Check the Power-Assisted Steering is Working

Power-Assisted Steering

Introduction to Power-Assisted Steering

What is Power-Assisted Steering and How Does it Work?

Power-assisted steering (PAS), also known as power steering, helps drivers steer vehicles by augmenting steering effort through an engine- or electric-driven system.

This system primarily consists of a hydraulic pump or an electric motor that reduces the amount of force the driver must apply to the steering wheel.

In hydraulic PAS systems, a pump driven by the vehicle’s engine provides hydraulic pressure to the steering gear.

This pressure assists in moving the steering rack as the driver turns the wheel, thereby easing the steering effort.

In electric PAS systems, an electric motor, controlled by sensors detecting the position and torque of the steering column, directly assists the steering mechanism.

The Importance of Power-Assisted Steering in Modern Vehicles

Power-assisted steering has become essential in modern vehicles, enhancing driver comfort and vehicle safety.

It allows for smoother turns and better control of the vehicle, especially at lower speeds and during parking manoeuvres.

PAS systems also contribute to better handling and stability by adapting the steering response according to the vehicle’s speed, thereby improving the driving experience and safety.

Legal Requirements for Steering Systems Under The Highway Code

Under The Highway Code, all vehicles must maintain a steering system in good working condition to ensure safety on the road.

Regular maintenance and checks are required to comply with these legal standards. Failure to maintain an effective steering system not only poses safety risks but can also lead to legal repercussions, including penalties and fines.

Preparing to Check Your Steering System

Tools and Equipment Needed for a Steering Check

To properly check your power-assisted steering system, you will need several tools and pieces of equipment:

  • Steering fluid: For hydraulic systems, ensure you have the correct type of steering fluid specified by your vehicle’s manufacturer.
  • Dipstick or fluid level indicator: This tool will help you check the fluid level in hydraulic systems.
  • Service manual: A vehicle-specific manual will provide guidance on where components are located and the specific procedures for checks.
  • Gloves and safety glasses: Always wear appropriate protective gear to safeguard against spills and splashes from hydraulic fluid.

Safety Precautions Before Performing Checks

Before checking the power-assisted steering system, it is critical to take several safety precautions:

  1. Park on a level surface: Ensure the vehicle is stationary on a flat surface to accurately check fluid levels and assess the steering system.
  2. Engine off: Initially, make sure the engine is turned off before opening the hood to check any components.
  3. Cool environment: If checking a hydraulic system, ensure the engine and the fluid are cool to avoid burns.

Initial Symptoms of Steering System Problems

Being aware of the early signs of steering system issues can prevent more severe problems down the road. Some symptoms might include:

  • Stiff steering wheel: Difficulty in turning the steering wheel, especially at lower speeds, can indicate low fluid levels or a failing power steering pump.
  • Noises when steering: Whining or squealing noises during turns are often associated with power steering issues.
  • Vibrations: A steering wheel that vibrates or shudders while turning can be a sign of problems in the power steering system.
  • Leaking fluid: Puddles or drips under the vehicle can be a sign of a leak in the hydraulic system, which can lead to reduced effectiveness of the power steering.
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By understanding the basic workings of the power-assisted steering system and recognising the early signs of trouble, drivers can take proactive steps to ensure their vehicle remains safe and compliant with road safety regulations.

Regular checks and maintenance are essential to uphold the performance and safety standards required by The Highway Code.

Step-by-Step Guide to Checking Power-Assisted Steering

How to Determine if Power Steering is Functioning Correctly

To assess whether the power-assisted steering system is operating correctly, follow these steps:

  1. Start the Engine: With the vehicle parked, start the engine. Power steering systems are designed to provide immediate assistance once the engine is running.
  2. Check for Smoothness: Turn the steering wheel from one lock to the other. It should move smoothly and without much effort. Any stiffness or difficulty in turning can indicate a problem.
  3. Listen for Noises: While turning the steering wheel, listen for any unusual noises like whining or squealing, which could suggest a problem with the power steering pump or low fluid levels.
  4. Feel for Vibrations: Any vibrations or shuddering in the steering wheel during operation can be a sign of issues within the steering system.

To ensure that the power-assisted steering is functioning correctly, gently press on the steering wheel while starting the engine. You should notice a significant change. The steering wheel should feel lighter and turn more easily if the power assist is operating properly.

Checking Steering Fluid Levels

For vehicles with hydraulic power steering systems, maintaining the correct fluid level is crucial:

  1. Locate the Reservoir: Open the hood and locate the power steering fluid reservoir. Your vehicle’s service manual can help you find it if you’re unsure.
  2. Check Fluid Level: Most reservoirs have a dipstick or a fill line. Remove the dipstick, wipe it clean, reinsert it and pull it out again to check the level. Ensure it’s between the MIN and MAX marks.
  3. Inspect Fluid Condition: The fluid should be clear or slightly pinkish without any dark particles. Dark, dirty fluid needs to be replaced.

Inspecting for Leaks and Wear in the Steering System

Regular inspection for any signs of wear or leaks is vital for maintaining the integrity of the steering system:

  1. Check for Fluid Leaks: Look around the steering pump, hoses, and connections for any signs of leakage. Fluid on the ground under the car can also indicate a leak.
  2. Inspect Hoses and Connections: Check for cracked, frayed, or worn-out hoses. Ensure all connections are tight and secure.
  3. Examine the Belts: For hydraulic systems, ensure that the drive belts powering the pump are not worn or loose.

‘Show Me, Tell Me’ Questions Related to Steering

Common ‘Show Me, Tell Me’ Questions About Steering

During a driving test, you may be asked to demonstrate your knowledge of the steering system. Common questions include:

  • Tell Me: “Tell me how you would check that the power-assisted steering is working before starting a journey.”
  • Show Me: “Show me how you would check the power steering is not leaking.”

How to Demonstrate Power-Assisted Steering Checks

When demonstrating your knowledge during a driving test, you should:

  1. Explain Visually: For a ‘Show Me’ question, you could start the engine and show the examiner how easily the steering wheel turns when the power-assisted steering is functioning.
  2. Discuss Regular Checks: Explain the importance of regular checks for fluid levels and the physical inspection for leaks, as part of routine vehicle maintenance.
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Understanding How Steering Checks Relate to The Highway Code

Understanding and performing regular steering checks are directly related to The Highway Code, which emphasizes the necessity of maintaining a vehicle in a safe and roadworthy condition.

Regular checks ensure that the steering system is reliable, thus enhancing safety by reducing the risk of steering failure while driving.

The Highway Code

Download The Highway Code PDF

By conducting these checks and understanding their importance, drivers can ensure that their vehicle remains safe and compliant with road safety regulations, thereby contributing to safer driving conditions for everyone on the road.

Troubleshooting Steering Issues

Identifying Common Power Steering Issues

Several common issues can affect the power-assisted steering system, impacting its performance and the safety of the vehicle:

  1. Whining Noise: Often caused by a low fluid level or a failing power steering pump.
  2. Stiff Steering: Can indicate low fluid levels, a malfunctioning steering rack, or problems with the drive belt.
  3. Squealing on Start-up: Usually related to a loose or worn belt that needs adjustment or replacement.
  4. Fluid Leaks: Cracks or loose fittings in the hoses can lead to leaks, which reduce the fluid level and can cause system failure.

Being aware of these signs can help diagnose issues early, preventing more serious problems.

What to Do if Your Power Steering Fails

If you experience a sudden failure of your power steering while driving, there are important steps to follow:

  1. Do Not Panic: Keep calm. You will still be able to steer the vehicle, but it will require more effort, especially at lower speeds.
  2. Increase Force on the Steering Wheel: Prepare to use more physical strength to turn the wheel, particularly necessary when manoeuvring or making turns.
  3. Pull Over Safely: As soon as it’s safe, pull over and stop the vehicle. Continuing to drive without power steering can be hazardous.
  4. Check the Fluid Level: If it’s safe and you are capable, check the power steering fluid level to see if it’s low, which might be a quick fix until you can get professional help.

When to Consult a Professional for Steering Problems

Certain steering issues should be addressed by a professional mechanic:

  1. Persistent Noises: Continuous whining or squealing sounds from the steering system often require professional diagnosis and repair.
  2. Recurring Stiffness: If the steering remains consistently stiff despite fluid top-ups and checks, this could indicate a more serious issue with the steering rack or pump.
  3. Fluid Leaks: Any sign of leaking fluid should be inspected by a professional to determine the source and extent of the leak.

Maintaining Your Vehicle’s Steering System

Regular Maintenance Tips for Power-Assisted Steering

Regular maintenance is key to ensuring the longevity and reliability of your vehicle’s power steering system:

  1. Check Fluid Levels Regularly: Ensure the steering fluid is at the correct level and top it up if necessary.
  2. Inspect for Leaks: Regularly check the system for any signs of leaks and address them promptly to prevent further damage.
  3. Listen for Noises: Be attentive to changes in the sounds your car makes when steering, as unusual noises can be early warnings of issues.

How to Maintain Steering Fluid Levels

Keeping the steering fluid at an optimal level is crucial for the smooth operation of the power-assisted steering system:

  1. Locate the Reservoir: Find the power steering fluid reservoir under the hood; it is usually well-marked.
  2. Check the Level: Use the dipstick attached to the cap of the reservoir to check the fluid level. Make sure it’s between the “min” and “max” marks.
  3. Top Up if Necessary: If the level is low, add the appropriate type of steering fluid, as specified in your vehicle’s manual, until it reaches the correct level.

The Role of Professional Servicing in Ensuring Steering Integrity

Professional servicing plays a critical role in maintaining the integrity of your vehicle’s steering system:

  1. Expert Inspection: Mechanics can identify issues that may not be obvious to the average driver, such as internal wear or minor leaks.
  2. Proper Equipment: Professionals have the right tools and equipment to perform thorough checks and repairs.
  3. Warranty and Assurance: Regular professional servicing ensures that your steering system remains under warranty and functions reliably, providing peace of mind about your vehicle’s safety and compliance.
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By adhering to these maintenance and troubleshooting tips, you can ensure that your vehicle’s power-assisted steering system remains functional and safe, ultimately contributing to a smoother and safer driving experience.

Frequently asked questions

Power-assisted steering (PAS) is a system that helps drivers steer by augmenting the effort needed to turn the steering wheel using either a hydraulic pump or an electric motor.

Your power steering is likely functioning correctly if the steering wheel turns smoothly without much resistance, there are no unusual noises like whining or squealing when turning, and there are no leaks under the vehicle.

If your power steering fails while driving, apply more force to steer, reduce your speed, and pull over safely as soon as possible. Check the power steering fluid level and call for professional help if needed.

It is advisable to check your power steering fluid at least once a month and before long journeys to ensure it is at the correct level and the fluid is in good condition.

Leaks in the power steering system can be caused by worn or damaged hoses, loose connections, or deteriorating seals within the system.

While it’s possible to drive without power steering, it requires more physical effort, particularly at low speeds or when parking.

It is generally unsafe and not recommended, especially in modern vehicles designed to be operated with power steering.

The type of fluid required depends on your vehicle’s specifications. Most vehicles with hydraulic power steering systems use either a specific power steering fluid or automatic transmission fluid (ATF). Check your owner’s manual for the recommended type.

A whining noise from the power steering system is often due to low fluid level or a failing power steering pump. Check the fluid level first and replenish if low. If the noise persists, the pump may need to be inspected or replaced.

Maintain your power steering system by regularly checking the fluid level, ensuring there are no leaks, and listening for unusual noises. Have the system professionally inspected during regular vehicle servicing.

Signs that you need to change your power steering fluid include difficulty steering, a decrease in steering performance, noise from the steering system, or if the fluid has turned dark and contains debris. Regular changes can prevent these issues and prolong the life of your steering system.