Symptoms of Bad Power Steering Pump: Causes and Fixes

A power steering pump is a mechanical Component that helps the driver steer the steering wheel with less effort needed to turn the vehicle’s front wheels. It is a vital component of the steering system with vector power in turning the steering wheel, and losing its vitality has serious consequences. Maybe it’s time you know the symptoms of a bad power steering pump, the purpose of the power steering pump, why it’s important, the causes of a lousy power steering pump, why power steering pump noises after replacement, and how to fix or replace a bad power steering pump.

What is a power steering pump, and why is it important?

The power steering pump makes the work of the steering system a lot easier and more efficient. A power steering pump, usually power-assisted or variable-assist power steering, is featured in most newer cars, utility vehicles, and trucks today.  Regardless you own a manual or automatic transmission car, power steering makes parking and other low-speed maneuvers a lot easier. It is essential for big trucks and drivers who find it difficult to steer the wheels manually.

What is the power steering pump’s function, and why is it important? The power steering pump is a belt-driven component. It is driven by the vehicle engine using a serpentine or drive-belt and a pulley assembly. The power steering pump is designated to carry out a unique role in realizing power steering. It uses electric actuators or steering fluid to push or pressurize hydraulics into the steering gearbox or rack and pinion steering.

The power steering pump pushes steering fluid into the steering system and uses it to turn the vehicle wheels a lot easier and reduce the driver’s steering effort. Here’s what happens; when you steer the wheel, small ports open in the steering rack, allowing pressurized steering fluid to assist the rack in turning the vehicle wheels. The power steering pump requires hydraulics specially made for it to perform efficiently. The steering fluid should be changed on scheduled maintenance or when needed.

Symptoms of the Bad Power Steering Pump

All vehicle components have a limited lifespan, and the power steering pump is no exception. Be on the lookout for any unusual signs that could signal issues with a power steering pump and diagnose or contact your mechanic for thorough diagnosis and repair. There are a few symptoms of bad power steering pump pulley and the pump itself, so if you notice any of the following signs, inspect the steering pump and have it fixed as soon as possible.

Symptoms of Bad Power Steering Pump

  • Leaking or low-power steering fluid
  • Metal shavings and/or grey power steering fluid
  • Squealing noise upon startup
  • Groaning and whining noise
  • Steering the wheel slow to turn
  • Hard Steering

Leaking or low power steering fluid: Power steering fluid is the lifeblood of the steering pump, so driving with low or leaking steering fluid will cause problems for the pump. Over time, the pump can also wear out due to age. The power steering reservoir tank is found in the engine bay, usually on top of the steering pump or on the passenger right-hand side, depending on your vehicle’s make and model. Check the steering fluid level and see if it’s on the right gauge.

There should be a low and full mark on the reservoir. If you see any fluid leak around the pump or the reservoir area, ensure you trace and repair it before it cost any damage. The power steering fluid is usually wine or red in color. Seeing a drop of fluid with this color could mean something is wrong with your steering pump.

Metal shavings and/or grey power steering fluid: If you notice your steering fluid’s color turned to grey, it tells the fluid has oxidized and won’t work as it should. Oxidation occurs as a result of air in the steering system, and the air could enter through a lousy steering pump. A defective steering pump bearing can cause metal shavings in the steering fluid.

Squealing noise upon starting: This is mainly a common symptom of a loose or worn-out serpentine belt. It can also be an indication that the steering pump is wearing out. Before blaming the steering pump, first ensure the drive belt is good, well-aligned, and not worn out. If you hear the squeal on sharp turns and not on startup, it may point toward a lousy power steering pump.

Groaning or whining noise: Groaning or whining noise is the most common bad power steering pump bearing noise that indicates a defective power steering pump bearing. Groaning noise is usually worst than whining because it also comes on when you have low power steering fluid, which can cause damage to other parts of the steering system.

The whining or groaning noise usually increases as you rev your engine and as the steering wheel turns. If you hear unusual sounds when you steer the steering wheel, try going to a lonely road and driving in a different manner. (Giving your vehicle some gas, decelerating, and turning the wheels in various degrees) to know conditions that intensify the noise. This information can help you or your mechanic identify the possible cause of the noise a lot easier.

Note: most power steering pumps will make a groaning or whining noise when turned and held on full lock for a couple of seconds. This is normal, but doing this often will cause more harm to the power steering pump. So, you should always try to avoid this.

Steering wheel slows to turn: Turning The steering wheel should be easy and immediately turn the front wheels as expected. If you turn the steering wheel and the vehicle tires are hard to turn, there could be something wrong with your steering pump. How do I know if the power steering pump is bad? Start your vehicle and turn the steering wheel to various degrees. If the turning is slow, chances are you have a defective power steering pump.  This condition also indicates a problem with the front wheel suspension components and should be given immediate attention.

Hard Steering: Normally, a car with a good power steering pump should be easy to turn and without much effort. If your vehicle requires more strength to turn the wheels than usual, you probably have a lousy steering pump. Check it out.

What causes a power steering pump to go bad?

There are several factors that could cause your power steering pump to fail, and when they do, you could find it difficult to control your car handling without the help of the power steering component. This section will discuss common causes of a bad power steering pump and how to tell if you have a bad power steering pump.

clogged power steering line symptoms

  • Contaminated steering fluid
  • Low steering fluid
  • The worn-out or broken serpentine belt
  • Too much force
  • Poor maintenance

Contaminated steering fluid: Power steering is a hydraulic system that uses a steering fluid to create motion.  Hydraulic systems can exert a high amount of force with little energy input, making it easy to control your vehicle. However, this unified system will not work as it should when grits and grime are in the system. Contaminated fluid can clog the steering system, wear down fittings, create increased friction, and even cause the power steering pump to fail. This is why it’s imperative to change your steering fluid at the manufacturer’s recommended intervals and when you notice grits and grime.

Low steering fluid: In order for your power steering pump to run nice and smoothly, it needs a precise amount of steering fluid running through it. Too little fluid can’t provide the force required to turn the wheels. On the flip side, Too much fluid will cause your seals and valves to wear out under pressure. Maintaining an adequate fluid level will help prevent this problem. The low fluid will eventually lead to power steering pump failure if ignored.

Worn-out or broken serpentine belt: Power steering works utilizing a drive-belt and pulley accessory connecting to the engine pulley. Any fraying, stretching, wear, or breakage can negatively affect the power steering pump’s functionality. We advise you to always be on the lookout for squealing noise upon startup, which may identify worn-out or loose fan belts, and replace if it shows any sign of fraying, missing teeth, or damage.

Too much force: Power steering pumps can withstand some bad roads, including hard jolts against the wheel, unexpected bumps, or potholes. However, it is imperative to know that your vehicle is made of mechanical components which can fail over time due to rough handling. Drive belts, steering pumps, and other steering components can fail if you subject them to load. This is why it is recommended to avoid bumpy roads unless you’re driving a 4WD or AWD designated to withstand such roads.

Poor maintenance: Maintaining a power steering pump is effortless and easy. By avoiding rough roads, and driving predictably and safely, you’ll prolong the lifespan of your steering pump and keep it running nice and smoothly for many years to come. On the other hand, if you fail to maintain your vehicle, it will cause many components to fail, including the steering pump.

How to fix a bad steering pump

If after a thorough diagnosis, you find out that you have a bad power steering pump due to leaks, contaminated fluid, or lousy bearing, you have to contact your mechanic for power steering pump repair or fix it yourself by following the guides in the next few paragraphs. Before we proceed to the power steering pump replacement guide, you have to check if you have a power steering pump leaking fluid which is the cause of groaning noise in most cases. And remember, don’t forget to check and replace worn-out drive-belts.

Things Needed:

  • Screwdrivers
  • Pliers
  • Socket wrench
  • Ratchet handle
  • Steering fluid

Step 1. Check the steering and try flushing it: First, check your steering fluid. If the fluid level is okay, inspect the fluid itself and see if there are metal shavings in it. If you find some or notice the steering fluid color turns to gray, try flushing it. But if the pump still groans like mad and binds when it turns, you will have to bite the bullet and put a new power steering pump.

Step 2. Create some working room and remove the drive-belt: Now, you need to create some working room. Take off any components blocking you from accessing the power steering pump. To easily take off the old steering pump, you have to remove the fan belt. Loosen the idler pulley. Get your wrench and pull on it, and the belt will slip right off.

Step 3. Take off the fluid lines: Get a pair of pliers and pull off the return line to the feeder and the high-pressure line on the bottom.

Step 4. Unbolt the steering pump bolts: Take the right socket, remove the bolts that hold the whole pump assembly onto the engine, and wiggle out the steering pump.

Step 5. Install the new pump: If you purchase a new pump without a reservoir, remove the old reservoir and install it on the new pump. Fix the pump assembly and bolt it back on and hook all the hoses back. Then, loosen the idler pulley and put on the drive-belt.

Step 6. Fill the reservoir with fluid: Fill the pump reservoir with fluid and don’t forget to fix back all the components you removed earlier. Start up the car and allow it to run on idle for five minutes before turning the wheel. Ensure you monitor the fluid and top it once you start the car because the pump will suck it right in.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What happens when the power steering pump goes out?

When the power steering pump starts failing, it usually makes a groaning or whining noise. This is evident if you hear the noise when turning the wheels. You will also experience squealing noise, which is typically an indication of a loose or worn-out drive-belt but can also indicate a failing pump. Other occurrences you might face are steering slow to turn and hard steering.

Can you drive a car with bad power steering?

You can drive a car with lousy power steering, but it will require more effort to turn the wheel. However, if the power steering pump fails due to a lack of steering fluid, it will cause severe damage to the whole steering system, including the steering rack and pinion.

How much does it cost to replace a bad steering pump?

Replacing a bad power steering pump should be around $250 to $350. This price includes the service fee and the cost of the parts as well. However, the actual cost for power steering pump replacement depends on the labor involved, the vehicle makes, and the model.

Can the power steering pump be repaired?

Yes, a damaged power steering pump can be repaired. It can be a quick fix or a head-on repair that may require a skilled mechanic.

Final word

The power steering pump is one of those vehicle components that we overlook until we find it difficult to steer the wheel. You shouldn’t be surprised that most drivers don’t know what a power steering pump is, what it does, and where it is located. And for some folks, it’s okay. Understanding how to know if a power steering pump is bad and the symptoms of a bad power steering pump will save you from many hassles that may result in steering rack failure.

So next time your power steering pump fails, test yourself, and don’t forget to contact a skilled mechanic if you’re not confident enough.  The important thing is to make sure you don’t ignore it for long so that it won’t cause bigger problems.

Osuagwu Solomon

Osuagwu Solomon is a certified mechanic with over a decade of experience in the mechanic garage, and he has over five years of experience in the writing industry. He started writing automotive articles to share his garage experience with car enthusiasts and armature mechanics. If he is not in the garage fixing challenging mechanical problems, he is writing automotive repair guides, buyer’s guides, and car and tools comparisons.

2 thoughts on “Symptoms of Bad Power Steering Pump: Causes and Fixes

  1. Hello Virgil,

    I have not seen a situation where a bad steering pump causes a car to slightly pull to the right.

    It is either the alignment is not properly done, the work is not done properly, or you have tire conicity.

    If your car pulls to the right it could be due to tire conicity, which is a characteristic describing a tire’s propensity to roll similar to a cone. This type of rolling has an effect on the vehicle’s steering performance. Conicity is found in new tires, typically after the first rotation. It is basically a defect resulting from faulty manufacturing and is often the cause of a vehicle pulling hard to one side.

    To test for tire conicity, visit a mechanic shop. They will rotate the two front tires. Should the vehicle pull in the opposite direction, then conicity is the issue.

    For alignment, recheck the alignment in another shop and have your mechanic recheck the steering and braking systems.

    I can’t say for sure what’s the problem without inspecting the car.

  2. I recently replaced ball joints upper/lower both sides, idler arm, tie rods both sides inside and out, Pittman arm and 4 new tires.
    1995 GMC Sierra 4 wheel drive.. ..had it aligned too..
    But, the truck still slightly shifts to the right when I let go of the steering wheel…Ive tested it on all types of highway…could it be the power steering pump or serpentine belt?
    Any advice to give me would be thankful..

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