Understanding and Maintaining Your Steering System
A classic steering system generally has a steering rack that links the steering wheel to the front tires of a car. Now in common usage, power steering systems have a pulley driven hydraulic pump mounted on the crankshaft and lines connecting the pump, steering gear, and fluid reservoir.
These days, steering systems are electric. In fact, an electric motor replaces all the components of classic systems and can even regulate the amount of assistance, depending on whether the vehicle is stopped or travelling at a faster speed.
Electric systems are very reliable and require little maintenance. Classic systems, however, sometimes have leakage problems: the hydraulic fluid must be drained periodically, just like the transmission. The steering rack and pump can break or wear out to the point of needing to be replaced. That’s why it’s a good idea to find out which system you have under the hood of your car.
Even so, it’s the external components of power steering that usually require upkeep. To steer the vehicle, tie rods with ball joints turn the wheels and these are subject to enormous constraints and eventually wear out. Same goes for the wheel bearings—in addition to supporting the weight of the vehicle, they are subject to the elements and the smallest problem will make them squeal or shake. The suspension components and half-shafts that complete the steering system may also need to be repaired or replaced due to the major shocks they sometimes face. The bushings, dust boots, and other related components are fragile parts that should be checked. Your certified NAPA AUTOPRO technician can inspect these systems.
Lastly, it should be pointed out that whenever the geometry of the steering is disrupted or a steering part is replaced, it is important to realign the two or four wheels. Imprecise steering, a titled wheel, tire wear, and abnormal sounds coming from under the car are all signs that something isn’t right.