Nearly every modern vehicle on the road today has power steering, a wonderful invention that makes steering take far less effort than it did in the "good old days." Today, we take our steering for granted: until something goes wrong, that is.
Most power steering these days is rack-and-pinion, the rack being a metal bar between the front wheels with notches in it and the pinion being a gear whose teeth fits into those notches. Adding power assist makes it easy to turn. That assist comes in the form of hydraulic fluid that is pressurized by a pump powered by the engine, an electric motor that adds a power assist or a system that uses both an electric motor and hydraulic fluid.
Your vehicle usually gives you a heads up that something is going wrong with its steering. Here are a few signs to look for:
- A humming, whirring, rubbing or grinding sound coming from you engine compartment when you turn.
- Signs of hydraulic fluid leaking, such as wet spots under your vehicle.
- The smell of burning oil while you're driving.
- Steering wheel hard to turn or vibrating.
If you notice any of these signs, it's a good idea to have a trained technician check them out. They may be signs of:
- Power steering pump going bad
- Steering rack or gear seals wearing out, causing them to lose hydraulic fluid
- Broken fluid hose
- Defective power steering cooler
- Loss of pressure in the power steering gearbox
- Worn out steering pump belt
- Failing electric power steering motor
It's important to have these checked out sooner rather than later. You need to be able to steer properly in order to drive safely. Plus, some of these problems can cause more serious—and expensive—damage if they're not fixed. Power steering is a wonderful feature of your vehicle. Keep it well maintained and it will steer you right.
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