Chevy Cobalt Steering Problemsby Timothy Allen
The Chevy Cobalt uses an electronically-assisted power steering system instead of the typical system for most cars, which require power steering fluid. This relatively new system has created publicity problems for Chevrolet, however, as the electric motor tends to go bad and is expensive to replace. Some customers have managed to solve this problem on their own through a simple cleaning procedure.
The Power Steering Failure
The component used by Chevrolet to provide power steering for your Cobalt uses a strong magnetic field, created by a lot of copper wire that is all self-contained in a unit inside the passenger area of the car. This unit has a tendency to go out in many cars, causing the driver to lose the power steering feature of the vehicle---the car can still be driven, but it is akin to driving a car from the 1950s and 1960s before power steering was introduced. It takes a good deal more muscle to turn, especially if you are driving slowly. Thus far, GM has refused to issue a recall of this component despite the numerous complaints. The replacement of this piece can run between $700 to $1,000 depending on where you get your work done.
Know What Component You Are Looking For
It may be possible to simply clean the power steering component, however, and restore your ability to steer with ease. Owners have reported that the component can get "dirty" inside, and, once cleaned, the power steering returns. This technique is not successful for everyone, however---often the unit is simply bad and needs to be replaced. You will need a socket wrench or pliers or a crescent wrench (or a combination of all three) and a can of electrical component cleaner. The procedure is simple, but needs to be handled with care to avoid damaging your vehicle.
Without Power Steering
Living without power steering is not at all easy, but it is possible, and many drivers do so rather than come up with the hundreds of dollars required to replace the electrically assisted steering unit. You can get around town just fine without it, and over time may almost forget that you have the problem, except for the annoying reminder that will pop up on your digital display in the dashboard every time you start your car. The problem is progressive, starting occasionally at first and then increasing in frequency over time to the point where the power steering will simply go out the moment you turn on your car.
As with any electrical component, as mentioned, having the power steering unit for the Cobalt fixed is not inexpensive. The only bright spot in the process, which may be seen as absurd by many, is the apparent frequency of the problem has caused GM and Chevy dealers to stock up on the units; you generally will not have to wait more than an hour or two to get the job done. (Most of the price is in the unit itself, not the labor fee).
An Unfortunate Trend?
While the concept of electrically-assisted power steering is not new---it has been used in Europe since 2000---the Cobalt is among the first of Chevrolet's cars to have the systems put in as more American manufacturers move toward these gas-saving devices. Since these units are significantly smaller and waste much less energy than traditional power steering units, for better or worse, you can expect to see them in your new cars with growing frequency.