9 Reasons Your Power Steering Feel Light (And Fix)

Power steering is an essential part of your vehicle, providing the ease and precision necessary for safe and comfortable driving. However, you may encounter times when your steering feels lighter than normal, potentially signaling an issue within your car’s power steering system. 

In this guide, we will delve into nine plus-one possible reasons for light power steering, ranging from malfunctioning components like power steering hoses, gearboxes, and the steering column, to wheel alignment and tire issues, electrical malfunctions, and even suspension problems.

By understanding these potential issues, their symptoms, and how to address them, you can ensure your vehicle remains in optimal condition and your driving experience is always enjoyable and secure.

Reasons Your Power Steering Feel Light

1. Low Power Steering Fluid Level

Power steering fluid plays a crucial role in your car’s power steering system. This hydraulic fluid transmits power in the system, allowing the steering wheel to turn with ease. 

It lubricates the system, reduces heat and wear, and keeps the power steering pump and other components functioning smoothly.

Signs of Low Power Steering Fluid Level

Low power steering fluid levels can lead to a variety of symptoms that could hinder your driving experience. 

Common indicators include a noticeable increase in steering effort, squealing or whining noises when you turn the wheel, and a decrease in overall steering precision. In severe cases, the steering wheel may even become unresponsive.

Steps to Check and Refill the Fluid if Needed

Checking your power steering fluid level is a relatively straightforward task that can be done at home. Here’s how: 

  1. Locate the power steering reservoir under your car’s hood – it is usually clearly marked.
  2. Clean the area around the reservoir cap to prevent contaminants from entering the system.
  3. Remove the cap and check the fluid level – it should be between the minimum and maximum marks on the dipstick or the side of the reservoir.
  4. If the fluid level is low, refill it with the type of power steering fluid specified in your vehicle’s owner manual.
  5. Replace the cap securely.

It’s important to regularly check the fluid level and refill if necessary. However, if you notice your car consistently runs low on power steering fluid, it could indicate a leak in the system, and it’s recommended to have the vehicle inspected by a professional.

2. Power Steering Belt Issues

The power steering belt, also known as the drive belt, plays a crucial role in the functioning of your vehicle’s power steering system. 

It transfers the torque from the engine to the power steering pump, which generates the hydraulic pressure needed to assist the steering mechanism. 

The belt, driven by the engine’s crankshaft, propels the pump to provide the force necessary for ease of steering.

Signs of a Worn or Loose Power Steering Belt

A worn or loose power steering belt can lead to several noticeable symptoms that should not be overlooked. 

Unusual noises, particularly a high-pitched squealing sound when starting the car or steering, can be a direct indication of belt issues. 

Difficulty in steering, especially when the vehicle is first started, is another common symptom. In extreme cases, the steering may feel completely unassisted. Visual inspection might reveal cracks, fraying, or glazing on the belt, signifying it’s worn out.

How to Inspect and Replace the Power Steering Belt

Your power steering belt should be inspected regularly for signs of wear or damage. Here are steps you can follow:

  1. Locate the power steering belt – it’s usually found at the front of the engine, attached to the power steering pump.
  2. Inspect the belt for signs of wear, such as cracks, fraying, or glazing. Check for proper tension – a loose belt may not provide sufficient power to the steering pump.
  3. If replacement is required, loosen the tensioner pulley, remove the old belt, and position the new one.
  4. Ensure the new belt is properly seated on the pulleys, and adjust the tensioner until the belt is snug but not overly tight.
  5. Recheck the belt tension after a few hundred miles of driving, as new belts may stretch slightly.

3. Faulty Power Steering Pump

The power steering pump plays a pivotal role in the ease and comfort of handling your vehicle. 

As part of the power steering system, its primary function is to generate the hydraulic pressure that assists in the turning of the steering wheel. 

Essentially, it takes the physical labor out of steering while affording precision and control.

Signs of a Failing or Faulty Power Steering Pump

Recognizing the signs of a failing or faulty power steering pump can prevent further damage and ensure your safety while driving. 

Early symptoms may include stiff or heavy steering, particularly noticeable during slow speed maneuvers. 

You may also hear a whining or groaning noise when the wheel is turned. As the issue progresses, steering may become increasingly difficult and eventually fail altogether. 

Furthermore, a noticeable leak of power steering fluid under your car could suggest a faulty pump.

Options for Repairing or Replacing the Pump

If you suspect a faulty power steering pump, it’s important to address the issue promptly. In many cases, the pump can be repaired. 

This can involve replacing the power steering fluid, fixing any leaks, or replacing worn-out internal parts of the pump. 

However, if the pump is severely damaged or has completely failed, a replacement will be necessary. 

It’s always recommended to consult with a professional mechanic to accurately diagnose the problem and suggest the most effective solution.

4. Air in the Power Steering System

Occasionally, air may find its way into the power steering system, which can cause a host of issues. 

This typically occurs during maintenance or repair, when components of the system are removed and then replaced, inadvertently allowing air to enter. 

It can also happen if the power steering fluid level drops too low, allowing air to be sucked into the pump.

Air in the System and How It Affects Steering

The presence of air in the power steering system makes steering feel notchy or jerky. You may notice that the steering wheel does not return to center as easily after a turn or that it takes more effort to turn. 

Furthermore, air in the system can cause a foaming or frothy appearance in the power steering fluid, and you may hear a whining or groaning noise similar to a faulty power steering pump.

Methods to Bleed the Power Steering System to Remove Air

To remove air from the power steering system, a method called bleeding is used. Start by turning the steering wheel fully to the left and right a few times with the engine off, then top up the power steering fluid if it’s low. 

Afterward, start the engine and repeat the turning process, checking and topping up the fluid as needed. 

This action helps to push any trapped air out of the system. For more stubborn air locks, a power steering fluid evacuator and refill kit may be used. 

Always check your vehicle’s manual for specific instructions, or consider consulting a professional mechanic to ensure the job is done correctly.

5. Damaged or Worn Power Steering Hoses

Power steering hoses serve as the vital conduits for transferring the power steering fluid from the power steering pump to the steering gear or rack. 

These hoses are designed to endure high pressures, but with time or wear, they can become damaged or start to deteriorate. 

A worn or damaged hose can lead to leaks, reducing the efficiency of the power steering system, or even complete failure.

Signs of Damaged or Worn Power Steering Hoses

Signs that your power steering hoses may be worn or damaged include difficulty in steering, especially when the vehicle is idling, a decrease in overall steering performance, or the presence of power steering fluid leaks beneath your vehicle. 

You might also hear a whining noise from the power steering pump due to low fluid level caused by a leaky hose.

Steps to Inspect and Replace Faulty Hoses

To inspect the power steering hoses, start by locating them – they run from the power steering pump to the steering gear or rack. 

Look for signs of wear such as cracks, bulges, or obvious leaks. If you find evidence of damage, it may be time to replace these hoses. 

Turn off the vehicle and allow it to cool before you start to prevent burns from hot parts or fluid. Use a pan to catch any power steering fluid that spills when you remove the damaged hose. 

After attaching the new hose securely, refill the power steering reservoir with the correct fluid to the recommended level and start the engine, allowing it to idle while checking for leaks. 

Turn the steering wheel to each side several times to allow the system to bleed out any air, topping up the fluid as necessary. 

As always, refer to your vehicle’s manual, or consider hiring a professional mechanic to ensure the job is done correctly.

6. Malfunctioning Power Steering Rack or Gearbox 

The power steering rack or gearbox serves a crucial role in your vehicle’s steering system. It forms part of the steering mechanism that translates the rotational motion of the steering wheel into the straight-line motion needed to turn the wheels. 

Power Steering Rack or Gearbox’s Role

In a nutshell, the power steering rack or gearbox is responsible for ensuring smooth and responsive steering. 

It takes the force you apply to the steering wheel and amplifies it, making it easier for you to steer the car, especially at low speeds. 

When you turn the steering wheel, hydraulic pressure is sent from the power steering pump to the steering rack or gearbox, aiding in turning the vehicle’s wheels. 

Signs of a Malfunctioning Rack or Gearbox

Several signs can indicate a malfunctioning rack or gearbox. You might experience stiffness or difficulty in steering, especially when the vehicle is stationary or moving slowly. 

You may also notice excessive steering wheel play, which means the steering wheel can be turned significantly without causing the wheels to turn. 

Other tell-tale signs include knocking or clunking noises during turns, uneven tire wear, or leaking power steering fluid. In severe cases, the vehicle might not respond to steering wheel movement at all.

Repair Options for the Power Steering Rack or Gearbox

If you suspect a problem with the power steering rack or gearbox, it’s important to have your vehicle inspected by a professional mechanic. 

In some cases, the issue can be remedied with a simple repair, such as replacing a worn internal seal. However, if the damage is extensive, a complete replacement might be necessary. 

The cost of replacing a power steering rack or gearbox can vary depending on your vehicle’s make and model, and it’s always best to consult with a trusted mechanic to discuss your options. 

Remember, ignoring the problem can lead to more serious and potentially dangerous steering failures. Always address any steering issues promptly to ensure your vehicle remains safe and reliable.

7. Problems with the Steering Column

The steering column is a vital component in the power steering system. It connects the steering wheel to the rest of the steering system, transmitting input from the driver to the wheels. 

Any problems within this column can impact the overall driving experience and can be a serious safety concern. 

Symptoms of Steering Column Issues

Various signs can point to potential issues with the steering column. If you notice difficulty in steering, excessive play in the steering wheel, or unusual noises when turning, these could be indicative of steering column problems. 

In some cases, you may also feel a shimmy or vibration in the steering wheel, especially at high speeds. These symptoms should not be ignored as they could lead to larger, more severe problems.

Diagnosing and Fixing Problems with the Steering Column

If you suspect an issue with your steering column, a thorough inspection by a professional mechanic is necessary. 

They can diagnose the problem, which could range from a simple misalignment to more serious issues like a damaged steering shaft. 

Once identified, the mechanic will advise on the best course of action. Minor issues can often be repaired, but in the case of extensive damage, a complete replacement of the steering column may be necessary. 

Always remember, addressing these issues promptly ensures the safety and reliability of your vehicle.

8. Alignment and Tire Issues

Tire alignment is a critical aspect of vehicle maintenance that significantly influences the performance of the power steering system. 

Importance of Proper Wheel Alignment for Power Steering 

Wheel alignment, which refers to the adjustment of a vehicle’s suspension, directly impacts how your tires make contact with the road. 

Proper alignment is essential for the efficient operation of power steering. Misaligned wheels can increase steering effort, lead to uneven tire wear, and in extreme cases, cause the vehicle to pull to one side. 

Regular checks and adjustments of wheel alignment are therefore integral to maintaining optimal steering response and overall driving safety.

How Misaligned Tires Can Cause Light Steering 

Misaligned tires can not only damage the tires but also negatively affect the steering system. 

When tires are not perfectly aligned, they do not hit the road at the appropriate angle, causing the steering to feel lighter or “looser.” 

This can result in less responsive steering and potentially hazardous driving conditions, as the driver may struggle to control the vehicle effectively.

Steps to Check and Correct Wheel Alignment and Tire Issues

Professional mechanics generally use specialized alignment equipment to precisely measure and adjust wheel alignment. 

However, there are some signs that vehicle owners can watch for that might indicate alignment problems. 

These include uneven tire wear, the vehicle pulling to one side, or a steering wheel that’s off-center when driving straight. 

If you notice any of these signs, it’s advisable to schedule an alignment check with a professional mechanic. 

They can perform a comprehensive alignment service, adjusting the angles of your wheels to the manufacturer’s specifications. 

Remember, regular tire rotations and alignment checks can help extend the life of your tires, enhance steering performance, and ensure your safety on the road.

9. Electrical System Malfunction

Understanding the electrical system of a vehicle, specifically the electronic power steering system, is critical to maintaining optimum driving performance.

Electronic Power Steering Systems

Electronic Power Steering (EPS) systems are an essential part of modern vehicles, replacing the traditional hydraulic power steering. 

EPS systems deliver power using an electric motor, which makes the vehicle more fuel-efficient and provides a more responsive and smoother steering experience. 

Signs of an Electrical System Malfunction

The most common sign of an EPS malfunction is a warning light on your dashboard. Other symptoms might include an unusually heavy steering wheel, inconsistent steering response, or a complete loss of power steering. 

These issues can severely impact your ability to control the vehicle, making it important to address them promptly.

How To Fix Electronic Power Steering Issues

If you notice any signs of an EPS malfunction, it’s recommended to consult a professional mechanic. 

They will use advanced diagnostic tools to identify the issue and recommend the best course of action for repair, which may involve replacing the EPS motor or controller.

Bonus: Suspension Problems

Suspension issues can significantly affect your vehicle’s steering system. 

Connection between Suspension and Power Steering

The suspension and steering systems are tightly interconnected. Any issues with suspension components can directly impact the steering feel, making it harder to control the vehicle.

Symptoms of Suspension Problems Affecting Steering Feel

Common signs of suspension problems include a bumpy ride, vehicle pulling to one side, uneven tire wear, and excessive lean when turning corners. 

These issues can make steering more difficult and reduce the overall safety of your vehicle.

Fix For Suspension Issues 

The first step to address suspension issues is to have your vehicle inspected by a professional. 

They will check all suspension components, including shocks, struts, and bushings, and advise on necessary repairs or replacements. 

Regular maintenance of your vehicle’s suspension can significantly improve steering performance and enhance driving safety.

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