Signs Your Power Steering Pump Is Going Bad

Mia Bevacqua
May 30, 2018

Power steering makes it easier for you to steer your car, especially at low speeds. To do this, the system uses a power steering pump to provide fluid to several other parts. If the pump fails, though, it’ll be noticeably harder to turn the steering wheel at lower speeds or when stopped, and you might hear some odd noises or notice a leak.

A faulty power steering pump can cause a number of problems. Common issues include:

  • Lack of power steering: This is the most obvious symptom, and when it happens, you’ll notice the steering wheel becomes very hard to turn. The problem is especially apparent when you’re stopped.
  • Noise: Often, a faulty power steering pump will make a whining or groaning noise. This sound typically increases with engine RPMs, since the pump is driven by a belt. The noise will usually get louder when the wheel is turned.
  • Fluid leaks: Power steering pumps, lines, hoses and steering gears can develop leaks. These leaks can originate at the pump seals or from a crack in the pump housing or reservoir. If you notice a red or reddish-brown puddle under your car, this could be your power steering fluid.
Get it diagnosed by a professional

What’s in a power steering system?

A traditional hydraulic power steering system consists of the following components:

  • Power steering pump: As the name implies, the power steering pump is a hydraulic pump. It’s usually mounted to the front of the engine and driven by the drive belt, but may be gear-driven, which is common with diesel engines. Power steering pumps use positive displacement, meaning that every time the pump turns, a specific amount of fluid must exit the pump — this creates high pressure. The pump pressurizes fluid and sends it through a high-pressure line to the steering gear. An internal pressure relief valve opens when pressure has exceeded a certain point. This allows fluid to return and assures that maximum pressure is always available.
  • Steering gear: There are two basic types of steering gears: recirculating ball steering boxes, (big cars and trucks) and rack-and-pinion assemblies. Regardless of the design, the steering gear is connected between the steering column and steering linkage. When the driver turns the steering wheel, the gear assembly transfers that motion to steering linkage. The steering linkage then turns the wheels in the desired direction.
  • Lines: The power steering system has high-pressure and low-pressure fluid lines, as well as a suction line if the reservoir is remotely mounted. Pressurized hydraulic fluid is sent from the pump to the steering gear through the high-pressure line. Fluid returns from the steering gear to the power steering pump or reservoir through the low-pressure line.
  • Reservoir: Power steering systems have a fluid reservoir. It may be mounted to the power steering pump, or it may be a remotely mounted tank with a feed or suction hose that connects to the pump. 

Many cars made in the past few years no longer have a hydraulic power steering pump. Instead, they use an electric motor to assist in steering. These systems are referred to as electric power steering. There are also some vehicles that use a hybrid of the two types.

How to fix the problem

When the power steering system develops problems, it can be hard to tell exactly which part is at fault without a proper diagnosis. That’s why it’s a good idea to take your car to a mechanic, who can typically identify the issue more easily.

If you’re noticing power steering problems, the first step is to check that the pump has the proper fluid level and add more fluid as needed. If you notice it dripping, it’s best to take the car to a mechanic for diagnosis.

Once the fluid level has been verified, the pump can be checked for proper pressure and fluid flow. If the pump is making noise, it can be checked using a mechanic’s stethoscope. 

If your pump is bad, you’ll need a replacement. After this is done, the power steering system must be bled of air and possibly flushed. This prevents any debris from damaging the new pump and the rest of the power steering system.


Mia Bevacqua

About the Author

Mia Bevacqua is an automotive expert with ASE Master, L1, L2 and L3 Advanced Level Specialist certification. With 13-plus years of experience in the field, she applies her skills toward writing, consulting and automotive software engineering.

1 User Comment

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By , June 11, 2017
How many labor hours does it take to replace the power steering pump?

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