A car’s power steering system is a mechanism that assists drivers in steering their vehicles. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of driving an old vehicle with manual steering, you know how much effort it takes to turn the wheel without any help. The same can happen when your power steering system fails, creating unsafe driving conditions.
That’s why it’s crucial to perform proper regular maintenance on your vehicle’s power steering. Maintenance includes monitoring for leaks and making sure your fluid is clean and topped off. We’re about to go over the basics of power steering and discuss maintenance and repair.
What Is Hydraulic Power Steering?
Hydraulic power steering is the oldest power steering technology still in use. It was developed over 50 years ago, and it remains the most popular power steering option. This type of system relies on a hydraulic pump that pressurizes fluid, which aids with turning your wheels.
The pump is driven by a belt connected to your motor, a straightforward design that doesn’t require a lot of extra hardware. It has the disadvantage of being inefficient. Because the pump is belt-driven, it’s constantly running, even when driving straight or sitting idle.
Your power steering fluid serves a few critical functions. Its primary function is to turn the steering wheel via hydraulic pressure. It also acts as a lubricant for the pump, steering pistons, valves, and hoses. Without enough fluid, your pistons can become damaged by friction, and your hoses can dry out.
Common Power Steering Issues
So, what can cause a power steering system to fail? The most common cause is a fluid leak, which can happen for several reasons. There’s often a failed gasket or a cracked hose, which starts as a slow leak but slowly worsens over time.
There should be no long-term damage if the leak is caught and addressed. However, if the level continues to remain low, it can cause additional damage to the rest of the system. In the worst cases, a dry pump could sustain serious severe damage. You’ll know your pump is failing if it whines when you turn and if turning is more challenging than it usually is. If this happens, it’s essential to take your car to a mechanic as soon as possible.
Even if nothing is “broken,” per se, the fluid itself will still need to be replaced periodically. The hydraulic fluid naturally loses its viscosity during extended use. Furthermore, friction naturally wears at the system’s metal components over time, releasing tiny shavings into the liquid. These can increase friction and induce additional wear and tear. If the fluid gets old enough, it essentially becomes useless.
Tips For Power Steering Maintenance
Check Your Fluid Level Regularly
The easiest way to find a leak is by regularly checking your fluid level. Open your hood, and find the power steering fluid reservoir. If you’re having trouble locating it, a diagram should be in your owner’s manual. Inside the reservoir’s lid, there should be a dipstick with a fill line. Some models will use a fill line on the side of the reservoir. However, the fill line is only accurate when the fluid is hot.
Start your engine and turn your wheels from side to side several times to heat the fluid up. Doing this will bring it up to temperature in just a few minutes. At that point, you can take an accurate reading. Check your power steering fluid about once a month, and leaks won’t be a significant concern; you’ll have plenty of opportunities to identify them early and perform a repair.
Change Your Power Steering Filter Annually
As your power steering circulates through the system, it passes through a filter. The power steering filter removes metal shavings and other particles from the fluid, keeping it clean and protecting the system. However, this filter needs to be changed annually. If it’s left unchanged, your fluid will accumulate more debris. Not only that, but a clogged filter forces your pump to work harder, which puts even more strain on the system.
Have Your Power Steering Flushed, if Necessary
If your steering fluid gets excessively dirty, it will need to be changed. The most effective way of doing this is to take your car to a mechanic and have the system flushed. The mechanic will first drain the fluid normally. Then, they’ll connect an air compressor to the system to force out any remaining fluid. This flush will ensure that 100% of your steering fluid is clean and fresh.
Have Your Pump Checked for Damage
If you’ve neglected your maintenance, it’s not too late. You can take your car to a mechanic and have your power steering system inspected. Everything is repairable, but your pump may have sustained damage. You’ll need to pay to have it replaced.
Electric and Hydro-Electric Steering
Many modern vehicles use electric power steering (EPS) instead. Electric power steering uses an electric motor to assist with steering. This system is more efficient because it only kicks in when you’re actually turning your wheel. It also requires less maintenance. Then again, it takes a lot of power, and EPS systems can feel weak if the car’s other electrical systems pull a lot of wattage.
Hydroelectric steering is a hybrid system that uses hydraulic fluid, but an electric pump provides pressure, not a belt-driven one. This is both efficient and reliable, but it requires similar maintenance to an ordinary hydraulic system.
Your car’s power steering system is essential for safe and reliable operation. By performing the proper maintenance, you ensure that it remains in good condition for the lifetime of the vehicle.