Home Diagnosis and TroubleshootingSuspension and Steering Problems Steering Wheel Hard To Turn: Is This A Catastrophe In Waiting?

Steering Wheel Hard To Turn: Is This A Catastrophe In Waiting?

by Jordan Harris
Steering Wheel Hard To Turn

Modern cars nowadays are very easy to drive and you should not have any difficulty in turning the wheel. Ever since power steering was introduced in the automobile industry in the 1960s, it has become common that there is no way you can drive a car without an efficient power steering wheel.

The steering wheel is a very essential component of a car. It functions to help a driver have control of the direction of the car. When the steering system is not functional, you can experience difficulty in trying to navigate through the highway. Take an instance where the steering wheel is hard to turn. This can be a potential safety hazard for car occupants and other road users.

When you have steering that is hard to turn, it can be a very scary problem of experience especially if you are on the road. It can be so unsettling to move from smooth steering to having this vital component not performing as it used to. It can be dangerous driving when the steering wheel is hard to turn.

How would it be driving down the road and immediately you get to a junction, the steering becomes sluggish or cannot turn completely. This can lead to fatal accidents that may end up costing lots of lives. Hard steering is one of the most common problems that are usually experienced when using the steering wheel. This is most noticeable when trying to turn the steering wheel at low speeds.

A tight or stiff steering wheel is assigned that there is a problem with the power steering system. When such problems occur, it is advisable to pull your car off the rod immediately and have it checked by a professional mechanic.

Contents of this article entail;

How A Steering System Works

Most modern vehicles come fitted with the rack and pinion type of steering system. The rack and the pinion steering system comprise two main parts. The rack and the pinion, and the power steering pump. The function of the power steering pump is to inject the power steering fluid into the power steering system especially in the rack and pinion unit.

When you are on the road and try to navigate and move the steering wheel, the steering wheel control valve in the system lets the steering fluid flow into the pinion hence offering the ability to turn the wheel smoothly and with ease. As the wheel turns, the pinion moves against the rack forcing it into the direction that you want to navigate towards.

Without the power steering system, it can be incredibly difficult to turn the car. This is because the weight on the wheel is too much force for you to turn single-handedly. The power steering fluid helps to create pressure against the wheel when you turn the wheel. It’s this pressure that forces the wheel to turn with ease.

Before the power steering system was introduced into the automobile industry, this process of turning the wheel required a lot more force and the driver’s energy input to enable the wheel to turn. This made driving a more strenuous activity since most of the power applied in turning the wheel greatly depended on the drivers controlling power and energy applied to enable the wheel to turn.

Having the power steering system in modern cars has made the whole process much more improved. This has made it a lot easier for the drivers to navigate the vehicle in all directions with ease especially if you want to make some quick emergency turns.

What Is Steering Wheel Hard To Turn

Hard steering refers to a situation where the steering wheel of a car becomes very stiff. This makes it very difficult to turn. This malfunction in your steering system can be caused because of several reasons such as tire pressure, lack of power steering fluid, or wheel alignment. Hard steering would mean that it is more difficult to steer a vehicle and the performance of the car is highly likely to be compromised by a stiff, and non-responsive steering wheel.

Reasons For Steering Wheel Hard To Turn

Steering wheel becoming hard to turn is not an uncommon occurrence if you have been driving for some time now. It is a situation that you have probably found yourself in at a given point. If it has not happened, then expect that one day you will encounter it. This is a situation where you have trouble controlling the steering wheel of your car.

This is normally when the steering wheel suddenly becomes stiff and hard to turn. This does not mean that the steering wheel has suddenly broken. It can be an easy fix you can troubleshoot and repair quickly. Here are some of the causes of a steering wheel becoming hard to turn.

Low Power Steering Fluid

A car is filled with different types of fluids to help its components to function with the highest efficiency levels. The power steering fluid is one of such fluids. It is used in the steering system to help in enhancing the performance of the steering wheel hence giving it a high-efficiency level and smoothness when turning. The power steering fluid provides lubrication to the rack and pinion gears.

Without this fluid, in the car’s steering system it will be very difficult to control the steering wheel. If the car is low on power steering fluid, refilling it will just be a temporary fix. To have this solved, you will have to look into the root cause of the low power steering fluid.

This fluid does not evaporate in any way. Therefore, low power steering fluid will point to a fact that there is a leak within your power steering system. There are higher chances that this leak can be caused by loose, broken, or cracked hoses or connectors.

This makes the fluid disappear making the fluid levels drop. A drop in fluid level will make the steering wheel to be hard to turn because the steering system components are not sufficiently lubricated. As such, make sure you’re aware of where to put the power steering fluid.

Faulty Hoses, Belts, And Connectors

Just like any other system in the car, the steering system comprises many components that help the steering wheel perform sufficiently. It consists of hoses, belts, and connectors that connect all these pieces and hold them in place. If any of these components fail it will lead to the steering wheel misbehaving. This can lead to the steering wheel becoming hard to turn.

Between the steering column and the rack and pinion shaft, there is a thick rubber piece that helps to absorb shock from the road. This rubber can wear out over time. Since the steering wheel and the rack and pinion are set at angles to each other, couplers are used to keep this angle in perfect alignment.

Anything that is designed to have some angular alignment to one another with time has the potential to fall out of place. If the couplers fail to maintain the angles and the components fall out of position, this is likely to make the steering wheel become hard to turn.

The power steering system comprises two central hoses that control the entire system. Both the hoses are attached to the rack and pinion and the power steering pump through brass fittings held into position by hose clamps.

The system is constantly under pressure when helping to carry power steering fluid to the appropriate parts and by the movement of the car against the road. With time the hoses are likely to wear out and fail to perform efficiently. This can cause the steering wheel to become hard especially if the hoses begin leaking and there is fluid lost in the process.

Thick Power Steering Fluid

Not only will low steering fluid as a result of a leakage lead to the steering wheel becoming hard to turn. A thick fluid can also make the steering wheel become hard to turn. Just like any other lubrication fluids in your car that become dirty at some point, the power steering fluid is not an exception.

With time it is likely to collect debris and dirt. The fluid can then become thick and stagnant hence failing to flow freely. This will result in inadequate lubrication of some of the parts of the steering system hence making the steering wheel stiff and hard to turn.

The stiffness will most likely be felt at low speeds. The main cause of this is failing to change the lubricant for a very long time. The solution to this problem is to have a fluid flush out of the steering fluid, the reservoir of the fluid to be cleaned and then replenished with fresh power steering fluid.

Faulty Power Steering Pump

The power steering pump is designed to last for some thousands of miles before it can become faulty and require a replacement. The role of the steering pump is to create the correct amount of pressure in the power steering system to enable the fluid to flow through the system at the recommended speed to ensure all the parts get lubricated.

When the pump comes under excess pressure, is damaged, or wears out over time, its performance will be compromised. It will not perform with the highest efficacy level as it used to. When it arrives at the point of failure, the symptoms will likely begin unfolding by having a stiff steering system.

This will cause the steering wheel to become hard to turn. In this case, a replacement would be necessary. In most cases when the pump cannot supply enough fluid pressure, the steering wheel begins to produce unpleasant noise indicating that it is time to have the pump replaced.

Failure to replace the pump will make the steering wheel become harder and harder and this poses a great danger to your safety and that of other road users. Pulling off your car of the road and having it serviced will be the best thing to do.

Damaged Serpentine Belt

This is one of the most common causes of a steering wheel becoming hard to turn. This may be because of a broken or cracked serpentine belt. With time, the serpentine belt will experience wear and tear mainly because of the kind of work it does and the amount of strain it has to go through to ensure it performs its function.

This will gradually lower its performance and start exhibiting the symptoms of malfunction. The main symptom will be stiffness that usually happens when the serpentine belt begins to break and erode. The serpentine belt can also likely become loose over time. If you ignore these symptoms and choose to drive on a worn serpentine belt, you risk experiencing severe breaks on the belt.

A loose or broken belt can also cause other components that rely on it to also stop working. These components include the water pump, the alternator, and the AC compressor. A faulty belt will also cause damage to the pulley and the car is likely to overheat. This can eventually lead to your steering wheel stalling completely.

Defective Steering Rack

A vehicle’s steering rack is linked to the wheel through a series of U-joints and shafts. Just like any other vehicle component that functions under high pressure, with time it’s likely to have damages that can eventually compromise its performance.

Such damages may include fractures due to daily driving. When the steering wheel becomes stiff immediately after you start your car, the root of the problem can be traced from the steering rack. As you continue driving, the steering wheel starts becoming less stiff along the way.

This will happen because when the engine begins to run, the rack gradually becomes hotter. This condition will gradually manifest and become severe over time. When this happens, the power steering fluid will gradually begin to settle and fail to move and lubricate the entire power steering system.

This will need immediate attention from the service mechanic to inspect the car and fix the problem. Don’t drive with a deteriorating steering rack as the problem can worsen over time.

Tire Pressure

Tire pressure can also be a catalyst to stiffness on the steering wheel. It may not be easy to believe this but surely it does. Lack of enough air pressure in your tire can result in a steering wheel that is hard to turn.

Lack of tire pressure, improper tire pressure, or deflated tires are likely to trigger a stiff steering wheel. You should always ensure that your tires are always properly inflated according to the PSI recommendations to maintain a smooth and responsive steering system.

Bad Front End Alignment

A bad front-end alignment can also lead to the steering wheel becoming hard to turn. Unbalanced or uneven wear on your front-end tires may make your car tilt on one side. This tilt can make the steering wheel stiff especially if this tilt affects the angular configuration of the steering components.

Steering Wheel Hard To Turn

The uneven tire threads are likely to result in misaligned wheels that are often noticeable when turning a corner. Misaligned wheels will make the steering wheel stiff and very difficult to turn.

How To Fix Steering Wheel Hard To Turn

Having a malfunctioning steering wheel can be a deadly hazard if you are driving on a very busy highway. You just need a way to fix this immediately you realize this with your car. Here are some of the troubleshooting steps that you can take to help fix the problem.

Check The Air Pressure In The Tires

If you realize that you are the steering wheel is hard to turn at low speeds, then you need to check on the air pressure in your tires. You should always ensure that your tires are filled with enough air pressure according to the PSI recommendation for the size of your car. A simple fix of just inflating your tires should not lead to a stiff steering wheel.

Examine The Pulley On The Power Steering Unit

Always inspect the steering pulleys. This should only be done when the engine is not running. Don’t try inspecting the pulleys when the engine is running. Ensure that the tension on the pulleys does not exceed one inch or three-quarters of play.

You can check this by just pressing your thumb down the belt. Also check for possible fractures, cracks, possible torn and frayed edges. You can also have a mechanic do for you visual inspection when the engine is running.

The pulley belt should always be strong and steady. A slipping pulley belt will not only cause the steering wheel to become hard to turn but can also lead to erratic and unstable steering.

Check The Levels Of The Power Steering Fluid

The steering wheel can become stiff when the levels of the fluid drop because of a leak in the steering system or when the fluid clogs with debris that make it become thicker and cannot flow easily to different parts.

You can diagnose this by taking your car for a steering fluid flush and replenishing the fluid with a fresh one. Replenishing fresh fluid should be done once the parts have been cleaned off the debris. The average cost of this car care can range between $100 and $130.

Inspect The Front End Parts

The front-end parts should always be in perfect condition to ensure you don’t experience stiffness in the steering wheel. The ball joints and tie rod ends should be checked. This is meant to ensure there is proper lubrication and there are no signs of wear. Any worn-out parts should be replaced immediately before they can pose some danger.

Additionally, you can also inspect the front alignment and ensure that it is regular. When you pack on a flat surface but the car tends like leaning on one side, then the alignment is irregular and with time this can lead to hard steering. You need to have this fixed immediately.

Cost Of Fixing Steering Wheel Hard To Turn

The cost of replacing a power steering pump will depend on the model, design, and where you buy the vehicle parts. You can visit your trusted mechanic to advise you accordingly on the type of components that can effectively match your car’s needs.

The overall cost of replacing a power steering pump can be between $400 and $650. This will also vary depending on how intensive the labor involved will be. Other additional parts may be required and this can push the cost further.

The typical cost of labor for a power steering pump repair can range from $200 to $300. The parts may cost between $200 and $400.

The general steering wheel mechanical problems should be fixed by a qualified mechanic. He should be able to properly diagnose and fix the arising problem. The steering system is a very sensitive part of the car and should not be handled by an amateur mechanic. Any misdiagnosis can lead to dire consequences and severe damages.

A bad steering rack will cost you anywhere between $650 and $1200 to have it fixed or replaced. The cost of parts would be somewhere between $350 and $830. The cost of labor would be between $280 and $360. The prices of these parts will vary widely depending on your vehicle’s particular make and model.

The average cost for fixing or replacing a serpentine belt would range between $110 and $130. The parts would typically cost around $60 while the cost of labor would be between $50 and $70.

Steering Wheel Hard To Turn – Conclusion

When you go to turn the steering wheel, you want it to be easy. As soon as it becomes difficult, you need to get it addressed. While you might be able to muscle past it for a while, when disaster strikes and you need to get out of the way, you need to be able to do it as quickly as possible.

Furthermore, the longer you wait, the more likely it is that you’ll break more components in your system. Fixing your steering system doesn’t have to be hard. You just need to know where to look.

A steering wheel that is hard to turn isn’t just a frustrating hassle, it’s also a safety liability. Modern vehicles were designed to have power steering systems. Therefore, they are nearly impossible to drive safely when they don’t have a properly functioning system.

It’s unsafe to take your car on the road when you find that the steering wheel is hard to turn. In addition to safety concerns, continuing to drive your vehicle under this condition can cause further, more severe damage to the power steering system.

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