Have you ever turned the steering wheel in your car while the engine is not running? If yes, the first thing you may noticed was how hard that might be. This happens as the tires on your car create a significant amount of friction when in touch with the surface below them. Besides keeping your car from sliding off the road, this also results in a steering wheel that is hard to turn. To overcome this, most modern cars have a power steering system, which makes driving easier.
What is a power steering?
The power steering is a system that assists the driver by reducing the effort needed for turning the wheel. Most cars on the road today use one of two different power steering setups. A hydraulic system that uses a fluid under pressure has been around for several decades. Systems like these have a hydraulic pump, hoses that connect it to the steering rack, and a series of check valves. When turning the wheel, the pressurized fluid pushes the cylinder inside the steering rack and makes this action easier.
Some newer cars use an electro-mechanical power steering system, which is more compact and efficient than its hydraulic counterpart. Instead of pumps and valves, this setup has a powerful electric motor integrated into the steering rack itself.
Symptoms of a faulty power steering?
One of the most common symptoms you may encounter in cars with a hydraulic power steering system are various whining noises. In more severe cases, there might even be a noticeable vibration. If these are only present while turning the wheel, the steering fluid might be low or leaking. The foaming that happens because of air mixing with the transmission fluid causes the whining noise.
While whining noises are annoying, they rarely have any significant impact on the power steering performance. However, a steering wheel that is harder to turn on some occasions is a different story. These symptoms may indicate that some key components, such as the steering pump or the electric motor, are failing. Another possibility is a jammed or seized tie rods or other suspension components.
How can I service the power steering system?
With power steering being almost a self-contained system, most of its components need no services or adjustments. One thing you can do is check the steering fluid level and top it off if needed. Another important procedure is steering fluid flush, which involves replacing the fluid at intervals specified by the manufacturer. As there are two different types of power steering fluid, make sure to use a correct one. Most vehicles use a standard automatic transmission fluid, or ATF, which is red. But there are some European manufacturers that use a Pentosin instead, which is bright green. Check the owner’s manual to find out about correct fluid specification and service intervals. Some vehicles have a filter integrated into the steering fluid bottle, so you will have to replace that.
How important is this service?
Deteriorated power steering fluid can cause wear and damage to expensive components, such as the hydraulic pump or steering rack. Performing regular fluid flushes and ensuring that its level is correct will prevent this. Although this job is not that complicated, you may consider hiring a professional. At FixMyCar, we have certified and seasoned technicians that can come to your home and solve any power steering issues. This will ensure that all important components are checked and your car is ready to hit the road.