Symptoms of a Bad Steering Gear

by Mitchell Brock
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The steering gear multiplies the turning force required to steer a vehicle. Converting the force of the driver turning the steering wheel and applying that force to the steering linkage which turn the front wheels of an automobile is the main purpose of the steering gear. An inspection must be done of the steering gear each time the tires or front end of the vehicle are aligned. Symptoms of a bad steering gear occur when different problems arise.


A worn steering gear will cause the automobile to wander or veer to one side when operated. The automobile will also pull to one side when the steering gear is excessively worn. Ensure that no other steering component is worn or damaged, such as the linkage or tie rods. Replacement of the steering gear is the only correction for this problem.

Excessive Play

Excessive play in the steering wheel is another symptom that the steering gear is bad or worn. While driving the automobile, the steering wheel is loose or must be turned in one direction a lot before the front wheel begins to turn in the desired direction. The steering wheel can also wobble back and forth during operation. The steering gear has too much play in the component before engaging the linkage and turning the vehicle. Have someone observe the tires as you begin to turn the steering wheel. See how far you turn the steering wheel before the observer lets you know when the front tires begin to turn. If you have to turn the steering wheel more than 1 inch in one direction before the tires turn, there is a problem with the steering gear.

Noise When Turning

A popping noise or grinding noise heard while turning the steering wheel can come from a bad steering gear. A leaking gasket or low power steering fluid causes heat to build up in the steering gear component. The power steering fluid provides lubrication to the moving parts of the steering gear. Without the fluid, friction creates heat inside the steering gear component, prematurely wearing the gear. Puddles under the driver's side of the vehicle is a good sign that a seal or gasket on the steering gear is losing fluid. Check the power steering fluid level on a periodic basis, similar to the way your check the oil level.

Oil Foaming or Discolored

Another symptom that the steering gear is bad occurs during regular maintenance inspections. The power steering fluid or oil is foaming, discolored or milky in color. Fluid that is black in color shows signs of excessive heat buildup in the steering gear. Foaming oil shows that air is building up in the steering system and the fluid is not lubricating the moving parts of the steering gear. Milky oil is a sign that water has gotten into the steering system. Water in the power fluid prevents the steering gear from being lubricated properly.

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