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Power steering works by applying a multiplying force to the steering system. This reduces the effort needed to turn the steering wheel, especially at lower speeds. There are two basic types of power assist. Hydraulic assist uses a power steering pump driven by the engine. Electric assist uses an electric motor mounted on the steering rack or column. The auto industry is moving towards electric assist as it results in better fuel economy.
Most modern power steering systems use a variable assist function. A control module monitors vehicle speed and adjusts steering assist, as needed. Steering assist increases at lower speeds, and decreases at higher speeds. Variable assist provides better steering feel in all driving conditions.
The steering wheel may shake when the brake rotors are warped or unevenly worn. There are several conditions that may cause this to happen. Brake rotors can warp when overheated from frequent hard stops. They may also warp when lug nuts have been unevenly or over torqued. To minimize heat buildup, use a lower gear when descending long hill. This allows you to use the brakes less, preventing them from getting as hot. Torque all wheel lug nuts to the specification. They are oftent over-torqued by repair shops. This ensures an even clamping load against the brake rotor and wheel hub. Learn more about warped brake rotors here.
Brake rotors can wear faster when a brake caliper sticks or seizes. Corrosion and/or deposits on the rotor surface may also contribute to premature wear. Any of these conditions can occur more often when a vehicle is not driven for long periods of time. Learn more about brake rotor wear here.
The steering wheel may lock up when turning off the vehicle. This is a built-in security feature to prevent vehicle theft. You can disengage this lock by moving the wheel slightly while turning on the ignition. As the miles go up on your car, the steering lock mechanism wears, and it can become harder to get the wheel unlocked. It will help to always shut off the engine with the wheels pointing straight forward.
On rare occasions, the steering wheel may seem to lock up while driving. This can be due to a power steering component failure. In reality, the steering isn't locked up, but it suddenly becomes much harder to turn the wheel, as all the power assist is gone. Hydraulic power steering failures can be caused by:
Electric power steering failures can be caused by:
Some vehicles are equipped with a hydroboost brake system. This uses the power steering pump instead of a vacuum booster to boost braking. The hydroboost unit contains a pressure piston that activates the master cylinder. If pressure piston seals fail, the hydroboost unit may leak. Power steering fluid may be visible around the brake master cylinder.
One of the easiest ways to tell if your vehicle has a fluid leak is to simply move your vehicle. Once you’ve moved your car you may notice fluid on the ground. Then, try and look at the color of the fluid to determine what is leaking. Power steering fluid is bright red. The color of brake fluid is often a pale yellow, but can also be several other colors. Check your brake fluid reservoir to find out the color of your brake fluid. If you can't determine the color of the fluid, check the level of the fluid in both the power steering reservoir and the brake fluid reservoir.
If you don’t notice any fluid spots, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a leak within the system. You should continue to monitor your fluid levels every time you change the oil. By regularly monitoring your power steering fluid you can ensure your brakes have the correct stopping power.
Checking power steering fluid is a fairly easy process if you know what to do. To start, park your car on a flat and level surface after allowing the engine to come up to temperature. Once the car is off, you can open the hood and find the power steering reservoir. It often sits close to the firewall on the driver’s side of the vehicle. This reservoir is usually made of a semi-transparent material with a check line. This line is so you can be sure the car has the proper amount of fluid without removing the cap.