What you're describing sounds like "morning sickness", referring to the rack and pinion steering system losing power assist first thing in the morning. The assist often comes back within half a minute or less. GM had a REAL big problem with this in the early 1990s. Their fix was in no way designed to help the customer. It was designed to get the car out of the 50,000 mile warranty at which time the customer was on his own. The proper fix was a new rack and pinion assembly that was modified to prevent this from happening again.
Grooves wore into the soft aluminum body from the metal sealing rings rubbing against it. GM's fix was to install a new spool valve assembly with new sealing rings, but that didn't address the real cause of the problem, that soft aluminum housing. Aftermarket rebuilders have done an excellent job correcting the design flaw by inserting a stainless steel sleeve that doesn't wear very much.
Chrysler never really had much trouble with morning sickness, and two of your comments suggest the problem might be less severe. First of all, your story suggests the problem started occurring in both directions at the same time. That is not the case with worn seals. The problem will show up in one direction only first, then the other direction a few weeks later. Second, the squealing and jerking are not typical symptoms. They sound like there is air in the system which could be related to low fluid level coupled with parking on a hill. The comment about the cold weather does fit with the morning sickness story because the cold seals will contract a little reducing their sealing ability. The highly pressurized power steering fluid will bypass the power piston in the steering gear by leaking past the sealing rings.
The first thing to do is check the power steering fluid level when the car is on level ground. If you have to add a lot, it went somewhere so expect the problem to come back. Most commonly the end seals in the rack assembly are leaking and the fluid is collecting in the two accordion-style boots on the steering linkages. If you still hear a buzzing or whining noise, there is still air in the system that will bleed out after turning the steering wheel full left and full right a number of times.
If the fluid is not very low, observe if the same problem occurs after the car has been sitting on level ground overnight. If it does not present the same problem, again, make sure the fluid is full before parking on the hill again. There's one more clue. Even when you park on the hill, if the problem is indeed in the steering gear, it will not show up after the car has only been parked for an hour or less, maybe as much as three or four hours because the seals will still be warm.
If the problem continues to occur all the time, even after the engine is warmed up, check for a loose power steering pump belt.
Saturday, December 12th, 2009 AT 2:08 PM