Smooth, easy steering relies on adequate pressure and flow from the power steering pump. But like all components, pumps eventually wear out. Being able to recognize common symptoms of a failing power steering pump allows replacement before complete failure leaving you unable to steer.
Table of Contents
- How Power Steering Works
- Signs of Wear and Potential Failure
- Dangers of Failing Power Steering
- Causes of Premature Pump Failure
- Professional Diagnosis Tips
- Replacement and Repair Considerations
- Preventing Premature Failure
How Power Steering Works
Hydraulic power steering uses fluid pressure to reduce driver steering effort. The basic components include:
- Belt driven pump creating pressure
- Hydraulic hoses routing fluid to rack and pinion
- Steering gear or rack pistons
- Return line recirculating fluid to reservoir
The pump pressurizes fluid up to 1,000 psi for large vehicles. This force moves pistons in the steering gear, multiplying driver input effort for easy turning.
Signs of Wear and Potential Failure
Aging pumps lose their ability to generate adequate pressure. Warning signs of an impending power steering pump failure include:
1. Harder Steering Effort
As the pump loses pressure output, you’ll need more arm strength to turn the wheel. Power assist feels diminished, especially at low speeds.
2. Groaning, Whining Noises
Common sounds indicating pump problems:
- High pitched whines when turning point to pressure loss
- Grinding or groaning from lack of lubrication
- Knocking noises as components shift or rub
3. Leaking Fluid
Seals wear out over time, allowing power steering fluid leaks near the pump pulley shaft. Topping off fluid temporarily minimizes noise and stiffness.
4. Vibration Through the Steering Wheel
Inadequate pressure allows air pockets to enter the hydraulic system. This creates surges and vibrations felt in the steering wheel when turning.
Clunks, binding and uneven power assist also arise as pumps wear internally. Address these symptoms before steering failures arise.
Dangers of Failing Power Steering
Continuing to drive with a worn power steering pump risks losing the ability to steer and control the vehicle. This poses serious safety hazards.
Sudden failure while cornering or maneuvering at speed could lead to accidents and injury. The inability to turn safely makes even routine driving dangerous.
Don’t delay diagnosis and repair once low pressure symptoms appear. Especially avoid high speed driving until the failing pump is replaced.
Causes of Premature Pump Failure
Power steering pump lifespan averages 50-70,000 miles. But contaminants and mistakes hasten demise:
- Leaks allowing air into the system
- Clogged filter screens blocking flow
- Using wrong fluid leading to internal damage
- Extreme system pressures from turning wheels at full lock
- Poor pulley alignment causing belt slippage
- Severe duty cycles in commercial vehicles
Address underlying causes like leaks to maximize pump replacement longevity.
Professional Diagnosis Tips
DIY troubleshooting of power steering problems is limited. Shops use specialized diagnostic methods:
- Pressure gauges confirm low readings during multiple steering cycles.
- Flow meters check for adequate volume entering and exiting the system.
- Belt wear and tension is inspected to identify slipping.
- Contamination and fluid condition is analyzed.
- Gearbox drag and resistance is quantified.
Don’t rely on guessing causes of power steering problems. Have symptoms thoroughly diagnosed to pinpoint pump versus other internal failures.
Replacement and Repair Considerations
Once pump failure is confirmed, options include:
- New OEM unit for exact fit and performance
- Premium remanufactured pumps warrantied to meet OEM specifications
- Repair kits to overhaul existing pump if damage is minimal
- Upgraded high-pressure aluminum pumps for performance applications
- Checking steering gearbox wear during pump service
Ideally the root causes of early failure are addressed during pump replacement to gain maximum longevity from the new component.
Preventing Premature Failure
While power steering pumps have finite service lives, you can optimize longevity by:
- Flushing fluid and filters according to maintenance schedules
- Catching leaks early and having lines/seals replaced
- Using only manufacturer-approved power steering fluid
- Listening for noise and pulsation indicating wear
- Keeping belt aligned and tensioned to specification
- Avoiding curbs and full steering lock turns
- Installing high-flow cooling fan shrouds on performance vehicles
Proper maintenance and operation extends the working life of power steering pumps. But act promptly once low pressure symptoms begin to avoid breakdowns leading to steering failures.
Detecting power steering pump problems early by watching for increased steering effort, noises and leaks avoids being left without assist. Allowing pumps to fail completely risks accidents and injury. Diagnose issues thoroughly to determine if the pump itself or other components need repair. With prompt attention to emerging issues and periodic maintenance, your vehicle’s power steering pump can provide reliable operation essential for safe steering and handling.