For most of us, it is hard to remember life without power steering – cranking those great big steering wheels? It was a pretty good workout. Now power steering is standard. The heart of any power steering system is its pump. The pump pressurizes the power steering fluid that provides assist for steering. Most pumps are driven by a belt that is run by the engine – a few are electrically powered. A high-pressure hose passes fluid from the pump to the steering gear. A low pressure hose returns the fluid back to the pump. These hoses can develop leaks, so it is a good idea to inspect them at every oil change.
Low fluid can damage the power steering pump. That is why fluid level is on the checklist for a full-service oil change. The fluid needs to be compatible with the hoses and seals, so check your owners’ manual for the right type – or just ask your service technician. The fluid cleans, cools and lubricates the power steering system. It breaks down as the years go by and collects unwanted moisture, so it needs to be replaced from time to time. Many manufacturers specify power steering service intervals. Unfortunately, this important service is sometimes left off the maintenance schedule. So, when in doubt, every 25,000 miles/40,000 km or two years is a good fallback.
Your service center will use a detergent to clean the system, flush out the old fluid and replace it with the good stuff. Here are some warning signs of trouble with your power steering: It’s harder to turn the wheel, there’s erratic power assist, you hear loud whining coming from the pump (which may be difficult to hear over the loud whining coming from the backseat), you have to top-off the fluid frequently, or you hear squealing belts. Remember to never hold the steering wheel to the far right or left for more than a few seconds at a time. That will wear out your pump real fast. Other steering components can be bent or damaged from wear or hard knocks. Ball-joint, idler-arm, steering-gear, steering-knuckle and tie rod to name a few.
Warning signs here are steering play, wandering, uneven tire wear, and off-center steering wheel. An annual alignment check will reveal bent or damaged steering components. Most SUV’s, pick-ups and rear-wheel-drive cars need regular front-wheel-bearing service. The bearings should be cleaned and inspected. If they are excessively worn, they need to be replaced. The bearings are then repacked in clean grease. It’s also recommend the wheel-seal be replaced when the bearings are serviced. Like everything else, check your owners’ manual maintenance schedule. It’s usually required around every two years or 40,000 miles/64,000 km. If you drive through water, the bearings will need service more often.