The steering system is one of the most important elements of your car. Even if you somehow avoid crashing a car with faulty steering, the vehicle is certain to be far less satisfying to drive if the steering isn’t functioning properly.
Fortunately, most steering-system problems come with a lot of warning. Here are some of the key signs that your car’s steering may need repair.
Steering wheel is hard to turn
All cars sold today are equipped with power steering. This type of system uses fluid pressure or electrical motors to amplify the effort of the driver, thereby reducing the amount of force needed to turn the steering wheel. When these systems get worn out or need repair, the steering typically gets much harder to turn. Parts that can wear out and cause stiff-feeling steering include pumps, belts, hoses, and the steering rack.
If you hear a chirping or squealing sound when you turn the steering wheel, this generally indicates that a belt is slipping. The pump that provides boost for the steering is driven by a belt. When this belt is worn or out of adjustment, it will make a slipping or squealing sound.
Grinding sound when you turn the steering wheel
This is often an indication that the steering gear is worn out and needs replacing. Although most steering racks will wear out at some point, they generally last for many miles. The exception to this is if there is a leak in the hydraulic system. If so, then the steering gear will not get enough lubrication, which can significantly accelerate wear on it.
Vibration in steering wheel
If you notice that the steering wheel vibrates, pulsates, or shakes while you drive, it’s typically a sign of suspension or tire issues. A relatively simple wheel alignment may fix the problem. If the vibration happens mostly when the steering wheel is turned far to one side or the other, it can indicate that your steering fluid is dirty and contaminated. This can be fixed by having the system flushed.
Looseness or slack in steering wheel
When you turn the wheel and it feels like there’s a lot of free movement in which there’s no effect on the direction of the car, it’s generally an indication that you have significant wear in the system. There are a number of different things it could be, but some of the first things your mechanic will check are the tie rod ends and the steering rack.
If you notice any of these issues, take your car to a qualified mechanic for inspection. The stakes are simply too high to delay fixing steering system issues.
And if it’s the fear of a high-priced repair bill that’s keeping you from having this critical work done on your car, take heart – steering system issues aren’t always expensive. Sometimes it can be as simple as having a belt replaced, or flushing out dirty fluid and replacing it.