How To Tell If Power Steering Pump Is Bad

A power steering pump helps translate the steering wheel into wheel turns on the road. It also makes it possible to drive any car effortlessly, irrespective of its weight. Nevertheless, the power steering pump or the rack and pinion can fail or have mechanical issues that make it difficult to steer your vehicle. It is not difficult to tell if power steering pump is bad or rack and pinion is failing as long as you are keen on the sounds your car produces as you drive. 

A bad steering pump or a failing rack and pinion tends to have several signs that include a tight steering wheel, leaking steering fluid and some grinding noise. This article will teach you how to tell if power steering pump is bad or rack and pinion is failing, and help you fix the problem before it becomes severe.

What Is A Power Steering Pump

A power steering power is a hydraulic pump system that uses drive belts to deliver pressure to the rack and give assistive steering power. The pumps feature vanes or generators that apply positive pressure that works together with the pressure control systems to ensure the pumping pressure is constant irrespective of the engine speed. Once you turn the steering wheel, the pump generates a force that pushes the piston in the steering rack in the right direction.

Nevertheless, other control systems exist that work with the steering pump to offer adaptive pressure depending on the wheel speed and driving situation.

The power steering pump offers more assistance when driving at lower speeds. You would find it difficult to turn the wheels without a power steering at lower speeds. The systems use engine power and a belt to power the pump and push the fluid through the system. The power steering fluid allows a steering gear piston’s movement, which enables you to turn the steering wheel effortlessly.

Why Is A Power Steering Pump Important

The steering pump uses hydraulics to apply force to the steering gear, making it easier to control the wheels on the road. It generates the necessary amount of hydraulic pressure depending on the speed and driving requirements. A power steering pump function is to make your wheels turn smoothly and effortlessly when you spin the steering wheel. You would find it difficult to turn your wheels if the pump is faulty. 

A power steering pump is essential for the following reasons:

  • It allows you to safely and precisely steer your car in the right direction 
  • It reduces the effort needed to steer the vehicle 
  • Also, it absorbs some of the road shocks for a smooth, comfortable ride 

What Are The Important Power Steering System Accessories

Your wheels will not turn smoothly and effortlessly if any power steering system accessories are not operating correctly. The essential powering steering system accessories you should ensure in the best condition at all times for the best driving experience include:

  • Power steering pump – It is the most critical aspect of your vehicle’s steering system. The engine’s serpentine belt drives the pump, allowing it to build up pressure in the high side hose of the control valve. The steering pump delivers the fluid under high pressure to the rack and pinion parts.
  • Rack and pinion – Whenever you turn the steering wheel, the pressurized fluid from the pump moves the toothed gears that spin the wheels. Rack and pinion parts are the toothed gears that translate the steering wheel movement to wheel turn on the road. Steering the wheel turns the pinion against the rack, pushing the rack in the intended direction. The action turns the wheels effortlessly.
  • Steering yoke assembly – The steering yoke or damper is the thick rubber between the steering column and the rack and pinion input shaft. It ensures a smooth driving experience by absorbing road vibrations and shocks. It further prevents the shocks from getting to the driver via the steering wheel.
  • Tie rod ends – You will find the tie rod ends at the ends of the steering rack. They provide smooth rack motion transition into the movement of the front wheels. The tie rod ends can move diagonally or vertically. They may also rotate horizontally and compensate for the bouncing effect if the vehicle is on rough roads.
  • Steering coupler – A steering coupler acts as the joint between the steering column and the input shaft. It aligns both parts while allowing the steering wheel to spin without affecting the steering column.
  • Hoses – A power steering system has two main hoses, one for the high and the other for the low side. They can be of high-heat rubber or stainless steel and attach to the rack and pinion assembly using copper or brass fittings. The high side hose carries the high-pressure fluid to the rack, while the low side hose takes the low-pressure fluid back to the pump.

How To Tell If Power Steering Pump Is Bad Or Rack And Pinion – Warning Signs

A power steering pump makes driving your vehicle more accessible, comfortable, and safer. A quick responding steering system will help you avoid accidents on the road. However, the steering system can fail if you do not carry out proper maintenance.

This will lead to requirements for repairs or replacement, depending on the extent of the problem. Knowing that your power steering system is failing is not difficult as the signs are easily noticeable. Some of the signs that will help you to tell if power steering pump is bad or rack and pinion is failing include:

1. Whining noise

Turning your steering wheel should be smooth and effortless with a properly working pump. But, the presence of a whining noise as you turn the wheel indicates problems with your steering pump. The noise can be an indication of a leak or low fluid level.

Regularly check the fluid level to ensure it is okay. Driving long with low fluid can damage the steering system, which as a result would require an expensive replacement.

2. The steering wheel responds slowly

Your car wheels should respond almost instant to steering wheel movement. If you notice that it takes longer for the steering wheel to respond to your movements, you should immediately seek a mechanic’s assistance.

A steering wheel that is slow to respond can put you in an accident, in a situation that needs an immediate response to your movements. Steering wheels that are slow to react also tend to have a whining noise.

3. Steering wheel stiffness

If you notice that your steering wheel is stiffer than normal, it is a sign that your power steering pump is failing and may need replacement.

4. Squealing noises

The presence of squealing noises from the hood once the vehicle starts or as you turn corners is a common sign of a failing steering pump.

5. Groaning noises

Please do not ignore the presence of groaning noises as they are an indication of a severe issue with your power steering system. The noises tend to worsen as the system fails, hence the need to get them checked immediately.

How Rack And Pinion Works

The rack and pinion components keep you going in the right direction. A metal tube encloses the rack and pinion gear set, and the pinion gear attaches to the steering shaft. The rack gear connects to tie rods at both ends. Once you engage the steering wheel, the pinion gear translates the movement and moves the rack to the right or left.

The rack converts the pinion gear’s movement into a linear motion that moves the wheels. The spacing of the rack’s teeth determines the steering ratio. The common types of racks have teeth closer to each other in the middle and further apart at the sides of the rack. 

Your car’s rack and pinion gears have two critical functions that include: 

  • Translating the steering wheel spins into the linear motion that turns the wheels.
  • Reducing the effort needed for the steering wheel to turn the wheels.

Why Does A Steering Rack Fail

Like any other car component, a steering rack may also fail and trigger unresponsive movements, noises, and a failing steering system, among other problems. The leading cause of a rack failure is tear and wear that happens over time. In addition to normal tear and wear, the presence of leaks can make the rack fail.

Although the rack gear is small, several seals keep the fluid inside the system. The presence of fluid leaks can cause excessive steering effort or even damage the power steering pump. Since the seals are inaccessible for repairs, you may have to replace the rack to fix the problem. Some of the signs that can help you to tell if power steering pump is bad or rack and pinion is failing include:

  • Low/ discolored fluid – You should make checking the power steering fluid part of your regular car care routines. In the case of low fluid, it is advisable to add more to the reservoir until it reaches the full line. The fluid may look discolored if water and other contaminants are trapped in the system. Your vehicle will need a power-steering flush to fix the discolored fluid problem. If the fluid appears foamy, check the hoses for a crack as it indicates air in the system. Other signs of low fluid include a whining noise and resistance to turning at low speeds.
  • Leaks – You will have to fix leaks if you notice red or brown fluid under the car. However, you will need to troubleshoot the problem as other components may also cause fluid leaks. You troubleshoot the leak by cleaning the existing leaks with a towel and then ask a friend to turn the key and slowly engage the steering wheel back and forth and look for new leaks.
  • Dead spot – You have a dead zone if you keep turning the steering wheel without feeling resistance. You may have to replace the rack as it indicates worn-out gears.
  • Grinding noise – You will most likely notice a grinding noise when your pump is low on fluid. However, it may also indicate a damaged pinion and rack.

How To Diagnose A Failing Steering Rack

You can diagnose a failing steering rack by looking for signs like the excessive play of the steering wheel, noise when turning, power steering leak, and numb spot. However, you will need to be thorough with your diagnosis as other components like tie rods and the power steering pump may trigger the same signs.

Final Recap

Most people will not know the importance of a power steering pump until it fails. Furthermore, your car does not have a light indicator to help you know when the steering system has mechanical issues and hence, we recommend you learn how to tell if the power steering pump is bad or rack and pinion is failing.

You will have to regularly check the fluid and state of the steering system to diagnose a failing steering system. We also recommend that you understand a failing steering pump’s signs to fix the component before the issues get serious.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Can You Drive Without A Power Steering Pump?

It is possible to drive a car without a power steering pump as older car models did not have the pump. However, you will need to put more muscle to turn the vehicle.

How Long Does A Power Steering Pump Last?

It depends on several factors like your driving habits and manufacturer. Nevertheless, it would be best to consider replacing a pump after about 100,000 miles.

How Much Should You Pay To Replace A Steering Pump?

The pump is the most expensive component of a steering system. It costs about $350 to $500, depending on the make and model of your car.

Is It Hard To Replace A Steering Pump?

You do not have to be a mechanic to replace a steering pump. However, the process can take up to four hours.

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