Those who know vehicles believe the steering system may be the most vital component of them all. Perhaps you've found over the years your steering has gotten loose. Or maybe suddenly, your steering wheel has gotten very hard to turn. Let's steer you in the direction of understanding why this may be happening.
First, loose steering. This can likely be the result of wear and tear on the components that connect the steering mechanism with the wheels. Those parts can be ball joints, Pitman arms or tie rods. These parts take a lot of abuse on the road, thanks to railroad tracks, potholes, uneven surfaces: you name it. It's important that they be checked regularly and maintained at PDR.
Second, the hard-to-turn wheel. Virtually all vehicles on the road have power steering. There are a couple of different types, though, so let's deal with each. By the way, when they fail, your vehicle's steering can suddenly go from easy peasy to really hard to control.
Some vehicles have hydraulic power steering. It uses a hydraulic fluid that can either leak out or become contaminated. When that happens, you can lose that power assist. There's also a belt involved, and if it becomes worn, stretched or cracked (or even breaks), you'll find yourself struggling with the wheel. If you hear a loud whine coming from the area in the engine compartment when you are steering, that could mean your power steering pump is failing. The best way to avoid these problems is regular maintenance.
Recently, manufacturers have been using electric power steering systems that have some advantages over hydraulic systems. They have electric motors that—like everything mechanical—can fail. Sometimes a fuse to the power steering motor will blow, but simply replacing the fuse often doesn't get to the root cause of the problem. A PDR technician can evaluate the system and recommend a solution.
Steering issues are all about safety and should be addressed as soon as possible. When you tell your service advisor, try to be specific about the signs and symptoms. It's one way to steer clear of trouble on the road.
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