Steering clear: Tips for keeping your steering system in line
Whether maneuvering the twisty roads in the Ozarks or the straight and narrow lanes of Interstate 70, your ability to steer and control the vehicle is essential.
Just as your attention shouldn’t drift from the road, your car shouldn’t be drifting either.
If you find your vehicle pulling a little one way or another, have difficulty turning your wheel or hear funny noises when maneuvering, you might have a steering issue on your hands and should head straight to a repair shop for help.
From wheel to wheels: how steering works
Your vehicle’s steering system allows you to move a car, truck, SUV or even a bus with ease.
It does this through a system of interlocking gears that lower the output of force and maximize the impact.
Today’s cars typically use a rack-and-pinion system. This is essentially a small pinion gear that travels along and moves a larger rack that’s connected to the wheels.
When you turn the steering wheel, you spin a gear along the steering rack, which moves laterally left or right. This rack links to the tie-rod ends that attach to and pull the wheels in the direction you want to go.
Most present-day cars also feature power steering, which incorporates power from the engine to facilitate the movement of the vehicle.
The most common system—hydraulic power steering––functions using a belt that is connected to the engine, which also drives a fluid-filled pump.
This pump uses hydraulic pressure to supply the gear system with an extra push, leveraging the smallest effort on the steering wheel to create a larger impact on the movement of the vehicle.
How to tell if you need your steering system checked
To keep your steering system in tip-top condition, you’ll want to keep an eye out for—and ear open to—the following indicators that something’s amiss.
Drifting or pulling: If you feel your car pulling to one side or the other when you’re trying to drive in a straight line, this could mean your steering components are worn and need replacement—or you might just need an alignment.
A good clue is uneven tire wear.
If only one or two of your tires look more stripped than the rest, this points to a problem with your steering system and should be checked out by a technician.
Steering wheel heavy, slipping or shaking: A steering wheel that is tough to turn is often indicative of low steering fluid levels and could also be a sign of a leak.
When turning feels difficult or heavy, or the wheel is jerky in your hands, this points to a damaged power steering belt.
If you notice your steering wheel shaking when you’re driving over smooth, straight roads, the tie rod ends that attach to your wheels are likely to blame—and they should be checked out as soon as possible, as a loose, worn or faulty tie rod limits your ability to properly control your vehicle.
Whining, squealing or groaning noises: Strange noises while driving are always good clues that something is off. A whining noise most likely indicates that there’s a problem with your car’s power steering pump.
It could just be that the fluid is low or there’s a leak, but if not checked, this issue can wreak havoc on your power- steering system.
A squealing sound when you start the engine probably means that the power-steering pump is malfunctioning, which in turn causes the belt to slip.
A groaning noise means there’s insufficient fluid in your power-steering pump, which, if ignored, could lead to a system failure and the need for a complete replacement.
As you roll around town and travel on Kansas and Missouri highways and byways, it’s important that you always feel safe and in control of your vehicle.
Your car’s steering system plays a key role in your safety as well as your vehicle’s performance, and when it begins to wear, it may feel like your car has a mind of its own, drifting where it wants to or refusing to help you get to where you need to go.
Keep your ride in line by getting frequent check-ups and staying aware of anything that seems, feels or sounds off.
-Scott and Tammie Green own Christian Brothers Automotive, 22240 Midland Drive.