In modern cars, power steering is the functionality that assists a driver to maneuver the vehicle without exerting too much effort in steering the wheel. In such a system, movements of the steering wheel create fluid pressure inside a hydraulic pump. This pressure moves a piston that directs the wheels to move the car in the right direction. The hydraulics actually reduce the pressure of a car’s internal mechanisms.
The concept of power steering is nothing short of a phenomenon in the modern navigation technology. However, the failure of the power steering system is a potential threat to the safety of the driver, and needs to be fixed sooner rather than later.
Symptoms of failure
When a problem with the steering appears, the driver would be the first person to know. Listed below are some signs that forewarn you of a failure in your power steering mechanism.
- Physical exertion
You would experience difficulty in turning the wheels of your car, in either of the following cases,
- The levels of power steering fluid are low
- There is a leak in the power steering rack
- The power steering belt has been damaged
The replacement of the power steering belt varies between different types of cars.
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The fluid level of the power steering should be inspected often. If the levels are low, there is a possibility of leakage, and a repair is required. In the case of a parked car, the leak can be spotted in the power steering line.
Internal combustion engine fuel pumps are of two types, electrical and mechanical. In electrical pumps, you cannot identify the oil leakage easily. In this case, you would have to look into the car owner’s manual for details on identifying a leak. Low levels of fluid makes the pump noisy and causes vigorous vibrations in the steering wheel. In older cars, there could be a failure in the pump itself.
It is important to check the power steering fluid once a month.
- New fluid is usually red in colour and is marked by a distinctive smell.
- When the fluid is old and oxidised, it will turn grey in colour.
- There might be bubbles in the fluid, indicating the presence of water or air in the power steering line. This could seriously degrade the power steering pump.
- The tubes through which the fluid moves also harden up and could cause a power steering failure.
A squealing or whining noise could be due to low levels of power steering fluid. However, the fluid is easily available at automobile supply stores and can be replaced without much effort.
On starting the car, a chattering sound under the hood is an indication of a power steering pump failure.
Violent vibrations of the steering wheel when the car is idling indicate that the belt is either loose or damaged. The belt will need to be replaced in this scenario.
Handling a power steering failure while driving
If you missed all warning signs and found yourself in the unpleasant situation of a power steering failure while driving, there are a few things that you can do to keep safe.
- Warn other drivers
The first thing that you need to do is relax and turn on the indicators or hazard lights and honk the horn, to warn other motorists that you are having emergency issues with your car. This will keep them out of the way.
- Steer away from the middle of the road
Steering the car during such an emergency can be difficult, as you would need to move the wheel with more force. You should focus on moving the car to the side of the road, as carefully as possible. Also hit the brakes gently and bring the car to a gradual halt. Slamming the brakes will cause the car to spin without steering control. You may also have to drive on a lower gear and move along a guardrail or cement divider, and use its friction to assist the brakes.
- Call for a towing vehicle
Once you manage to stop the car, you should ideally call a towing vehicle to get it to the nearest service station. In case you find that the wheel turns without too much effort on engine restart, then you can attempt to drive it to the nearest garage, as well.
If you take good care of your vehicle, power steering failures can be prevented to a certain extent. Change the fluid regularly and take your car for servicing, to steer clear of such emergencies.
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