The power steering system in today’s cars is an excellent example of crucial yet quickly overlooked technology. The system and its pump magnify your power when turning the steering wheel, saving you effort and energy when driving.
Power steering pumps can fail, and when they do, they display signs like noises, feelings in the steering wheel, and fluids where they shouldn’t be. For example, squealing and whining noises come from a failing power steering pump, making it incredibly difficult to manage the steering wheel and leaking power steering fluid around the engine bay and on the ground.
You must know the signs of a failing power steering pump so you can get it the repairs it needs quickly. This guide will show you the signs and explain a step-by-step troubleshooting process to confirm that the pump is affected.
Related: Why Steering Wheel Shakes at Low Speeds
What Are 3 Signs That A Power Steering Pump Is Failing?
Your car’s power steering pump is concealed, so you’ll never see it while driving or even standing around the vehicle. Still, you can look out for plenty of different signs that tell you the pump is failing, namely those related to noise, feel, and fluids.
Here are the 3 signs that your power steering pump is failing:
The first sign of a power steering pump failure is the noise it makes. Suppose you suspect that your power steering pump is failing. In that case, you’ll want to listen out for unusual noises at two specific times:
- When starting the vehicle
- When turning the steering wheel
Noises that happen at those specific times will indicate whether or not there’s a problem with the power steering pump.
For example, a problem with the pump will cause a squealing noise when you turn the key in your car’s ignition. The sound comes from a problematic pump turning on along with the other components in your engine bay.
Besides that, a failing pump will also cause a whining sound that only happens when you turn the wheel in either direction. The pump is activated when turning the wheel and should be silent under normal conditions.
Lastly, a continuous groaning sound that happens regardless of whether the car is moving or stationary is another hint that the power steering pump is failing.
The power steering pump also affects how your steering wheel feels in your hand. You won’t feel anything when turning the wheel when it functions normally.
However, a failing power steering pump will cause problems like the following:
- Stiffness: Firstly, a power steering pump that doesn’t work anymore will cause the wheel to feel stiff, no matter how hard you’re trying to turn it. It’ll almost feel as if the steering wheel is resisting your efforts to turn the car at a corner or a junction.
- Delayed response: Besides that, the power steering pump will also fail to keep up with your input at the steering wheel. As a result, you’ll get a delayed response from the car when navigating turns and corners.
- Heaviness: Lastly, remember that the purpose of a power steering system is to magnify your input and make it easy to turn your car’s wheels. That won’t happen when its pump fails, and you’ll quickly get tired from struggling against a heavy steering wheel.
Sometimes, the feelings described above won’t be noticeable. But if you feel that something is off with the steering wheel, it’s best to troubleshoot the power steering pump.
The final sign that your power steering pump is failing is when you start seeing fluids where they don’t belong. This is because the system relies on a power steering fluid that’s a reddish-brown color, and that fluid should always be in the reservoir or circulating in the system.
However, you know there’s a problem when you find that fluid:
- In a puddle underneath where you parked the car
- Missing from the reservoir (i.e. low fluid levels)
- Leaked out into the engine bay, particularly around where the reservoir or power steering system is
The lack of power steering fluid caused by leaks will negatively affect the power steering pump. So, regardless of whether the leak or pump failure happened first, both problems tend to happen simultaneously.
How Do You Test And Troubleshoot A Power Steering Pump?
When you suspect the power steering pump is failing, you must test and troubleshoot it as soon as possible.
Here’s a step-by-step process you can use to do that:
Step 1: Listen For Noises
Firstly, start your car with the radio, and any other noise sources turned off. The goal here is to listen for any squealing noises when the car starts, which clearly indicates a problem with the steering pump.
If you hear nothing except for the engine’s hum, that’s a good sign.
Despite that, continue with the other steps to check the pump’s status thoroughly.
Step 2: Turn The Wheel
Next, turn the steering wheel from side to side with the engine running. More specifically, turn the wheel all the way to the left and then to the right.
In this step, you’re looking for two symptoms: sound and feel.
Any whining or squealing noises and any difficulty or heaviness turning the wheel will indicate a problem with the power steering pump.
Step 3: Check Fluid Levels
It’s also helpful to inspect the fluid levels in your power steering fluid reservoir while the engine is off. Depending on your car’s make and model, the reservoir could be slightly transparent, allowing you to check fluid levels by looking at it from the side.
However, other vehicles have a dipstick that serves the same purpose.
If the fluid levels are too low, that could indicate a leak and a problem with the power steering pump.
You can top-up that fluid, but you must still check to find any leaks that might have caused the fluid loss in the first place.
Step 4: Inspect Drive Belt
The drive belt around your engine also powers the power steering pump. So, check it for signs of wear and damage, like tears and cracks. Worn-out and damaged drive belts cause many problems, including failures with the power steering pump.
Thankfully, drive belts are also pretty quick to replace. You should get a replacement as soon as possible, as a worn-out drive belt will affect the power steering pump and other critical components in your car’s engine bay.
Step 5: Look For Leaks
Lastly, check the engine bay for power steering fluid leaks. Focus your attention on the areas surrounding the power steering system components and its reservoir. If you see signs of a reddish-brown fluid sprayed around those parts, there’s a leak somewhere.
A power steering pump failure isn’t catastrophic for your car, so you can still start the engine and drive normally. However, without that pump, you’ll use far too much energy to manage the steering wheel by yourself.
That can make you get exhausted quickly and make your drive a lot more dangerous than it has to be. So, if you suspect your power steering pump is failing based on the signs listed above, bring your vehicle to the mechanic and have it fixed immediately. Doing so will save you energy and keep you, your passengers, and all other road users as safe as possible.