used cars from reputable used car dealers who warranty your purchase and provide a thorough inspection before you drive it home.
What should you do if you start to experience power steering issues? Take it to a trusted mechanic immediately. While cars used to operate without power steering systems, driving a vehicle with a failed power steering system is a different and dangerous beast.
How do I know if my power steering system is failing?
Watch for these telltale signs.
- Stiff steering wheel. A steering wheel that is suddenly hard to turn, slow to respond, or stiff indicates that you may be losing power steering function.
- Noises when turning. If you hear a whining noise when you change lanes or turn, this can be a sign that you are low on power steering fluid or that your system is on the fritz.
- Squealing at startup. Your car may also make a loud squealing sound when you start it, lasting about a minute, a sign that your power steering pump needs attention.
- Fluid leaks. If you find a puddle of reddish fluid under your parked car, you have a leak and are losing power steering fluid. The fluid can become darker if it has gone bad. Make sure your mechanic gets a look at the leaking fluid so they can make an accurate diagnosis.
Why did my power steering fail?
- Low fluid. The issue may be as simple as low-power steering fluid. Your car owner’s manual will tell you how to check and top off this fluid. If it requires more fluid often, it is most likely a bigger problem.
- Fluid leak. Power steering fluid keeps your power steering system working smoothly, much like oil in your car’s engine. It is vital to the health of the whole system, so if you notice the fluid pooling under your car, the system will eventually start to struggle. A mechanic should promptly address a leak before it escalates.
- Cracked hose. The source of a fluid leak could very well be a cracked hose, which can compromise power steering. Over time, hoses are subject to wear and tear and prone to developing cracks. While this should be inspected during your car’s routine maintenance, if you notice fluid pools, it is worth the extra trip to the mechanic to replace your hoses.
- Loose or worn belt. If your car makes that screeching noise when it starts, it indicates that you have a loose or worn belt, which can affect power steering. A mechanic should replace the belt before it fails altogether.
If you see any of these signs or triggers, it is important to have your car seen before the problem gets worse. If you are at the point that the power steering system has failed, it is considered negligent driving and illegal to continue to drive your car in all 50 states. Without your power steering system, your response time slows, and it is extremely difficult to maneuver (especially at low speeds). This makes parking and turning very difficult. Continuing to drive will likely cause even more damage to your power steering pump.
Whether you’re driving a new, used, or rebuilt title car, keep a close eye on the power steering system. Now that you know what to watch for and what may have caused the problem, you can get your car to a trusted mechanic at the first sign of trouble.