Power Steering Problems

A power steering system is designed to utilize power from the engine to assist in the force needed to steer the vehicle. When the engine is running, a serpentine belt is used to transfer engine power to a hydraulic fluid pump. This pump pressurizes fluid and then transfers this fluid using power steering hoses that are connected to a power steering box or rack and pinion depending on how the car is designed. When the power steering system has malfunctioned the vehicle will be very difficult to steer. It is advised not to move a vehicle with the power steering system not operating. Any steering component malfunction can cause the vehicle to be uncontrollable. When a malfunction occurs basic troubleshooting is required, we have listed some of the most common problems below:

Power Steering Rack
Power Steering Rack

Troubleshooting Procedure

Step 1 - Check Power Steering System Fluid Level - The power steering system utilizes hydraulic fluid to transfer force from the power steering pump, the rack and pinion or steering box, without fluid the system cannot function. Check the power steering fluid level by locating the power steering fluid reservoir and remove the cap (twist counter clockwise). Most systems have a fluid level dip stick mounted inside the cap. If the fluid level is down or there is no fluid in the reservoir the system has a leak. Inspect the entire power steering system: pump, hoses and rack and pinion or box assembly, replace worn or broken components as needed. Refill system with manufacturers recommended fluids then start engine (keep away from moving engine parts) and turn steering wheel from lock to lock several times. Shut the engine off and recheck fluid level, allow system to stand for a period of time to allow air in the fluid (aeration) to dissipate. Check fluid level and fill as needed.

Power Steering Cap
Power Steering Cap

Step 2 - Check The Serpentine Belt - The power steering pump is driven by a serpentine belt which is used to transfer energy from the engine to the hydraulic steering pump. If the belt is in poor condition or has failed completely it will render the system non-operational.

Serpentine Belt
Serpentine Belt

Step 3 - Power Steering Pump Failure - The power steering system depends on a hydraulic pump to supply the fluid pressure needed to operate the system. If the pump fails internally, the pressure needed to operate the system is not present rendering the system non-operational. The power steering pump must be replaced and refilled with fluid. (Note: some power steering pump pulleys are pressed on and require a specialized tool to be removed and replaced).

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Written by
Co-Founder and CEO of
35 years in the automotive repair field, ASE Master Technician, Advanced Electrical and Mechanical Theory.


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Article first published (Updated 2013-08-16)