Power steering uses hydraulic pressure to make turning the wheels of the car easier for the driver. This comes in handy especially when operating at slow speeds. Without power steering, attempting to turn the wheel while parallel parking, for instance, would require significantly more effort on the driver's part.
You should know what symptoms can crop up when the power steering begins to malfunction, as catching an issue early will reduce the risk of bigger problems developing later on. The most obvious sign of trouble is if steering becomes difficult. If you try to take a turn and the steering wheel offers more resistance than usual, this could indicate a number of issues with your vehicle's steering system, including worn or loose belts and low or leaking steering fluid.
The first thing you should check is the power steering fluid level. This is not only the easiest aspect to check, it is also the least expensive. Check the owner's manual to determine if you should check the level when the fluid is hot or cold, as this can change the level reading. The reservoir tank on some vehicles has a level indicator for cold fluid while others indicate how high it should be when hot.
If the levels are low, add more and check back in a few days. A significant drop in the fluid level likely means there is a leak in the system. Check the color of the fluid as well. It should be light and possibly pink in color. If you notice it is dark or brownish, this may indicate that it's time to change it.
Another thing that may affect the power steering can be air in the lines. This can occur in congruence with fluid leaks. In certain spots such as the hoses, where liquid can leak out, air can also get in and this symptom can be aggravated when the leak is fixed. If this is the case, it will be necessary to fix the leak and once that is done the air will have to be bled from the power steering system.
If you've determined that the steering fluid is not causing the problem, it's time to pop the hood and prick up your ears. If the poor steering performance is accompanied by a loud, whining sound, the power steering pump may be nearing its end, or other components of the steering column could be worn or loose. Loose steering may also be a sign of this issue.