The steering system in your car is made up of several components that can fail after years of use. Some problems may be obvious as soon as they start; others may become apparent too late, forcing you to replace major components. Take steps to diagnose some of the most common steering problems and look for signs of minor problems that could develop into serious ones.
Check the power steering fluid if your car is hard to steer. Lack of steering fluid makes it hard to turn the steering wheel. Other possible problems include worn steering gear and ball sockets in the steering assembly, worn suspension system components and loose steering pump belt.
Open the bonnet and start the engine. Ask someone to turn the steering wheel while you listen at the steering pump. If you can hear the pump make a whine and loud noise, the belt might be slipping. Adjust the belt if necessary. Also, lack of steering fluid may cause the noise. Add fluid if necessary, then turn the steering wheel completely to the left and right several times to purge air from the system.
Start the engine and ask someone to turn the steering wheel left and right. Check for loose or worn parts at the steering column, steering assembly connecting to the steering column, connecting arms at both ends of the assembly and steering assembly mounting brackets. Worn or loose steering components may produce loud noises and excessive play at the steering wheel. Take the car to an auto shop for further inspection if necessary.
Lift the front of the car using a floor jack and safely support it on jack stands. Ask someone to wiggle each of the front wheels left and right while you watch the wheel assembly connection to the steering system assembly. Look for loose or worn out components. The assembly should remain solid as the wheel is moved back and forth.
Inspect the steering pump, connecting hoses and lines around the steering assembly and look for possible leaks using a flashlight if necessary. If you frequently add fluid to the steering pump, the steering mechanism might have a leak. Clean steering components with a shop rag and recheck a couple of days later. You might find a loose hose clamp, torn hose, broken line or crack on the steering pump.
Worn or loose steering components may cause the vehicle to wander from side to side as you drive even when keeping the steering wheel straight. If you cannot find and correct the problem, take the vehicle to an auto shop as soon as possible to avoid a possible traffic accident.