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Power steering pump & gear replacement

(1996 Buick LeSabre)
in Arlington Heights, IL on November 21, 2010
I have a '96 Buick LeSabre with only 48000 miles. A few months ago, I was told after an oil change at an independent shop that the power steering pump was leaking and that I needed to replace it. I went to a Buick dealer and the Service Advisor confirmed it. He said he could either re-seal the pump or replace it. But he also said that the problem was not that serious and that I could delay the repair. I could feel no steering problem while driving, so I did not fix the pump.

Last week I was told again about the steering pump leak by the same independent repair shop where I had my oil change. However this time, he said because I did not replace the power steering pump before, the steering rack has gone bad and that I need to change that too. (He did not test-drive the car, just looked under to see the fluid leak). I went again to the dealer to have a second opinion. The same service advisor I had previously confirmed that the pump was leaking and that I also would need to replace the steering gear. (I did not know if he test-drove the car.) However, he said that the steering gear problem is not due to my delay in replacing the pump. It's because my car is 15 years old even though it has only about 48,000 miles. Strangely, he also said that I did not need to do the work right away. Apparently, the leak is minor, and I'm in no danger while driving even on the expressway.

As of now, I do not have any steering problem (such as noise or hard to steer). My questions are: Is the Service Advisor at the dealer correct in saying that I could delay servicing the power steering system? And is re-sealing instead of replacing the pump a good idea? Can you tell if the steering gear is bad just by looking at it?

One final question. Is it likely that I will have other expensive problems (such as transmission) in the near future just because the car is old (15 years)?

Thanks for any help I can get.
Displaying 1 answers & 4 comments
Popular Answer
on November 21, 2010

Great questions and important ones too. You are doing good things to educate yourself about what is happening with your LeSabre.

To address your questions:
You can delay the repairs of the power steering system unless you start noticing abnormal noise from low fluid level (groaning from the pump, etc...). Repairs should also be considered if you start noticing power assist issues. But leaks alone are not reason for imminent replacement of components. Sure, things will worsen, but over time, and possibly a long time.

Resealing the pump -- I would personally recommend just replacing the pump and/or steering rack. Resealing may be possible, but the labor for that could get close to the price of a new or remanufactured pump. Seals can have repeat failures as well.

The steering gear can be bad if you look at it and see leaks from the bellows boots ( boots that keep the seals of the gear from getting contaminated with debris), or damage to those same boots. Even then, I wouldn't say it's "bad', but that it needs some repair at some point.

The last question is the toughest! Vehicle age alone is not necessarily a reason to fear component failure. However, age does cause some things to deteriorate, as you are seeing. Most notable are things that are rubber, such as seals. They dry rot with age, and then shrink or crack and start leaking. This can happen even with the seals and gaskets of say...the transmission, causing leaks and possible future issues. Is this for sure? Not necessarily. But as the vehicle ages, your chances of having issues goes up simply by time, wear and tear.

All that said, if this was my car, I would keep the info on the steering in the back of my mind, and just keep driving. The time will be right to either one day replace the leaking components, or to make a good decision based on whatever other symptoms you may have by then.

Good luck!
on November 23, 2010
Thanks, Dave JHM, for your detailed reply to my questions. Now I have a better understanding of the problems and my response to them.

Another question if you don't mind. I've read somewhere that leaking of the power steering fluid is a fire hazard because the fluid is flammable. Am I in danger of a fire under the hood while driving?

Thanks in advance for your response.
on November 23, 2010
Power steering fluid is indeed flammable. If it should contact the exhaust components, it could catch fire under certain circumstances. The steering gear is not directly in contact and is below the exhaust manifold to my knowledge, so I do not believe there is immediate danger.

As always, the disclaimer would be that the fluid being flammable is a danger that you should recognize and take care of. I cannot be sure that none is hitting the exhaust, so I cannot say for certain...and because of this could not suggest my advice to be reliable about your specific car...

Good questions.
on November 25, 2010
Thanks again for your answer, Dave. I deeply appreciate your taking time to help with my questions.
on November 25, 2010
Happy Thanksgiving!
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