The power steering system in your vehicle enables you to steer your vehicle in the direction you would like it to proceed. Power steering is really “power-assisted” steering. “Power-assisted” steering will allow you to steer your vehicle manually when the engine is not running or if you have a failure in the power steering system which disables it.
Power steering utilizes a hydraulic pump running off a belt-driven by the engine, this pump enables a small amount of fluid to be under pressure. This pressure, in turn, assists the steering mechanism in directing the tires as you turn the steering wheel. The power steering system typically includes a pump, power steering fluid, a pressure hose assembly, a control valve, and a return line.
There are two basic types of power steering systems used on vehicles. The rack and pinion steering system and the conventional/integral steering gear system, which is also known as a recirculating ball steering system. The rack and pinion steering system is the most commonly used power steering system in today’s vehicles. The steering shaft turns a gear that moves the rack side to side, utilizing a power unit built directly onto the rack assembly. The steering gear system is generally used most often on trucks, it has a series of steel balls that act as rolling threads between the steering shaft and the rack piston. The steering wheel shaft connects to a gear assembly and a series of links and/or arms that turn the wheels to the left or right.
The best way to maintain the power steering system of your vehicle is to regularly check the power steering fluid level and condition. A low fluid runs level can cause damage to some of the components of the steering system. It is recommended to have leaks repaired if they arise, and to have the fluid flushed about every 50,000 miles to keep it clean from contaminants. This fluid is key to keeping the power steering pump, steering gear or rack and pinion assembly lubricated and is the hydraulic element of the power steering system.
If your vehicle starts to exhibit some of the following symptoms:
- hard steering
- heavy or unresponsive steering at low speeds or during parking lot maneuvers
- unusual noise when turning the steering wheel
- a shimmy or shake in the steering wheel
- a steering wheel that will not return to the “center” properly
- fluid leaking from under the vehicle
We would recommend having your trusted repair facility perform an inspection of your steering and suspension system to identify the problem. Regular inspections and maintenance is the key to the longevity of your power steering system.
Steve and Karen Johnston are owners of All About Automotive, providing quality auto repair and auto maintenance in Historic Downtown Gresham. If you have questions or comments, call them at 503-465-2926 or email them at [email protected]. They can help!