Common Power Steering Problems

Power steering makes your steering wheel easy to turn and helps you control your vehicle. If you’re having issues with the system, stop into an AutoZone for help diagnosing the problem, or check for one of these issues.

Causes for power steering problems

Person inspecting boot bellows for power steering issues

1. Fluid Leak

Low fluid levels due to a leak cause most power steering problems. A leak can allow air to enter the system and put stress on the power steering pump and other moving parts. If you experience tight steering, difficult turns, or a growling/whining sound when you turn the wheel while moving or stationary, low power steering fluid may be to blame.

There are a few places you can check first to locate a leak. Fluid can leak out of the steering pump or reservoir, as well as the hoses or input shaft of the steering rack. Finding a leak in the boot bellows of the steering rack takes a little more effort. Check for these internal leaks by sliding the rubber boot bellow back off of the housing (about two inches) and looking inside for power steering fluid. If fluid has accumulated inside the bellow, the rack seals are leaking. Be sure the wetness is power steering fluid and not assembly grease that has liquefied from heat over time.

Tight Steering

2. Other Causes of Tight Steering

Outside of a fluid leak, tight steering may occur due to a worn or slipping belt, which is usually very evident when you are turning as the belt will squeal. A failing Power Steering Pump will often make a similar sound to low power steering fluid, or sometimes, will lose its ability to hydraulically move the power steering fluid properly and become stiff and tight, especially at lower RPM. This can be very noticeable if turning into a parking spot or parallel parking becomes difficult to turn the wheel, but at regular speeds (and engine speed) turning works just fine. Also, general wear and tear of the moving parts in the rack and pinion, or steering components on a conventional system can cause issues, like the steering gearbox.

Steering wander

3. Causes of steering wander

Looseness or unpredictability in the wheel – known as steering wander – is a less obvious power steering problem that can be caused by a number of things.

The first and easiest issue to tackle it to make sure the vehicle is properly aligned. Over time, as steering components wear and lose their tolerance, your alignment will fall out of spec. Getting a proper alignment can and will alleviate many steering wander issues, and at the same time, an installer can align the vehicle and check over components for any failure-points.

Many trucks and SUV’s use a steering damper that can also fail, and is used to take up something known as “bump-steer” where bumps in the road can cause the steering to suddenly jolt slightly to the side.

Other components that can cause issues are rack and pinion mounting bushings, inner or outer tie rod ends, or on a conventional system, idler or pitman arms, or drag links. Many of these issues present a tell-tale sign on your tires of premature, and uneven wear as well.

In most cases even an avid DIY’er will benefit from taking the car in for an alignment (or doing an alignment) to evaluate how the components are doing, and if everything is OK, get the vehicle into proper alignment. You can search and select an installer in your area and also see who does alignments as well.

Identifying a power steering issue and its possible causes can help you address problems as they arise. Visit your local AutoZone for help and trustworthy advice, or order parts from for the right part at the right price.

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