Steering systems help drivers keep their cars on the road and in their lane. If one component of the steering system fails, it can leave the driver with no means to direct the vehicle. This can greatly increase the risk of a crash, even if the driver still has partial control. The best way to avoid losing steering entirely is to know the warning signs, and fix problems as soon as possible.
Most cars are equipped with rack-and-pinion steering, and there are a few things that can commonly go wrong with this setup. Issues with steering fluid, racks and tie rods are most often the cause for steering problems. Power steering is pretty commonplace in most modern vehicles, and steering fluid is used to facilitate this system. If there is a leak, this can cause a loss of power steering maneuverability. When your car loses power steering, turning the wheel will be vastly more difficult and require far more exertion. This can make turning an arduous process and greatly increases the risk of crashing.
Leaks can spring from the power steering pump, from the hoses that redirect the fluid to other parts of the steering system or even from the steering rack itself. You can inspect the hoses for signs of leaks by looking for wet spots along them or even just searching for visible signs of tears or other damage. It is also a good idea to carefully inspect any rubber fittings where different components of the system connect.
If your car is leaking steering fluid, you may notice that the steering wheel seems to slip when you attempt to turn or hold the wheel at a cocked position. It may also just take considerably more effort to turn the wheel than it ought to. These symptoms can also be caused by loose or worn steering belts, or a faulty power steering pump.
The steering rack, which is responsible for converting steering wheel motion into horizontal movement of the wheels, should also be inspected if you suspect there is an issue with the system. The power steering system is integrated with the rack-and-pinion setup in most cars, and steering fluid leaks can form in the rack. When this occurs, the rack will likely need to be replaced. Another issue that may crop up is worn rack mounts. If the mounts are wearing out, this can cause the slipping sensation when you turn the steering wheel.
Worn steering racks and tie rods can also cause excessive wiggling and looseness of the wheels when steering. The tie rods, which are the link between the wheels and the steering rack, can become damaged or worn after years of use. Faulty tie rods can contribute to overarching steering issues, and they have their own warning signs that drivers can watch for.
The first sign of a faulty tie rod is excessive vibration. This can be difficult to pinpoint, as vibrations can be caused by a number of different issues. However, if you feel excessive vibrating in the steering wheel when you accelerate or make a turn, it could be a sign that your tie rods are going bad.
When tie rods break down, the steering system begins to lose control over the wheels. This starts out as vibration, but as the problem worsens, you may notice that the whole car shakes. If you let the tie rods break down further, you could lose control of the wheels entirely, which can result in a crash. The sooner you can address the issue, the safer your vehicle will be.