Long before the invention of power steering, a driver had to apply a lot of force to a steering wheel to make the front wheels turn left or right. Most steering wheels themselves were also large to make it easier for drivers to spin them, especially when driving at low speeds. Fortunately, today, every modern vehicle comes equipped with either a hydraulic or electric power steering system, which makes it nearly effortless to turn the steering wheel at any speed.
A hydraulic power steering system is the most common type of steering assist system found in today’s vehicles. It relies on a high-performance pump that pressurizes hydraulic fluid to help the driver move the steering gear. The pressurized fluid is supplied to the steering gear where it pushes the steering mechanism left or right depending on the position of the steering wheel.
The evolution of power steering has led to the invention of an electric power steering system, which can be found on most newer vehicles and all electrical cars on the road. Instead of pressurized hydraulic fluid, it relies on the power produced by an electrical motor to assist the driver in turning the steering wheel. Electric power steering systems have a number of advantages over using their hydraulic-powered counterparts. They are not prone to fluid leaks and do not affect the performance of a vehicle.
Problems with a power steering system can lead to drivability issues, which is why it is very important to know warning signs of a failing power steering system. Here are the most common of them:
- Power steering fluid leaks under the vehicle or inside the engine bay
- Low level of the power steering fluid
- Squealing sound or other abnormal noises when turning the steering wheel
- Difficulties or hard sports when spinning the steering wheel
- Grinding noise coming from the steering pump pulley
- Abnormal noise from the power steering pump
- Stagnant power steering fluid while the engine is running
Power steering system troubleshooting
- Electric power steering systems may require replacing the entire steering gear along with the electric motor.
- If no fluid leak is detected, but the fluid level is low, you should inspect the rack and pinion dust boots for damage and leaks. If they are the source of the problem, the entire rack and pinion gear should be replaced.
- Leaking steering lines can be resealed with o-rings, fittings or copper washers. If this doesn’t help they must be replaced.
- Your vehicle’s battery must be disconnected before working on the electric power steering system to prevent short circuits and related problems.
- While most electric power steering systems are maintenance-free, their hydraulic-powered counterparts should be inspected on a regular basis.
- You must top up or refill the hydraulic power steering system with the manufacturer’s recommended type of fluid. It can be found in your owner’s manual.
Power steering pump
A power steering pump is a major component of a hydraulic power steering system. It serves to pressurize hydraulic fluid, which then pushes the steering gear or the rack and pinion, helping the driver turn the vehicle in the desired direction.