6 Reasons Why Is Your Steering Wheel Hard to Turn?

Modern cars are designed to provide ease and convenience while driving, and a steering wheel that requires excessive effort can be frustrating and potentially dangerous. There are several common reasons why your steering wheel is hard to turn.

Steering Wheel Hard to Turn

The steering wheel is a crucial component of your vehicle’s control system. It allows the drivers to navigate turns, change lanes, and maneuver safely. When the steering wheel becomes hard to turn, it can pose significant risks for both the driver and other vehicles on the road, potentially leading to an accident and injuries.

A stiff or hard to turn steering wheel usually indicates an underlying issue with the power steering system. The power steering system assists in turning the wheels by using hydraulic or electric power to reduce the effort required from the driver. When this system malfunctions, it can result in a heavier steering wheel that requires more physical effort to turn. This article explains the reasons why a steering wheel is hard to turn.

Why Is My Steering Wheel Hard to Turn?

Insufficient power steering fluid or a bad power steering pump is one of the most common reasons why a steering wheel is hard to turn. A broken serpentine belt may also cause it.

The steering wheel of your vehicle may be hard to turn due to one or more of the below-given reasons:

  • Bad Power Steering Pump
  • Low Power Steering Fluid
  • Old Power Steering Fluid
  • Bad Steering Rack
  • Damaged Serpentine Belt
  • Low Tire Pressure

1) Bad Power Steering Pump

A bad power steering pump is one of the major causes of why your steering system is hard to turn.

Power Steering Pump

The power steering pump plays a vital role in the steering system of your vehicle. It is responsible for transferring power steering fluid to the rack and pinion unit, enabling you to steer the steering wheel with ease.

As you steer your steering wheel, the control valve in the system allows the steering fluid to enter the pinion, facilitating smooth and effortless steering. When the steering wheel of your car turns, the pinion travels against the steering rack, which further moves the four wheels according to your desired direction.

Furthermore, this pump also helps maintain the ideal amount of pressure within the steering system, ensuring that you can steer the steering wheel easily. However, if it goes bad, the power assistance provided by the system diminishes, resulting in a steering wheel being hard to turn.

Although a faulty power steering pump won’t fully lock the steering wheel, but it will require significantly more effort to turn, which can be hazardous, especially during sudden or quick turns in emergency situations.

It is important to address any issues with the power steering pump promptly to ensure the safe and effortless operation of your vehicle’s steering system.

2) Low Power Steering Fluid

The power steering system of your vehicle relies on a sufficient amount of power steering fluid to work efficiently.

The power steering fluid facilitates the transfer of power from the steering wheel to the vehicle’s steering mechanism, allowing the wheels to turn. This fluid also serves to properly lubricate the system’s rotating components and prevent them from corrosion and overheating.

Leaking power steering fluid, reasons why power steering system is hard to turn

One of the major reasons of a hard to turn steering wheel is the insufficient power steering fluid. Your steering fluid may reduce quickly if there is a leak in the pressurized hose or if the connections in this area become loose.

In such cases, the fluid escapes through the crack or leak, resulting in reduced pressure within the system. As a consequence, the steering pump works harder to compensate for the pressure loss. Insufficient fluid supply to the steering wheel leads to increased resistance, and you will require to put more effort into turning the wheel.

To fix this problem, it is important to find and repair any cracks or leaks in the power steering system. By repairing the leak and refilling the power steering fluid to a suitable level, you may ensure the smooth and effortless operation of your steering wheel.

Read More: Power Steering Fluid Leak Symptoms and Causes

3) Old Power Steering Fluid

Similar to other fluids in your vehicle’s engine, the power steering fluid undergoes degradation over time and requires regular replacement.

Typically, the power steering fluid of your vehicle can last between 70,000 to 100,000 miles before needing a change. However, it’s essential to prioritize regular fluid maintenance to prevent issues.

old or dirty Steering Fluid

Using old power steering fluid may lead to premature wear of the power steering pump and other steering parts, resulting in additional maintenance costs.

Keeping up with fluid changes, including power steering fluid, helps maintain the longevity and efficient working of the steering system.

4) Bad Steering Rack

The steering rack, which is also a major part of the rack and pinion unit. It connects the steering wheel to the steering mechanism responsible for turning the vehicle tires in the desired direction.

Bad Steering Rack

The steering rack of your car is linked to the steering wheel via a series of U-joints and shafts. Continuous usage can cause these components, as well as the rack itself, to experience wear and tear.  

If you notice that your steering wheel is hard to turn when you start the vehicle, but it slowly becomes smoother as you resume driving, the issue is likely related to the steering rack. This occurrence is due to the rack heating up as the engine runs, permitting the lubricant to distribute more effectively. While it may be possible to continue driving in such a situation, but neglecting the faulty rack will exacerbate the issue over time.

It is important to fix a faulty steering rack as soon as possible to ensure optimal steering performance and prevent further damage.

Read More: Bad and Causes of Bad Steering Rack

5) Damaged Serpentine Belt

A loose or damaged serpentine belt may also be a potential cause of a stiff or hard steering wheel. This may stop the working of the power steering system, affecting other parts linked to the system, including the air conditioner and alternator.

Over time, the serpentine belt material may wear out, leading to loosening and eventual failure. Furthermore, a bad belt may also cause failure in the pulley.

6) Low Tire Pressure

If your tire pressure is low, it may be hard to turn the steering wheel. The insufficient air pressure in the tires, the harder it becomes to turn the wheel. But it’s important to note that this effect is usually noticeable only when your tires will have extremely low pressure.

Check Tire Pressure

It’s worth mentioning that even with significantly low tire pressure, such as a flat tire, it will still be simple to steer the steering wheel compared to dealing with a malfunctioning power steering pump or a damaged serpentine belt.

How to fix the Stiff Steering Wheel

Follow the below-given steps to fix a stiff steering wheel:

1) Check the Power Steering Fluid

First of all, you need to check the power steering fluid level in the fluid reservoir. If it is lower than a specific level, add more fluid according to the vehicle manufacturer’s recommendation.

After adding fluid, steer your steering wheel in backward and forward directions for a few minutes to assist the fluid in proper distribution and check if the stiffness improves.

2) Check the Power Steering Belt

Properly check the condition of the power steering belt. If it is damaged or loose, you need to replace or tight it as soon as possible.

A bad steering belt may also cause a loss of power steering assistance, causing a stiff steering wheel.

3) Check for Leaks

Check the steering system to find the signs of power steering fluid leaks. A leaky system may cause a quick reduction in the fluid level and cause a stiff steering wheel. If you find leaky steering fluid, you should promptly fix the leakage to prevent severe damage.

4) Check Steering Components

The damaged or worn steering parts, such as the ball joints, tie rods, or steering gear, may also lead to stiff steering. If there is an issue with any of these steering parts, you should quickly contact a mechanic to find and replace the faulty part.

5) Lubricate Steering Parts

Poor lubrication of the steering system’s rotating parts may also cause a stiff steering wheel. Ensuring proper lubrication of the relevant parts, such as the joints or steering column, may assist in improving their rotation and reducing stiffness.

6) Contact a Mechanic

If you have inspected the belt, steering rack, power steering fluid level, and other visible parts but your steering is still stiff, it’s suggested to take your car to a professional mechanic.

FAQ Section

How can I improve my heavy steering?

  1. Ensure the proper tire pressure of your vehicle.
  2. Ensure proper maintenance
  3. Get a routine alignment.
  4. Check the power steering fluid level and add more fluid if needed.
  5. Rotate your tires.
  6. If your steering fluid is contaminated, flush it and replace it.
  7. Replace the faulty steering rack.
  8. Check the steering belt and replace or repair it if needed.
  9. Check for a slipped or loose belt.

What are the signs of steering problems?

  • Difficulty in steering
  • Steering wheel drift
  • Steering wheel vibration
  • Strange noises
  • Uneven tire wear
  • Fluid leaks

Can I drive without power steering?

Power steering is crucial for safe driving, as it facilitates easy maneuvering of your vehicle and enhances response time. Operating a car without power steering not only poses a risk of damaging the vehicle but also endangers other drivers on the road. Therefore, it is illegal to drive without power steering in all 50 states.

Can a bad car battery affect power steering?

The power steering system relies on electricity, meaning that a battery issue can potentially impact the power assistance. However, even in such cases, it is still possible to steer the car manually without power assistance.

What causes a stiff steering wheel?

  • Power steering pump issues
  • Insufficient power steering fluid
  • Low tire pressure or improper tire alignment
  • Old power steering fluid
  • Suspension or alignment problems
  • Worn or damaged serpentine belt
  • Bad steering rack
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