Here's Why Your Steering is Screeching At You

Your car isn’t singing to you when you turn the wheel. 

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You probably don’t think much about your car’s steering. It’s all muscle memory, and once you’ve gotten used to your car, there’s not much muscle or brainpower required to steer it. That is until your power steering pump starts making noises. 

When the power steering pump starts to die, it will let you know by making squealing sounds or low groaning noises when you turn the steering wheel. If you’re hearing things when you turn the steering wheel, your car isn’t singing you a song, it’s letting you know that you’re about to have a much harder time turning the steering wheel.

Of course, power steering is a relatively recent thing, at least as far as widespread adoption. Before it came along, people steered cars just fine, albeit with a bit more grunting. You can drive without a power steering pump, but the noises might continue and you’ll probably get tired of having to manhandle your steering wheel every time you want to park. The Drive’s editors know this. That’s why we’ve put together a primer on power steering systems and the pumps that power them.

Let’s dive in.

Power steering pumps come in different forms.
Depositphotos

Power steering pumps come in different forms.

What Is Power Steering? 

Power steering, either hydraulic or electric, helps the driver steer the car with less effort. The systems provide more assistance at lower speeds, when it’s harder to turn the wheel, and less assistance as the vehicle is moving, when the steering wheel is easier to move.

Hydraulic power steering systems use the engine’s power and a belt to power a pump that pushes power steering fluid through the system. That fluid enables movement of a hydraulic piston in the steering gear, which greatly reduces the effort needed to turn the steering wheel. 

Electric power steering uses the vehicle’s computer and a small electric motor. When the driver turns the wheel, the computer signals the motor to help move the rack and pinion. 

What Causes Power Steering Pumps To Make Noises?

If you hear noises when you turn the steering wheel, squealing when you first start the car, or a groaning noise, your power steering pump may be on its way out the door. 

You can drive without power steering, but it's not recommended.
Depositphotos

You can drive without power steering, but it's not recommended.

Low Fluid 

A low fluid level is the most common cause of power steering noises. The power steering fluid reservoir is small and many people don’t think to check it very often, so it won’t take much fluid loss to cause a problem.

Trapped Air

If air is able to enter the system, it can cause noise and unexpected vibrations when the steering wheel is turned.

How Hard Is The Power Steering Pump To Replace?

You don’t need to be a professional mechanic to change your own power steering pump, but you will need some time and a flat place to work. Count on upwards of four hours to replace a power steering pump, maybe more if you are just starting your automotive maintenance journey. 

Power Steering Terms You Should Know

Get educated!

Power Steering

Power steering can take on a few different forms, but its purpose is to assist the driver and reduce the amount of effort it takes to turn a wheel. It’s not required, as many vehicles did not carry the technology in the United States until the mid-1970s.

Rack and Pinion

Rack and pinion steering systems are composed of a circular gear, known as a pinion and the rack, which is a linear gear. The systems convert rotational motion into linear motion, which in turn moves the wheels.

Fluid

Power steering fluid is a hydraulic fluid that helps transfer power from the steering wheel to the wheels. Most people don’t think about the fluid, as it’s not a part of regular maintenance, but when it’s time for a flush, head to a mechanic for help.

Flow Restrictor

A flow restrictor helps reduce the pump’s output. This will increase the level of steering effort required by the driver, which should give more steering feel and feedback.

FAQs About Power Steering Pump Noise 

Q. Can I Drive With A Broken Pump?

A. You can. The pump helps you turn the steering wheel, so you’ll need more muscle to turn the car without a power steering pump.

Q. How Much Does The Power Steering Pump Cost To Replace?

A. The average cost to replace a power steering pump replacement is somewhere between $500 and $700. The part itself makes up most of that number, costing between $350 and $500.

Q. How Long Should My Power Steering Pump Last?

A. There’s no set expiration date for your power steering pump. That said, you should count on having to replace the pump after 100,000 miles or so. Some last longer and some die much more quickly. 

Q. How Do You Test a Power Steering Pump?

A. Testing a power steering pump requires a pressure tester. You’ll need to idle the engine and turn the steering wheel to note pressure readings as you do so. 

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Jonathon Klein: Twitter (@jonathon.klein), Instagram (@jonathon_klein)

Tony Markovich: Twitter (@T_Marko), Instagram (@t_marko)

Chris Teague: Twitter (@TeagueDrives), Instagram (@TeagueDrives)

Video 

Featured Products

We know shopping for car parts isn’t as much fun for everyone as it is for The Drive’s editors. Because of that, we’ll avoid loading you up with sales pitches. Instead, we’ve chosen a handful of our favorite products to share. These items are affordable, useful, and well-reviewed.

Lubegard Synthetic Power Steering Fluid

Detroit Axle Complete Rack and Pinion System

RVS Power Steering Treatment

Got a question? Got a pro tip? Send us a note: guidesandgear@thedrive.com