As a car owner, you are supposed to get used to different sounds your car makes. But when the power steering pump whines, it is a different story. It can be annoying to hear this kind of noise but when you look at it from a “glass half full, not half empty” perspective, you will realize that it is just trying to tell you that something is wrong with your car. And addressing the problem as soon as possible can prevent further damage and even save you and your passengers from danger.
We created a list of things to do to help you become familiar with the power steering pump’s common issues, how to diagnose and determine if you have to bring it to the dealership or a mechanic. We have also prepared a step by step process on how to replace your whining power steering pump on your own.
What causes a power steering pump to whine?
Before you try to fix a whining power steering pump, it is ideal to understand why it is noisy in the first place. Due to its specific design, your power steering pump makes a unique noise when there is something wrong with it. The power steering pump takes the rotary motion of your engine’s crankshaft and converts it into high pressure fluid that is used to help you in turning the heavy wheels of your vehicle. The power steering pump does this by fastening a belt and pulley to a rotary vane pump. A rotary vane pump is in fact designed more like a fan instead of a typical pump. You can find a rotor with blades or vanes attached to it, inside the pump housing. These vanes or blades hurl the power steering fluid into the outlet hose on the pump creating a high pressure required for the system.
The unique whine you hear when something is wrong with your power steering is actually created by the special design of the vanes and rotors. The whining noise is usually created by a problem with the power steering fluid that the pump is striving to move. The issue can be something as simple as worn out fluid that has lost its physical properties or its additives and does not pump well to small air bubbles in the power steering fluid that foam and make the vanes to whine and vibrate.
There is a high probability that your power steering pump has one of these problems, if it is producing a whining noise. However, if you religiously followed the recommended maintenance schedule on your vehicle owner’s manual, especially the part where you change your power steering fluid, then the whining noise is most likely because of the air bubbles in the system. Air can get in the power steering system from a few different sources:
- There could be air bubbles in the power steering fluid due to a loose low pressure hose.
- Air can also be sucked in if there are any loose hose connections, since the pump is drawing fluid into the vanes and rotor from the return reservoir at a vacuum. Having air in the system can cause the fluid to foam and the pump to whine.
Other possible causes:
- Air being introduced into the power steering pump can also be caused by a lack of power steering fluid. The fluid reservoir will get low, if there is a lack of fluid in the power steering system. Since the power steering system draws fluid in from the reservoir, it can also draw air in along with it if there is a low fluid level, which can cause bubbles and the whining sound. This problem can be easily identified since you will be able to see the low fluid level in the power steering fluid reservoir.
If you find your reservoir having a low level of power steering fluid, then there must be a leak somewhere in the system as that would be the only possible way that power steering fluid could get out. Due to how they are fitted into the steering rack or their location, the seals in the power steering system are very difficult or even impossible to replace. So instead of replacing an entirely good power steering rack just because of one dripping or leaking seal, use a power steering stop leak fluid to preserve your old seals and put an end to the leak. We recommend that you use the Blue Devil Power Steering Stop Leak since it has the highest overall rating from consumers.
What kind of noise does a bad power steering pump make?
Among the common broken power steering pump symptoms are whining noises that occur at the same time with engine speed. The power steering pump is operated by the engine via a belt. When you have a malfunctioning pump, it could whine or produce a growling sound the moment you kick-start your engine. The pitch often gets higher as your RPM increases. Whining noises are most of the time due to a low fluid level or worn out pump. Since there are a couple of reasons that cause whining noise, it would be wise not to jump to conclusions and make the problem worse.
How do you Diagnose a bad power steering pump?
If you think there is something wrong with your power steering pump, the very best thing to do is to try to diagnose it first. Do not try to dismantle your power steering pump without proper assessment. Once you have identified the problem, and it’s kind of complicated for you to fix, then bring it to your trusted mechanic or dealership, who are way capable of performing the necessary assessment and evaluation.
Here are the common causes of a bad power steering pump:
- Metal Contamination to the Fluid
It is vital for the power steering system to be tightly sealed to keep and achieve the pressure it requires to operate. However, even when the fluid is totally protected from external elements, it can still be spoiled by small debris. You might wonder where those debris would come from if you have a tightly sealed system, they can come from inside the power steering pump. Once the pump gets extremely damaged, metal parts inside it can break into tiny pieces and mix with the power steering fluid. These little metal shards can harm passages and cause the entire power steering system to malfunction or completely fail. Most of the time, this problem leads to major changes in the vehicle’s handling. In this case, flushing the power steering fluid may be required and replacement of the power steering pump and other affected parts like the steering gear.
- Fluid leaks
Like what we have mentioned earlier, power steering pumps have seals that can develop leaks too, which later causes low fluid level. If you suspect a broken power steering pump, it is wise to consider checking for leaks first. The most common low power steering fluid symptoms are a stiff steering wheel and jerky steering feedback. By pinpointing the leak early, you can prevent further problems. Power steering fluid leak symptoms include light brown or red puddle formation underneath the car. Although a damaged steering pump does not always entail a leak, it is still the most common and easiest way to find out if the power steering pump is leaking fluid.
- Loss of power assist
Have you ever had an experience where your vehicle felt like it’s gone back to manual steering? This is a clear sign that you have bad power steering or it is not working. If the steering wheel becomes stiff or very difficult to turn, the power steering pump is among the first components you should inspect. The pump’s primary responsibility is to make sure the fluid is being circulated properly under pressure. If the pump stops operating, the pressure required will not be regulated and the steering wheel would feel a lot heavier to steer.
Can you drive with a defective power steering pump?
The smartest answer is you should not drive with a defective power steering pump, even if you can.
Owners of old vehicles may brag that vehicles in the past do not need power assist, so driving without power steering should not be a problem. Even though it is true that older vehicles did not have power steering, driving without it has its own downsides.
Is it costly to replace a power steering pump?
It is better to be cautious than get into trouble, so have your bad power steering pump replaced as soon as possible. Replacing a power steering pump is not as much expensive than what could happen if you don’t. Replacing a power steering pump often takes a little over an hour to do. You will have to prepare around $100 – $250 or so for labor costs. The parts are what will hurt your pocket the most though. You have to budget an estimated amount of around $150 – $600 for most power steering pumps and the other parts required to replace the old one.
Can I replace my own power steering pump?
According to experts, every vehicle owner should anticipate and prepare to replace or rebuild the power steering pump since it is also prone to wear and tear over its lifetime. As the vehicle ages, it will likely become necessary to rebuild or replace the pump. As what we have mentioned, the labor costs on this job can reach $250. But be of good cheer for we have prepared a step by step process on how to replace it on your own and save $200.
Learning a few tricks to replace the pump can make your life easier. First, never attempt to replace the pump without locating a power steering pump pulley puller. Second, using a standard pulley puller may make the pulley out of shape, which is not a good thing.
Finding the power steering pump is the first step in replacing it. Depending on various factors, its exact location under the hood may vary. You will have to determine the if, is it inline or V6? Is the engine mounted longitudinally or transversely? Is the fluid reservoir integral with the pump or is it mounted remotely? The pump will be somewhere on the front of the engine along with the other accessories. Typically, for GM longitudinally mounted V8, as an example, the power steering pump is located right behind the radiator, which is not necessarily within easy reach.
You have to trim the rubber low-pressure line to break it loose from fitting where rubber had gotten hard.
Switching the old with the new pump
What you need in swapping out your power steering pump are just basic hand tools. But some special flare-nut wrenches and a specific tool to safely remove the pulley from the pulley shaft will make the task easier. Auto parts stores that sell the replacement pump will usually loan you these tools.
You can now start, once you are done gathering all the equipment needed for the task. First step, remove the drive belt and inspect them, replace them if they are soaked in oil or damaged. Loosen and remove the high- and low-pressure lines from the pump body as well as the reservoir hose if the fluid reservoir is mounted remotely. Make sure to have a catch pan ready for the fluid that will drip. Like how experts put it, “reverse the procedure to install replacement.”
Once the new pump is in place, the belt is reinstalled and tensioned, refilling the system with the appropriate fluid is next. And then, ideally, with the front wheels a little off the ground and with the engine idling, rotate the steering wheel from left to right and stop a couple of times to expel excess air from the system. Clean up after yourself. Reinspect the fluid in a couple of days.
Power steering maintenance and replacement are two different things but serve the same purpose, that is to help you drive to your destinations safely and effortlessly.