Your car’s steering and suspension system plays a crucial role in keeping you safe as you drive. It cushions you from uneven street surfaces and bumps. Additionally, it keeps the underside components from coming into contact with the road. Most importantly, it enables you to direct your vehicle where you need to go.
Most modern cars use a rack and pinion steering system. In this system, the wheel rotates a pinion gear that connects to the steering rack to guide the wheels to the left or right. There’s also a cylinder that contains hydraulic fluid to help exert pressure on one side of the rack to the other.
If any of these parts wear out, the ability to steer your vehicle is compromised. The good news is unlike most other car problems, your steering system will usually send out a few warning signs before it completely fails. This helps you save money, time and also avoid potential accidents.
Read on to know what signs to look for when it comes to steering problems.
Difficulty turning the wheel
The rack and pinion steering system depends on hydraulic pressure to turn easily. When the steering wheel feels tighter than usual, the problem is likely due to the rack building up more heat or losing hydraulic pressure. Either way, this may make driving difficult and can cause a crash if it happens abruptly.
In most cases, this problem occurs when you’re low on steering fluid. Find out if this is caused by a leak or check whether the fluid escaped through the hose. Difficulty turning the wheels may also be an issue with alignment.
Steering wheel vibration
If your steering wheel starts to vibrate while driving, it could indicate serious damage to the tires or suspension. This vibration is often caused by a belt being misaligned with the drive train. Alternatively, it could mean a buildup of contaminants in the system that causes the wheel to ‘pulsate’.
Performing a power steering flush is usually enough to solve this problem. But if the wheel vibrates while the car is idling, it could be a sign that your drive belt is worn out and might need urgent replacement.
Noises, squeals and whines
Another common warning sign of steering problems is an audible steering column. Any sounds coming from the steering wheel could mean a faulty steering belt, internal gears or low levels of steering fluid. If it’s an issue to do with a belt, immediate replacement is needed.
Noticed a whine or slow response when making a turn? Chances are the pump is about to fail. When this happens, the fluid may not be distributed in the system properly, thereby leading to a failed power steering.
Finally, if your car clunks when turning the wheel, it could point to worn-out CV joints and needs immediate attention.
Loose steering wheel
The tilt function is designed to help you set your steering wheel at a location that feels efficient and comfortable. Put otherwise, this is the function that enables you to lock the steering wheel at the best height and angle for you.
If your wheel feels loose and makes turns as you drive, it could indicate a critical issue with the steering column or gear. A well-functioning wheel should automatically return to the middle when you finish any turn. If this isn’t the case, contact a professional mechanic as soon as possible.
Leaking steering fluid
A leaking power steering fluid usually means that there’s a broken gasket, loose-fitting or other mechanical issues that need urgent attention. Failure to address this issue could result in the steering rack developing excess heat and may potentially break other components including gears.
Leaking fluid is typically red or pink and may be seen dripping at the back of your car. Another sign that there could be a leak is when the car makes a grinding noise when you turn it. This signals that the level of power steering fluid is below what is required.
Discoloration of steering fluid
If the power steering fluid is discolored or appears foamy, we highly recommend you check if the power steering pump is leaking. In some cases, this issue arises when air or water enters the system thereby interfering with the normal functioning of the steering fluid.
Regularly take a look at the fluid to ensure it looks red and has a reasonably noticeable burning smell. If you notice a dark color and no smell, consider replacing it as soon as possible.
Stay safe while on the road!
If you notice any of the above warning signs while driving, slow down gradually or pull over to check the damage. If you’re in traffic, put your emergency lights on and honk up periodically to keep other drivers on alert.
Sometimes, turning your vehicle on and off can temporarily resolve most of these steering problems. But if this doesn’t help, the solution is to call for roadside assistance or tow your car to the nearest mechanic.
Does your steering wheel feel abnormal while on the road? Feel free to contact us and one of our specialists here at Motor on Wheels will be happy to help. And no, you do not have to be selling or buying a used car from us to get help. Reach out to us now for assistance on any car problems!