Video tutorial on what can cause stiff or heavy steering in your vehicle. There is a variety of areas that can cause this, I’ll start with the more simple areas first and then work up to the more complicated and expensive repair areas.
First is checking your tire pressure. Low tire pressure causes excessive resistance due to a higher fraction, not allowing the steering to move freely. Typically tire pressure is recommended between 30 to 35 psi, a good generic value is 32 psi however this can vary between vehicles and tire types. Tire pressures specific to your vehicle can be found in your owner’s manual or on the information tag in your door jamb.
Has your vehicle been sitting for an extended period? Perhaps your steering components have become somewhat seized, either from rust or the lubrication has dried out. This can include anything from the steering column assemble, all the way to your ball joints or tie rods. You can use penetrating oil on some bushing which is found in the steering column. You may also find splines and small universal joints, these too can have lubricating oil applied.
Others may have grease fittings such as the ball joints or tie rods, meaning that they are serviceable components. Use a ball joint compatible grease when greasing these components and do not apply more than 3 pumps of grease. Pump the grease gun slowly and watch for the boot to move slightly, then stop and move onto the next joint. If you have no serviceable components, the stiffness may eventually disappear after some usage.
On non-serviceable joints, a grease needle can be used but it’s not something I typically recommend as this can cause premature failure. Once that boot has a puncture, this hole can grow to allow grease to escape and dirt to enter.
When turning the wheel, does your belt squeak or squeal? This would mean that would belt driving the power steering pump is loose. A loose belt is either caused by it being worn and stretch which would require a replacement, the belt simply needs to be adjusted manually if your vehicle does have this adjustment, or you may have a worn tension which is not maintaining sufficient pressure on the belt.
If your vehicle is equipped with power steering, your power steering fluid may be low or a replacement is required. When there is a fluid related issue, this typically results in a whining power steering pump, but with that being said the pump can be failing too. The pump will whine when the vehicle is sitting at idle and usually worsens when operating the steering. Fluid level checking procedures can vary between vehicles. There are maintenance intervals for fluid replacements as well and this should be outlined in your vehicle’s owner’s manual. When a fluid replacement is done, some vehicles are equipped with a filter which should also be replaced or cleaned.
Improper alignments can also cause stiff steering. As a brief overview, toe angle and caster angle can affect how your steering operates. Different angles can cause the wheels to fight against each other or excessive positive caster angle, while improves straight-line stability will create a harder steering operation.
This one is the most costly would be failing components in the steering system. This could be something less costly to replace such as failing ball joints or tie rods. As mentioned earlier, these components have rubber boots that are intended to keep lubrication in, while keeping dirt out of the joint. But with time, these boots can dry out and eventually deteriorate, allowing foreign contaminants to enter, preventing the steering from operating smoothly. Beyond boot failure, even the rotation surfaces within the joint can wear out, possibly increasing binding in the joint.
You can also have a failing power steering pump, failing steering rack, or steering box, depending on which your vehicle is equipped with. A failing pump will typically make a whining sound, however, a steering rack or box can sometimes be a little harder to diagnose. You may notice excessive play when operating the steering, perhaps a grinding noise when turning, and the stiffness can be caused when internal components are binding.
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