One of the first symptoms you’ll notice when there’s a problem with your power steering is a stiff steering wheel that makes it hard to turn the vehicle. Another common sign is seeing the “Service Power Steering” or “Service Power Steering Now” message on your dash.
The message means that the car’s computer (ECU) has detected a problem with the power steering system that requires attention. If the message says “Service Power Steering Now,” you should have the system checked as soon as possible by a certified mechanic.
The engine control module will store a diagnostic trouble code that can be scanned to figure out what’s wrong. In some situations, you may not be able to drive your car due to the complete loss of power assist.
Some cars show a red, yellow, or orange steering wheel symbol on the dashboard with an exclamation mark. This usually means the same thing as the message. Below are the most common causes behind the power steering problem.
Common Causes of Power Steering Problems
1. Low fluid
In cars that use a hydraulic power steering system, one of the few things that can cause the message to pop up is if the power steering fluid is low.
It could be that there’s a leak somewhere or that the fluid has run low over a long period of time. The system cannot work if the amount isn’t at the correct level.
When topping it up, avoid putting too much as it can cause the seals and valves to collapse due to excess pressure. Address any leaks immediately to prevent further fluid loss.
2. Contaminated fluid
Contaminated power steering fluid can cause components to wear and even clog some of the passageways.
The friction caused on the fittings by the contaminants eventually causes some parts to fail. The power steering pump becomes a direct victim in this case.
Contaminated fluid should be replaced with new fluid. This should be done at the intervals recommended by the manufacturer. Consult your user manual to know when to replace your fluid.
3. Broken power steering belt
The power steering belt is found in hydraulic fluid systems that have a pump. It is normally located at the front of the engine where it’s turned by the crankshaft’s pulley.
It is separated from the belt that turns the alternator and water pump. Due to wear and tear, it can stretch, fray, corrode, or break over time.
This will cause the power steering system to fail immediately and cause the “Service Power Steering” message to show up on the dash. Replace the belt if it shows any signs of wear, damage, or aging.
4. Bad power steering pump
The power steering pump is used in hydraulic systems to pressurize the power steering fluid. The fluid provides the assistance needed to turn the steering wheel.
While most pumps remain durable for a long time, they eventually leak, break, or start to produce noise. Any signs of failure will affect the assistance provided when steering.
Pumps mostly fail due to excessive strain caused by harsh driving conditions. Replace the one in your car if it has a problem.
5. Lack of care and maintenance
Your steering components can fail prematurely if they are subjected to bad road conditions. Potholes, hard jolts, and unexpected bumps can cause them to wear and even break.
As a rule of thumb, it’s best to drive the vehicle carefully, especially when maneuvering tricky terrains. Most power steering pumps are not designed to withstand too much stress.
When driving in very bad road conditions, use a vehicle designed to take on such challenges or equip your car with parts built to withstand them.
What do I do if the Service Power Steering warning light comes on?
Pull over to a safe spot and switch off the vehicle. Turn it on again to see if the light will go away. Sometimes, this can help to reset the power steering assist fault.
If the light does not go away, step out of the car and open the hood. If your car uses a hydraulic power steering system, start by checking the level of the fluid.
The power steering fluid reservoir has a power steering wheel mark on the cap for identification. If you can’t find it, check online or consult your owner’s manual.
If the fluid is below the recommended level, you need to top it up. This should help to eliminate the Service Power Steering light once you start the engine.
Since you most likely won’t have power steering fluid with you at the moment, find a local parts store where you can buy some.
Sometimes, low fluid level is caused by a leak within the passageways. Check the hoses to see that there are no leaks on both the high-pressure and low-pressure sides.
If your car has electric power steering (EPS), there’ll be no hoses or fluid level to check. The system uses a control module that receives signals from a steering angle sensor.
This allows the module to provide the assistance needed when driving. When the system goes bad, it could be due to several things, including a bad alternator, faulty electrical connections, or a bad battery.
The problem can sometimes be fixed simply by turning the vehicle off and on again repeatedly. However, if the cause of the problem is severe, the system must be diagnosed to identify the underlying issue.
How much does it cost to service power steering?
The cost to service power steering ranges between $200 and $350 depending on the problem. It can be as high as $400 – $800 if you need to replace the power steering pump. Costs are subject to the vehicle model you own.
There’s a cost-effective way to fix the power steering system. This is especially if the problem is caused by clogged valves. Here’s how to inexpensively fix a power steering service message.
How to fix power steering in your car
A clogged-up power steering rack can cause the power steering system to bind. You can clean it using Seafoam Trans Tune cleaner.
- Open the hood of your car and remove the power steering fluid cap
- Suck some of the fluid out using a turkey baster and pour it into a container
- Pour half (8 0z.) of Seafoam cleaner into the reservoir and close it
- Start the engine and turn the steering wheel from side to side
- Let the car idle for about 15 minutes. Turn the steering wheel after every 3 -4 minutes.
- Go for a short test drive to confirm that the power steering is working
- Take your turkey baster and remove all the fluid from the reservoir
- Replace the power steering fluid with new fluid.
The cleaner will unclog the valves and the steering rack allowing the power steering to work as it should.
Is it safe to drive with the power steering light on?
As much as you may be able to drive with the power steering light on, it will not be easy. The steering wheel will be harder to turn.
This means that you will not be able to take corners safely or react appropriately to what’s happening on the road.
As a result, there will be higher chances of getting into an accident. If you only have a short distance to cover to get to where you need to be, you can continue driving but with extra care.
Stop the car and inspect the system if you’re still on the highway or far from home. The power steering warning light is an indication that something is wrong with the system. It must be checked as soon as possible.
On That Note
Always keep an eye on the steering fluid level to ensure it’s at the correct level. Check it when changing your oil or other important fluids such as the brake fluid and the coolant.
Experts recommend changing the fluid every two years or after every 50,000 miles. Check your owner’s manual to see the recommended interval.