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Why Does A Bad Power Steering Pump Make Noises?

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The truth is, we don’t give much thought to our car’s steering until something goes wrong. Once you get used to driving your vehicle steering becomes second nature requiring no brain power or muscle. For the most part, everything is all good until you begin hearing abnormal noises from the steering wheel. When you have a bad power steering pump, handling your vehicles becomes harder. 

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Are you hearing things? When the power steering pump starts to fail, it will usually let you know by persistently making low groaning or squealing noises whenever you turn the wheel. No, your car isn’t singing you a song; it’s letting you know that your power steering capabilities will eventually be obsolete. 


What Is Power Steering?

Power steering is arguably one of the best innovations in the automotive world. Before its invention, steering a vehicle required lots of manual effort. Power steering allows drivers to turn the vehicle with ease. While this invention has been around for a little over fifty years, it was commonly used in luxury vehicles. However, in the last decade or so, power steering has gradually been implemented into all vehicles. 


Depending on the vehicle, power steering relies on an electric or hydraulic system. These systems provide the most assistance when driving the vehicle at lower speeds since it’s harder to turn the wheel. On the other hand, power steering provides less assistance when the car is moving at higher speeds when it's easier to move the steering wheel. 


A hydraulic system utilizes the car’s engine, a corresponding belt, and a power steering pump. 

An electric power steering works along with the vehicle’s computer and an electric motor. The car computer sends a signal to the motor to help move the rack and pinion. 


Understanding The Operation Of The Power Steering Pump

The power steering pump also commonly referred to as the vane pump is located on the driver’s side under the hood. The hydraulic system applies force to the steering gear. The power steering pump produces hydraulic pressure. This component is designed with vanes that suck in hydraulic fluid from the return line, pushing the fluid into the pressure tube. This creates the hydraulic pressure necessary to move the wheels smoothly and with ease.


Like every other component on your vehicle, the steering wheel pump has an expected lifespan. On average, a power steering pump can last for about a hundred thousand miles and sometimes even longer before issues start occurring. Having a proper maintenance schedule in place can help prevent such problems. 


Why Does A Bad Power Steering Pump Make Noises?

As previously mentioned, loud groaning and squealing noises are signs that your power steering pump is on the way out the door. A bad power steering pump starts to make noises for two main reasons:


Low Fluid

Decreased power steering fluid levels are the primary cause of abnormal noises. The fluid reservoir is very small which is why people don’t think to check it often. Driving with low steering wheel fluid will eventually cause damage to your power steering system. If the fluid levels are regularly low this can be due to a fluid leak. Once the pump runs dry friction and heat increase which makes the power steering pump go bad. 


Air Trapped Inside

Trapped air inside the steering wheel structure can lead to a bad power steering pump. Sometimes air can get trapped into the power steering wheel when the system hasn’t been properly bled. 


Symptoms Of A Bad Power Steering Pump


What are some additional signs of a bad power steering pump? 


Slow To Respond

When you first purchased your car, do you remember how easy it was to steer the vehicle? If your steering wheel has begun to be sluggish and slow to respond the probably likely lies in the pump. Does it feel as if you’ve reverted to manual steering? You’ll notice that your steering wheel has become heavy and you may even feel steering wheel vibrations. 


 If it’s catching or slipping or you have to crank the wheel tighter than usual to make a complete turn it’s time to replace the steering wheel pump. 


Noise During Start Up

As soon as the key is in the ignition or you press the start button all the vehicle systems are powered. If you have a bad power steering pump the first thing you will hear is the screeching sound of the belt when you start up your car. 


Leaking Power Steering Fluid

Leaking power steering fluid is a major red flag. Power steering fluid is a pink and reddish color. If you see pink or red fluid underneath your vehicle on the driver’s side then you definitely have a bad power steering pump. Oftentimes this is accompanied by a warning light on the dashboard. 


Power Steering Fluid Has Become Contaminated

When the power steering system is in good condition it’s tightly sealed to maintain the proper pressure to ensure its operation. In some situations even when the fluid is protected from external elements it's contaminated by small debris which comes from inside the power steering pump. 


Extensive power steering pump damage will lead to the metal parts becoming corroded and falling off into the power steering fluid. The metal shards contaminate the power steering fluid and compromise the whole power steering system. 


Can I Drive With A Bad Power Steering Pump?

Technically, you can still drive a car with a bad power steering pump. After all, you’ll hear many people argue that there was a time when cars weren’t equipped with a power steering or power assist. Therefore, driving around with a bad power steering pump shouldn’t be a problem, right? 


Driving with a bad power steering pump is highly discouraged. Operating a vehicle with a bad power steering pump is accompanied by a variety of consequences such as:


Difficulty Steering 

A bad power steering pump can make it difficult to steer your vehicle. Without a fully functioning power steering wheel, you won’t be able to effectively control your car. This presents a safety concern. 


Power Steering Fluid Leak Worsens

If you have a leak within your power steering wheel or rack, the problem will eventually worsen. A crack within the steering lines or pump can easily turn into a big mess. The friction and heat will cause extensive damage to other parts of the steering wheel leading to costly repairs. A bad power steering pump can lead to overheating and you’ll end up stranded somewhere on the side of the road.


Bad Power Steering Pump Replacement

A bad power steering pump should be replaced sooner rather than later to prevent your power steering pump from completely failing. The cost of replacing a bad power steering pump can vary based on the make and model of the car and where you take your vehicle to be serviced. Installing a new power steering pump can cost several hundreds of dollars. The average cost of replacing a bad power steering pump is about $625-644. 


Replacing a bad power steering pump is a long process. During this labor-intensive process your mechanic will:


  • Start by performing a full inspection of the power steering system to make sure the pump is what’s actually causing the problems or if another component within the steering rack needs to be replaced. 
  • The bad power steering pump will be removed and replaced with the new one. Power steering fluid will be added to the reservoir to replace what has leaked out. However, if metal contaminants have soiled the power steering fluid the entire system will need to be bled. 
  • A bad power steering pump can sometimes cause problems with other parts of your car. So after the new pump is installed and fluid is added to the reservoir the mechanic will check the pinion and rack for damage. 
  • The final step in a bad power steering pump replacement job is to test drive the vehicle to make sure the car can be steered properly. 


Can A Bad Power Steering Pump Be Repaired?

In some situations, a bad power steering pump can be repaired rather than having to replace the unit. If the power steering pump has failed due to a leak, contaminated fluid, or a faulty bearing a mechanic can repair it rather than replacing the whole unit. Here are some repair options for a bad power steering pump:


Flushing The Steering Wheel

If the power steering fluid levels are good then you should check to see if the fluid has become contaminated with metal shavings. The fluid will have a turned a grey or bluish color. Flushing out the system and replacing it with fresh new fluid can improve your steering. 


Stopping Steering Pump Leaks

Fluid leaks are one of the top causes of a bad power steering pump. You can try fixing the leak yourself by using a product like No Leak which you’ll power into the steering wheel reservoir. The product will flow throughout the system and restore the seals and O rings to their effectiveness. Stopping a leak will get your car out of the danger zone. 


Bad Power Steering Pump – Common Questions


Q: How do you test a bad power steering pump?

A power steering pressure test is the best way to determine whether you have a faulty power steering pump. A pressure test checks the fluid pressure, control valve, steering lines, and other vital components. This is done with a pressure gauge which is hooked up between the power steering pump and the steering gear. A pressure check can help accurately diagnose the cause of steering wheel problems. 


Q: Can a bad power steering pump cause rough engine idling?

You might be thinking that a malfunctioning power steering pump has nothing to do with your engine’s performance. But you’re wrong. As your vehicle’s computer tries its best to meet the ever-increasing demands of the power steering system it will lead to the engine idling to drop low. A vacuum hose near the power steering pump may even start to deteriorate which can further cause rough idling and the check engine light will be triggered. 


Q: What causes the power steering pump to go bad?

Power steering pump failure can be traced to:


Worn or Broken Belt

Most power steering systems are regulated by a belt that's connected to the crankshaft in the engine. Worn belts significantly decreased the amount of pressure produced by the pump which results in poor power steering performance. When the belt snaps it causes an immediate loss of power steering. 


Fluid leaks

Low fluid levels reduce the hydraulic pressure produced by the power steering pump. Without adequate power steering fluid, the pump will wear out faster from lack of lubrication and high fluid temperatures. 


Worn Pump

Power steering pumps eventually fail because of their age. The seals, rings, and other internal parts wear out over time which leads to incremental loss of fluid pressure. If you’ve been driving your car for several years without ever having to replace the power steering pump, chances are you’re going to have to replace it sometime soon. 


Q: How to save money on a bad power steering pump replacement?

Perhaps the best way to save money when replacing a faulty power steering pump is by purchasing aftermarket parts. Aftermarket parts are just as good as parts produced by the original manufacturer but they come with a cheaper price tag. When you bring your own parts to the mechanic or the technician this can also help you save money on the job. 


Should You Repair A Car With A Bad Power Steering Pump?


Replacing a bad power steering pump may be a seemingly small repair pair job but it does cost several hundreds of dollars. If you are driving a junk car with high mileage and you feel like it doesn’t make sense to install a new powering steering pump in an old vehicle you might be wondering what’s the next step?


Here at Cash Car Buyers, we purchase used vehicles in any condition whether it's running or not. Contact us today to receive a free instant offer on your vehicle. 


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