Top 5 Causes of a Stiff Steering Wheel

Your car's steering system is one of its most essential components. Without it, cars can only drive in a straight line, and what use would a car be if it doesn't go where you want it to go? With that in mind, a problem with your steering system hampers your car's performance, and puts your personal safety at risk. Just imagine what would happen when you need to make a turn or change lanes and then have your steering suddenly become hard to turn or, heaven forbid, get locked up. The results could be catastrophic.

If you find your steering wheel hard to turn, this indicates a potential issue with the steering system.  Here are five common causes of this malfunction.

1. Power steering fluid is running low

A low power steering fluid level is the most common cause of a stiff wheel. Power steering fluid flows in a closed system, so if there's too little fluid, the system may have sprung a leak. Refilling the fluid in the power steering reservoir will fix the problem temporarily, but the leak must be addressed.

2. Thick power steering fluid

Power steering fluid can go bad with use, becoming too syrupy and losing its all-important ability to lubricate. Make sure to follow your car manufacturer's advice on when to replace your power steering fluid.

3. Worn or damaged power steering belt

A loose or broken serpentine belt could render the power steering system useless. If the problem is in the belt, the alternator and air conditioner may also stop working. Replacing the belt along with the related pulleys and tensioners will solve this problem.

4. Defective steering rack

Your car's steering rack is exposed to extreme temperatures and road debris. Repeated hits can damage internal bushings and cause the system to spring a leak. Dirt may soon enter into the leak, allowing abrasive grit to damage the gears. If your steering wheel is only stiff when you start the car but gets better with continued driving, the steering rack may already be leaking.

5. Failing power steering pump

The power steering pump provides the optimum level of pressure that allows you to smoothly turn the steering wheel. If there's a problem with this pump, the steering wheel will be much more difficult to turn, especially at low speeds. Often times, a problem with your steering pump yields a whining noise when you turn your steering wheel. Have the pump checked out by a certified mechanic once you encounter these symptoms.

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