Why is My Power Steering Not Working?

First fitted to a production car in the 1950s, power steering has a number of benefits in making the car easier to drive. It’s not probably something you think about very often when behind the wheel, but when it does decide to stop working, you’ll certainly notice the difference. With that in mind, here we offer a handy guide to understanding what power steering is, symptoms that it may have stopped working and how to better maintain the system.

What is Power Steering?

Power steering is the use of an actuator to increase force from the driver’s input to translate to the steering of the wheels. In its infancy, power steering was an exclusively mechanical action, using hydraulic pressure from a pump to assist steering.

This way of delivering power steering is still favoured amongst enthusiasts because of its responsiveness and ability to deliver greater feedback from the road. However, even supercar manufacturers like Ferrari have moved to the modern alternative in recent years.

The newer, and some would argue better, version is electronic power steering. Because electric power steering isn’t directly connected to the engine in the way that hydraulic power steering is, simply by swapping to EPS, there can be an immediate improvement of both power and engine efficiency.

Here, we delve deeper into the differences between electric and hydraulic power steering.

How does Power Steering Work?

A hydraulic power steering system incorporates a closed-loop that features fluids that are pressurised by a belt-driving pump that is connected to the engine. Because the belt is driven directly by the engine, higher engine speeds translate to higher pressure.

When this high-pressure fluid is transported through the pump, it enters the steering rack and rotary valve where the power is applied, with the result being responsive and lighter-feeling steering for the driver.

Electric power steering was invented to build on the groundwork that was laid by hydraulic power steering. The effect is more-or-less the same but with slight differences in how they achieve this.

Electric systems use a series of sensors that detect the amount of steering lock being applied to the steering wheel, before sending a signal to electric motors fitted to either side of the steering column. These motors increase lateral force being applied through rotational power, improving energy transfer.

Female wearing bright yellow top smiling whilst driving her car

Can You Drive Without Power Steering Fluid?

If your car is modern, it’s unlikely to have any power steering fluid at all as the automotive industry ditched hydraulic steering in favour of the newer, less power-hungry electric variant.

If your car does use hydraulic steering, you can still drive it, but it will feel a lot heavier and require a lot more effort just to turn the wheel.

If your car uses hydraulic power steering, and you notice it being suddenly heavy, you should aim to solve the problem straight away as there is likely a leak or other fault in your power steering.

Symptoms That Your Power Steering Fluid Isn’t Working

When the power steering fluid isn’t working as it should, several symptoms may manifest. Signs to look out for include:

  • High-pitched squealing sound: This signals a potential issue with the power steering system when turning.
  • Stiff steering wheel: Additionally, if the steering wheel feels slow or becomes stiff to move, it could be a sign of power steering fluid problems.
  • Level of power steering fluid is low: Checking the fluid level in the power steering reservoir is another essential step; low levels may indicate a leak or other issues within the system.

Why Your Power Steering Fluid Isn’t Working

Understanding the root causes of power steering fluid issues is crucial for effective troubleshooting. Damaged steering pumps, broken belts, contaminated fluids, and improper fluid levels are common culprits.

A malfunctioning steering pump can lead to decreased fluid pressure, affecting the overall performance of the power steering system, making it tricky to pinpoint straight away. Broken belts may disrupt the power transfer to the pump, hindering its functionality.

Maintaining the proper fluid level is equally important, as inadequate or excessive levels can impact the power steering’s effectiveness.

Cropped image of hands turning a steering wheel

How to Maintain Fluid and Fix Power Steering Problems

Regular maintenance is key to preventing power steering fluid issues. To ensure optimal performance, drivers should periodically check the power steering fluid level and look for signs of leaks.

A comprehensive guide, such as our advice on adding power steering fluid and spotting leaks, can be a valuable resource for readers seeking detailed instructions.

Power steering is one of the most important systems on any modern car and must be kept in optimal condition to continue working as it should. Armed with the knowledge in this guide, you should be able to assess if your power steering is faulty and why that might be. For more help and advice, check out our help and advice hub.