How to Troubleshoot the Steering System in Cars

by Contributing Writer; Updated June 12, 2017

The Dodge car has grown from its original midsize to a full-sized SUV, ultimately replacing the Ramcharger in Chrysler's North American markets. Steering stability is especially important with SUVs and you will want to be able to troubleshoot the steering system on your Dodge car to avoid problems and keep repair costs down.

Under The Hood:

 How to Troubleshoot the Steering System in a Dodge Durango

Maintain power steering fluid levels. Use Mopar Power Steering Fluid for 2001 models and earlier and Mopar ATF+4 in models made after 2002. Unlike other Chrysler models, Chrysler insists that any other brand will damage the pump and system. Fill with the engine off and, the fluid settle for two minutes and check the level again.

Inspect the linkage regularly for signs of wear or loosening and keep the components well lubricated. Make sure the hose connections are secure to keep air out of the steering fluid and secure from leaks. Check the power steering belt for wear.

Stay on top of tire condition and wheel balance and alignment. Keep tire pressure even and rotate tires on a regular schedule. A number of common steering problems develop from wheel condition and not the steering components and tire and wheel maintenance can head off more expensive repairs.

Counteract excessive steering wheel play by looking for too much clearance in the steering wheel box or signs of wear in the ball sockets and idler arm. Test the rack and pinion boots and look for excessive movement in the tie rod ends.

Correct hard steering by making sure the linkage and gearbox connections aren't too tight (causing excessive friction). Sagging springs or poor frame alignment can also make the wheel difficult to steer.

Track down rattles in the linkage system by looking for loose connections. You can resolve squeaks with proper lubrication of the joints or bearings. If lubrication doesn't fix the problem they may need to be replaced. Loose power steering belts can also cause squeals.

 How to Troubleshoot the Steering System in a Cadillac Escalade

Inspect your steering linkage for routine wear and damage, especially as you add miles to the car. Check the power steering lines for leakage, loose connections or cracks. Make sure to keep Cadillac's two in-shop maintenance schedules so that a professional can look for signs of trouble you may have missed. For model years 2004 and earlier there is no recommended maintenance schedule for steering, but routine inspection and maintenance every year would be a good idea.

Maintain power steering fluid levels and keep the fluid clean. You should check when you check your Escalade's coolant system and replace it completely every 150,000 miles. Use any high quality power steering fluid and make sure the fluid is at the minimum system fluid level.

Keep your tires balanced, rotated and make sure the pressure is even. Keep the front end aligned. Tires and alignment can cause the most basic steering problems.

Check the Magnasteer variable assist if your car looses steering sensitivity, especially at low speeds. Use an ohmmeter to check coil resistance (it should be 2 ohms) and check for shorts between both sides of the coil assembly and rack housing. If you get an infinite reading you need to replace the rack assembly.

Correct steady steering pull by looking for bent struts or strut towers, collapsed control arm bushings or weak springs. If the front wheels are aligned but the car steers to one side check the rear axle or chassis for misalignment. If the pull gets worse when you apply the brakes the problem is probably with the brakes, control arm bushings or steering arm bushings. As a last resort, raise the front wheels with the engine running to see if the pull stops (if it does, the problem is most likely with the power steering control valve or steering gear).

Fix memory steer problems (where the steering wheel and front wheels want to return to a position other than the center) check the tie rod ends, strut mounts, steering gear and linkage. If the steering wheel is off center but doesn't pull in one direction you may need to recenter the steering wheel and equalize tie rod lengths or check the steering arm and linkage for bends.

Repair road drifting by checking the tie rod ends and sockets, steering column couplings and rack mounts. You can also look for play in the steering rack and gear and for loose wheel bearings.

 How to Troubleshoot the Steering System in a Nissan Pathfinder

Balance and rotate your tires regularly, keep the pressure even and replace worn tires in pairs. Uneven or worn tires can cause vibrations and steering pull. They can also throw your front end out of alignment, which, in turn, can also create steering problems.

Fill your power steering reservoir with Nissan Power Steering Fluid (or an equivalent brand). Check the fluid with every oil change to make sure it is level, clean and doesn't have air bubbles. Check to make sure the belt isn't slipping and the hose connections are secure.

Take your car in for steering service every 30,000 miles. Make sure they check the steering gear and linkage (as well as axle and suspension parts) to make sure the connections are secure, and the parts are well lubricated. Following these three steps should head off most problems, but if your steering does break down you can look at other system components.

Look at the power steering pump if the wheel becomes difficult to turn. It may not be providing enough pressure to the system. You may also need to adjust or replace the rack and gearbox.

Check the brakes and suspension system. Your brake calipers may be causing the car to pull or your drums may be warped. You should also look at the springs and wheel bearings. You might even make sure nothing is interfering with the tires.

 How to Troubleshoot the Steering System in a Honda CR-V

Eliminate linkage, lubrication, fluid and tires before you look for more expensive repairs. If your mechanic suggests an expensive repair but doesn't discuss these as a possibility, try another mechanic.

Inspect and service the tie rod ends, steering gear box and boots every 10,000 miles. This may seem more frequent than for most cars, but the extra wear on the family vehicle warrants the extra precautions. Make sure the linkage components are in good condition and properly lubricated.

Start troubleshooting with the tires. Rotate and balance the tires at least every 10,000 miles and keep the pressure even. Replace worn tires two at a time and make sure the lug nuts are tight. Tire condition and wheel alignment cause a number of steering problems, from steering wheel vibration to excessive veering and pulling.

Check the power steering fluid level every 20,000 miles. Low or contaminated steering fluid can cause the power steering to fail and make the wheel hard to turn. Use Honda Power steering fluid V or S, and check for leaks and loose connections.

Correct continued hard steering by checking the power steering pump pressure. You may need to repair or replace the pump. You should also check the front end for bent or damaged parts.

Fix loose steering and veer by adjusting or replacing wheel bearings, replacing the shocks or servicing the ball joints. You should also check the front end for worn or bent parts.

Look at your brakes if your car continues to pull in one direction. You could have a stuck caliper, excessive friction or a warped drum.

Items you will need

  • Honda Power steering fluid V or S

 How to Troubleshoot the Steering System in a Honda Accord

Take your car in to inspect the steering gear and linkage when the service is due light goes on (or every 12 months). On older models you should service the power steering system, tie rods, steering gear box and boots every 7500 miles.

Maintain your wheels, front-end alignment and brakes. Rotate and balance your tires on a regular schedule, keep pressure even and replace worn tires in pairs. Wheels should be the first place you check if you encounter most of the problems below.

Use Honda Power steering fluid (Honda says others will reduce cold weather performance). If the fluid is contaminated, the screen in the reservoir may be partially blocked. Replace the reservoir if necessary. Make sure the hoses are connected and the fluid isn't leaking.

Look at the linkage and steering rack if your steering feels loose or sloppy. Your tie-rod ends and rack mounts may be worn or loose. You should also check the strut mounts and ball joints.

Examine the power steering system if the steering wheel seems hard to turn or has too much play. The problem could be as small as a loose or worn steering belt, but you may need to fix the pump or the rack. Problems with the steering rack mounts can also cause loose steering.

Check the brakes as well as the steering linkage if your car pulls to one side. Your brake calipers or drums could be dragging. Wear in the tie rod ends and a bad steering rack can also cause your car to pull.

Stop shimmying by adjusting or replacing the tie roads and steering rack. Excessive play can cause your car to wander even as you steer straight.

Items you will need

  • Honda Power steering fluid

 How to Troubleshoot the Steering System in a Toyota Highlander

Service your steering linking and steering knuckle grease every 15,000 miles. Make sure the adjustments are tight without excessive friction. If you do this yourself, inspect the linkage with the front end down and again with the front end up while a friend steers. Check from steering column to tie rod ends to make sure you see equalized movement among the parts.

Keep the power steering fluid level using Dexron 2/3 fluid. Idle the engine at 1000 rpm without turning the wheel until the bubbles disappear, then turn the wheel and add fluid if the level drops below max. Check the power steering belt and hoses to make sure they are tight and look for leaks.

Check your tires and front end alignment if you feel vibrations in the steering column or if your car starts to pull or wander. These are the most common causes and easiest to repair. Replace worn tires two at a time, equalize tire pressure and make sure your wheels are balanced.

Look for leaks in the hoses, boots and rack. If you find leaks track down the source. Your boots may be torn or twisted or your rack seals may be cracked or loose.

Make sure the power steering belt is tight and your power steering pump is pumping at the right pressure. Adjust the steering rack if it is too loose.

Inspect your brakes, wheel bearing and ball joints if problems continue. Steering problems can be caused by sticking brake calipers, warped brake drums or even a leaking master cylinder.

Items you will need

  • Dexron 2/3 fluid

 How to Troubleshoot the Steering System in a Toyota Tacoma

Check the power steering fluid monthly to make sure it remains between warm and cold levels. Use Dexron II or III automatic transmission fluid. Make sure the fluid is clean and free of air bubbles. Check the hoses and power steering belt to make sure they aren't loose.

Service the rack and pinion assembly and steering linkage every 15,000 miles. Raise the front end and check the components with the steering wheel turning. Check again with the front end flat to make sure the components turn evenly.

Rotate your tires every 5,000 miles. Balance the wheels and keep the front end aligned. Make sure the lug nuts are tight and replace worn tires two at a time.

Correct excessive pulling to one side by looking for signs of wear in the tie rods and steering rack. Worn steering components can also cause your car to shimmy excessively. If the linkage isn't the problem, check your brakes to see if the caliper is sticking or a problem with the brake drum is causing the wheel to drag.

Look at the power steering rack and pump if the steering wheel seems to be slipping or becomes hard to steer. You should check the pump pressure and look for leaks in the steering rack. You should also check the rack mounts for excess play.

Track down noises, especially at low speeds, by looking at steering fluid levels and the power steering brakes. If the sound occurs while you're applying or lifting the brake, the problem might lie there. Rattles are most likely caused by loose or worn steering linkage.

Items you will need

  • Dexron II or III automatic transmission fluid

 How to Troubleshoot the Steering System in a Ford Explorer

Keep your tires in the best possible condition, rotating them regularly and balancing the wheels. Replace worn tires immediately (in pairs), keep the tire pressure even and the front end properly aligned. Poor tire conditions and alignment can cause a number of steering system symptoms.

Inspect and lubricate steering linkage and ball joints with zerk fittings every 15,000 miles. Make sure to check the power steering hydraulics for leaks, loose connections, cracks and signs of age or wear. You want to keep your reservoir properly filled and the fluid clean with Type F automatic transmission fluid or Ford Premium Power Steering Fluid (do not mix types).

Purge the power steering pump if the fluid appears to be aerated. Ford recommends a full purge with their vacuum pump kit and evacuation cap. Other automotive sources question the value of a full purge, so you may want to discuss this procedure with your mechanic.

Tighten or replace loose steering linkage components to correct side-to-side wobble in the steering wheel or steering wheel vibration. Loose linkage can also cause noise during turns and even cause the car to wander in one or more directions.

Check the steering pump if the steering wheel jumps or is hard to turn. If the power steering fails you should not only check the pump, but check the fluid for contamination, the fluid lines for leaks and the belt for wear. Hard steering can also be caused by faulty gear components.

Adjust the steering box and linkage if the steering is too loose. If the linkage components are worn, you should replace them.

Items you will need

  • Type F automatic transmission fluid or Ford Premium Power steering fluid

  • Replacement linkage components (optional)

 How to Troubleshoot the Steering System in a Mazda6

Pay attention to Mazda's maintenance schedule, making sure to service and inspect the steering operation and linkages every 30,000 miles. It never hurts to take your car to your dealer or a Mazda certified mechanic, even if you intend to do the brunt of the work yourself.

Use ATF M-III, M-V, or equivalent (for example, Dexron II) to top off your power steering fluid. Make sure the fluid is clean and free of air. Double check for leaks and loose hose connections. If your steering wheel becomes less sensitive, check the fluid levels first.

Check your front-end alignment, tires and brakes when your car begins to pull or your steering wheel begins to vibrate. Your tires should be balanced and the pressure even and your brakes . If your car bounces, you should check the shocks or shock mounts.

See if the power steering belt is loose if your Mazda becomes hard to steer and your fluid is fine. Make sure the steering gear is lubricated and in working condition if that doesn't solve the problems. If the steering wheel takes more and more strength, especially when parking, check the box and the power steering pump.

Look for signs of wear or poor lubrication in the steering linkage if the steering feels loose. You may simply need to tighten the connections. If the problem continues, you may need to adjust the steering box.

Inspect the power steering lines for leaks if you loose power steering. Check the pump next and proceed to check the linkage if that doesn't correct the problem.

Correct pulling to one side by checking the brakes and steering linkage. You should also check the linkage if the car wanders, as well as the springs and the wheel bearings.

Items you will need

  • ATF M-III, M-V, or equivalent

 How to Troubleshoot the Steering System in a Subaru Outback

Service the steering system every 15,000 miles. Make sure the connections are lubricated, the parts are in good condition and the fluid lines aren't leaking, loose or worn. Regular maintenance can ward off steering problems and preserve steering system life.

Start your troubleshooting inspection with the three basic causes of steering problems: tires, alignment and fluid. Unbalanced, worn or uneven tires can cause vibrations and drag as can an unbalanced front end. Low or contaminated fluid can create problems with the power steering, making your Outback even harder to steer. Eliminate these culprits before you tackle more expensive repairs.

Track down the causes of hard steering by looking for slippage in the power steering drive belt and low pressure in the power steering pump. Other possible causes could be poor lubrication, damage to the steering gearbox or excessive friction between linkage connections.

Correct loose steering by tightening the steering linkage. If the components are worn, they may have to be replaced. You may also need to adjust your steering box.

Look for leaks in the power steering fluid lines if your power steering cuts out. You may also need to replace the power steering belt or replace the power steering fluid. As a worst-case scenario, you may need to replace the pump. If your power steering components check out, the problem may actually be with the steering linkage.

Check the linkage and wheel bearings if the car seems to pull or wander. You may also need to replace the springs or repair the brakes. One simple thing to check is how much weight you're hauling. If your car is overloaded, or weighted too heavily on one side, it can definitely throw the steering off.

 How to Troubleshoot the Steering System in a Chrysler Sebring

Stick to Chrysler's recommended maintenance schedule, which includes servicing ball joints & steering linkage seals every 24,000 miles (48,000 for models from the nineties) and suspension boots and seals every 12,000. That maintenance schedule should be sufficient to catch most routine wear to the steering components.

Make sure to keep the power steering fluid levels level. Check regularly with the engine off after running at normal temperature and thoroughly clean any dirt and debris from the reservoir and cap. Early convertibles and sedans require Mopar power steering fluid (never transmission fluid), but coupes and later Sebring models require Mopar ATF+4 transmission fluid. Check your manual before you add or replace fluid.

Rotate your tires every 6000 to 7500 miles and keep the tire pressure even. Keep your wheels balanced and the front end aligned. A number of steering problems are caused by tire wear and alignment. If you know you've been keeping the basics up, you can look to other causes when problems develop.

Correct hard steering problems by checking the power steering belt for excessive looseness or wear. If the belt is fine the power steering pump may need to be replaced or you may need to lubricate the front end parts.

Stop the car from pulling to one side by adjusting the wheel bearings, replacing the shocks or replacing break calipers and worn breaks. Loose steering can also be the result of loose wheel bearings, as well as faulty shocks or worn ball joints.

About the Author

This article was written by the It Still Runs team, copy edited and fact checked through a multi-point auditing system, in efforts to ensure our readers only receive the best information. To submit your questions or ideas, or to simply learn more about It Still Runs, contact us.