Passenger side front end wreck-cause of failing power steering?

Tiny
AMARIE_SANTUCCI
  • MEMBER
  • 2005 KIA AMANTI
  • 3.5L
  • V6
  • FWD
  • AUTOMATIC
  • 78,000 MILES
Upon getting my car back from being repaired after a passenger side, front end wreck ($4,300.00 PLUS in damages), my power steering seems to be going out. It's sporadic-it has quit working in mid-turn 3 times in 2 days (but just for a few seconds). There is a little clicking in the steering wheel when turning sharply. The click happens towards the beginning of sharp turns (it sounds like the clicking you hear in your wheel when you need new cv joints, but only one or two quick clicks).

Before I had a chance to disvover this on my own, the guy that was over the repairs told me (as I was initially picking up my car), "Sweetheart, you have a power steering problem and it has NOTHING to do with the wreck." He said the power steering was "whining" sporadically, like it needed ps fluid--but it was full of fluid. (For the record, I think he made up the whole "whining" sound.I have yet to hear anything close to a whine or squeal.
he told me the issue is either the pump or the steering rack causing the power steering to fail.

I asked him if the power steering problem could possibly be a belt that was not tightened all the way back. He said absolutely not. He said if there was a loose belt the power steering would not work AT ALL! Is this true? I've read otherwise.

Is it possible that something within the power steering was damaged either from the wreck or accidentally when repairing the wrecked vehicle? There were NO issues with the power steering prior to the accident. At all.

This is extremely frustrating to me. I believe the power steering pump is located on the front passenger side under the hood. Where the impact from the wreck was the hardest. How can this not be from the wreck?

Do you know if there's any way to prove the pump (or rack or whatever it is) was damaged in the wreck? When you've seen repairs on front end damaged vehicles, have there usually been power steering repairs? Is that common or no?

Any answers/opinions/advice you could provide would be of great help:)
Thanks so much!
Mary Mills
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Wednesday, January 8th, 2014 AT 11:15 PM

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Tiny
CARADIODOC
  • EXPERT
I'm not sure why you think he would make up a noise, but there is a real common cause that needs to be considered. When cars are moved, for any reason, without the engine running, it is common for the power steering gear to push fluid out through the reservoir, making a mess on the ground. After the repairs, it is customary to check fluid levels and top them off, (except for the brakes). If the engine was started prior to that, there can be air in the system that got sucked in by the pump when the level in the reservoir was still low. That air will cause a buzzing or whining noise that will go away on its own. If you have a Ford product, that can takes days and be very frustrating. Most other brands take from a few minutes to a few hours. Nothing is harmed but you can lose power steering assist momentarily.

No two crash repairs are the same, but in general, it doesn't take much to come to $4300.00. Since you do still have some power assist, you are right about the lose power steering belt, but it's hardly worth accusing the body shop. Before we look for who we can blame, we have to figure out what is causing the problem. It would be very rare for a belt to stretch from an impact, but it's not unheard of. It would be more likely an adjustable pulley moved when something tugged on the belt. That would be unusual too and the body shop people could not be expected to look for that. They aren't mechanics. Their training is in how to put the body's dimensions back where they're supposed to be and make the car safe and "pretty".

Normally you will hear a squeal from the belt if it is loose. The first thing I would do is contact your insurance company and tell them the car is not fully repaired yet. Next, look at the written estimate you were given to see if anything related to the power steering is listed under the "parts" section. It's not likely the power steering pump was damaged, and those aren't usually intermittent, but the pulley could have been broken. A new pulley obviously would require the belt to be loosened and tightened. In that case, a loose belt would be a likely and simple repair.

If one of the wheels was hit in a manner that suddenly put stress on the rack and pinion assembly, I suppose it is possible that unit got damaged internally, but the inner and / or outer tie rod ends would have been damaged first. There isn't much inside a rack and pinion assembly that can be damaged. Almost all problems stem from wear resulting in leakage of internal or external seals. Internal leakage is when the pressurized fluid can bypass the power piston. That causes a loss of power assist but no loss of fluid.

At the mileage you listed it is not really time yet to expect wear in the steering gear. The wear that does occur will almost always cause intermittent loss of power assist in just one direction when the engine is still cold. As the wear gets worse over the next few weeks, it will take longer and longer for the power assist to show up, and it will start to affect turning in the other direction too.

You may need to have the dealership diagnose this if it doesn't clear up on its own. In the last 15 - 20 years the engineers have been adding variable power assist to some models, and that involves another unreliable computer module. Problems with those systems are almost always more significant than acting up for a few seconds, but you have to consider the possibility of stretched terminals in a connector, a broken wire, and things like that. The main thing is to contact the insurance company right away, even if you don't have to take the car to a mechanic. As long as they have it documented that the problem was there right away when you picked it up, they will usually cover the repair. If you wait a few days, they are going to assume it's a new problem unrelated to the crash, and rightfully can't be expected to pay for it.
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Thursday, January 9th, 2014 AT 12:51 AM
Tiny
AMARIE_SANTUCCI
  • MEMBER
Thank you so much for the detailed explanation. I wish I had a 16th if your knowledge! You wouldn't happen to be in the Houston, tx area would you? I moved here from MS 4 years ago and haven't been able to find a mechanic that I trust and that has the patience to explain things to me. If you are not in this area, do you by chance know of any good mechanics around here?

Thanks again for sharing your knowledge. It is a HUGE help for me:)

Sincerely,
Mary Mills
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Thursday, January 9th, 2014 AT 9:17 AM
Tiny
CARADIODOC
  • EXPERT
I'm in the middle of Wisconsin, but I was in Houston three years ago to help a friend take down a paint booth in a body shop. He bought it over eBay. From there we visited his sister in Austin. He just moved her and her family up to Wisconsin a few months ago, to near Minneapolis.

As for mechanics, first you have to understand that 99 percent of them are honest and trustworthy, but the other one percent make the news, just like in any other profession. Second, they are held to much higher standards than doctors. If a doctor doesn't diagnose your illness correctly the first time, you keep going back, and paying for each visit, or you go to a different doctor. Have you ever asked for your money back from a doctor? Mechanics often need multiple attempts at solving some problems but when they don't get it right the first time we assume they're incompetent. It's also real common for a new, previously-unknown problem to show up right after a different one is repaired, and of course we assume the mechanic caused it. Experienced mechanics know about these frustrating occurrences and if they plan ahead for the unexpected, they run the risk of giving you an estimate that is much higher than from their competitors. Then we incorrectly assume they were trying to rip you off.

To make matters worse, just like with doctors, lawyers, accountants, and carpenters, mechanics speak their own language and do not communicate well with car owners. That's why there's often a service adviser in the middle to do the translating. The problem is service advisers aren't mechanics. They have to take what they don't understand from the mechanic, and translate it into something they think you can understand. When they mess that up, as they usually do, it is not an attempt to defraud. It is the result of car owners knowing very little about the machine they trust to get them back home.

I can go on with stories like these for hours. As a former instructor I was often asked to interpret repair bills. The same few people were always suspicious, and "knew" they had been ripped off, at least until I explained what likely happened, and the same few people just wanted a better understanding of what took place so they would be better informed next time.

In just three words one mechanic can share volumes of information with another mechanic about what is wrong with your car. He would have to share volumes with you to hopefully have you understand three words. It's no different than a doctor using totally different terminology with you or another doctor. One difference is you're paying for your doctor's time, and they have more leeway in taking the time to explain things in a way you can understand. Mechanics punch in and out at a time clock when they're working on your car, and that's the time you're charged for. That job is usually done, so when you show up to pick up your car, the mechanic is working on the next car. That owner doesn't want to pay for the mechanic's time to answer your questions. Sometimes that can't be avoided, but remember that adds to the time that next disgruntled customer is waiting, and it cuts into the mechanic's productivity. Couple the urge to get back to the project he's being paid to work on with his relatively poor communication skills, and it's lucky if you can get any useful information at all. (Try to talk with a carpenter when he's building a house, and you'll feel his agitation. Everything is about speed with them).

Remember too that most mechanics go through a two-year training program that only covers the basics. My Suspension and Alignment class, for example, was 180 hours long and just started these people on the road to possibly becoming an experienced specialist. You need the same training to understand what they're talking about when they describe what's wrong with your car. The best they can do is try to explain one little part that your car needs, but that part or that repair is part of a whole system that has to be understood. A doctor can't expect to cure you with a simple pill unless he understands how it will affect the rest of you.

The biggest thing you want to avoid unless absolutely necessary is accusing the mechanic or shop of dishonesty or incompetence. Once you do that, obviously they are going to be on the defensive and will do anything to justify their actions. A person's natural tendency is to argue. ("That dress is gorgeous". What, this old rag"?) What you need to do is think of your mechanic as your advocate, not your adversary. There is no benefit in them making you come back for repeat visits for the same problem. They want you to come back next time because you have a good relationship with them.

If you ask questions like, " what can I do to keep this from happening again?", Or, "is this something I caused?", It shows you value this person's opinion and experience, and that you trust them. This is what turns them into your "advocate". When I hear, "why didn't you catch this right away?", I immediately think of all the things I DID check, and I have to justify why I didn't want to cost them money chasing things I had no reason to suspect. I love explaining car repairs to owners, but not when I feel accused of incompetence.

Instead of arguing about your power steering problem not being there before the crash, simply state that fact, then ask for their advice on which shop they recommend you visit. Most body shops have specialty shops they work with all the time. In particular, almost every vehicle involved in a crash needs a four-wheel alignment, and that is an art in itself. Anyone can set adjustments to what is called for, but it's when those settings don't provide the desired results that the specialist has to figure out why and what to do about it. Some body shops have people who have cross-training in some mechanical areas but that is not common.

Where part of the problem comes in is when the body shop wrote up the estimate for the insurance company, they could only go by what they saw. They had no way of knowing about a potential intermittent steering problem. When they find additional problems when they still have the car, first they have to figure out if it was caused by the crash, then they typically contact the insurance company on your behalf to request additional dollars and time. When they can't be sure if it's crash damage, you really don't want to deal with a shop that will lie to the insurance company and say that it is. They might cover the additional repair, but you will pay for it in the long run with higher premiums. The insurance investigators are REAL good at figuring out what is and is not crash-related. Since they know some body shops try to get everything covered for their customers, they are going to be more likely to drag their feet, double-check, and deny claims. You stand a better chance if you state your case directly with the adjuster. That person may even suggest a reliable shop they've worked with before. If that shop says the repair relates to the crash, you know the insurance company will pay for it. If they say it is not related, they are going to explain how they determined that, what the real cause is, and what it will take to fix it.

Related to that, there really are some things that can happen to your car that CAN go unnoticed for years until some other, seemingly unrelated repair takes place. That's not likely what happened here, but some insignificant changes caused by installing new parts can make those problems show up. Those are hard ones to explain to car owners, and it's funny that those owners only get angry when the problem shows up after a mechanic worked on the car. They don't have the same anger when they did the repair themselves and made the new problem show up.

It's easier to take one problem at a time and explain what might have happened than to try to cover a whole list of things. Keep in mind that a lot of the things that are frustrating to you are just as frustrating to your mechanic. They don't like it when new, unexpected problems show up. Reputable shops take care of problems they caused accidentally, and those are the ones you can believe when they explain why a problem is not their fault. It can take a while to build that relationship, but when you do, chocolate chip cookies are always appreciated.
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Thursday, January 9th, 2014 AT 6:14 PM

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