The power steering system in your vehicle enables you to steer your vehicle in the direction you would like it to proceed. Power steering is really “power assisted” steering. “Power assisted” steering will allow you to steer your vehicle manually when the engine is not running or if you have a failure in the power steering system which disables it.
Power Steering Knowledge
Power steering utilizes a hydraulic pump running off a belt driven by the engine, this pump enables a small amount of fluid to be under pressure. This pressure in turn assists the steering mechanism in directing the tires as you turn the steering wheel. The power steering system typically includes a pump, power steering fluid, a pressure hose assembly, a control valve and a return line.
There are two basic types of power steering systems used on vehicles. The rack and pinion steering system and the conventional/integral steering gear system, which is also known as a recirculating ball steering system. The rack and pinion steering system is the most commonly used power steering system on todays’ vehicles. The steering shaft turns a gear that moves the rack side to side, utilizing a power unit built directly onto the rack assembly. The steering gear system is generally used most often on trucks, it has a series of steel balls that act as rolling threads between the steering shaft and the rack piston. The steering wheel shaft connects to a gear assembly and a series of links and/or arms that turn the wheels to the left or right.
The best way to maintain the power steering system of your vehicle is to regularly check the power steering fluid level and condition. A low fluid runs level can cause damage to some of the components of the steering system. Boggs Automotive recommends to have leaks repaired if they arise, and to have the fluid flushed about every 50,000 miles to keep it clean from contaminants. This fluid is key to keeping the power steering pump, steering gear or rack and pinion assembly lubricated and is the hydraulic element of the power steering system.
Power steering failure usually happens gradually and gives warning signs before failing completely, but it is possible for power steering systems to fail suddenly, even if they are properly maintained.
Stop into Boggs Automotive for a free inspection if your vehicle starts to exhibit some of the following symptoms:
- Hard Steering
- Heavy or unresponsive steering at low speeds or during parking lot maneuvers
- A steering wheel that will not return to the “center” properly
- Listen for noises when you turn the steering wheel. If you hear a whining, moaning or shrieking sound, your power steering system pump could be seriously low on fluid.
- Notice how freely the steering wheel turns. Normally, you should be able to turn the steering wheel with little effort whenever you want to steer the car into a curve or around a corner. If you find it a major effort to turn the steering wheel to turn the car, your power steering system is going out.
- Check for power steering fluid leaks. If you notice a stain on the ground under your car when it sits for a long period, fluid may be leaking from your car. If the stain appears amber, pink or red, it may be power steering fluid.
NOTE: If you have trouble figuring out what color the stain is, place a sheet of white butcher paper under your car when you leave it parked for several hours. The color will be easier to see against a white background.
If the power steering goes out in your vehicle while triving:
- Warn other drivers. If your power steering fails while you are moving at high speed, your first instinct will be to panic. Instead, turn on your flashers and honk your horn to let other drivers know you are having sudden car problems. This will cause them to get out of your way.
- Move toward the side of the road. Do this as carefully as you can; without power, it will be much harder to steer your car.
- Bring the car to a gradual stop, slowing the car gradually. Slamming the brakes may throw the car into a skid that would be difficult to steer out of with power steering and almost impossible to steer out of without it.
NOTE: If your car’s power steering goes out because of the engine stalling, your brakes will feel stiffer if you have power brakes, forcing you to hit the pedal harder and depress it lower than normal. You may also have to downshift to a lower gear or use the friction of a guardrail, gravel shoulder or cement divider to slow the car enough for the brakes to do the rest.
- Restart the engine if it stalled. Turn the steering wheel in either direction to see how well it turns. If it turns as freely as usual, pull back onto the roadway and continue driving as normal. If it doesn’t, either drive slowly to the nearest mechanic or call for a tow truck.