What Is Wrong With a Car When Power Steering Goes Out?

by Jonathan Croswell

Having trouble turning your car's steering wheel? The good news is, you haven't lost all your strength. But the bad news is that something in your car's power steering system is out of whack. Most times, it's an easy fix, and you can usually make the diagnosis without the help of a mechanic--as long as you know what you're looking at.

Function

Power steering first made its debut in the 1920s. It made the turning of the steering wheel easier through the combination of a hydraulic system and steering linkages, and can be a real problem when it goes out. The bigger the car, the harder the wheel usually is to turn without power steering.

Parts

A power steering pump maintains the pressure on the hydraulic system, which uses power steering fluid to control the movements of valves and pistons, which in turn makes turning the wheel easier. The hydraulic system takes the pressure off the gears and mechanisms, doing most of the work for the wheel as it turns.

Problems

Your car's power steering system will stop working if it loses pressure, which is most often the result of a pump failure. Over time, the fluid itself can get contaminated as hoses and other parts of the hydraulic system deteriorate and lose small particles to the fluid. The car could also simply run out of steering fluid if there are leaks in the system.

Repair

The simplest repair to make to your car's power steering system is a preventative one: changing the power steering fluid. Doing so can avoid larger problems that come as a result of steering fluid contamination. The power steering pump will tip you off to its eventual weardown by making groaning noises when the steering wheel is most heavily worked, such as during parallel parking. Avoid losing fluid through leaks by routine checks on the steering fluid level---running out could ruin your pump, which is expensive to replace.

Considerations

If you decide to change the power steering fluid on your own, keep in mind that you can't simply throw away the fluid. Several automotive fluids require you dispose of them at approved locations that handle hazardous materials. You can also call your local automotive shop and see if they will take care of the fluid, which they usually do for a small fee.

About the Author

Jonathan Croswell has spent more than five years writing and editing for a number of newspapers and online publications, including the "Omaha World-Herald" and "New York Newsday." Croswell received a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of Nebraska and is currently pursuing a Master's of Health and Exercise Science at Portland State University.