Just about every car produced since 1970 comes standard with power steering. It is one of those luxuries taken for granted until it is no longer available. Without the assistance power steering pumps provide, steering wheels less than 24 inches in diameter would not be possible. The additional leverage of a larger steering wheel is necessary on older, classic, cars without this modern-day comfort.
Symptoms of a Failing Pump
One of the first signs of a problem with the power steering is not the steering at all. It is the noises emanating from under the hood when the wheel is cranked to the left or right. More prominent when the car is on a slow roll or stopped in a parking lot, a squeal heard when the steering wheel is turning, indicates a power steering pump problem. A few conditions to check first include:
- Power steering fluid level; make sure the fluid reservoir is full of the correct fluid, and not overfilled.
- Check the color of the fluid; if the fluid is black and full of trash or metal shavings, the pump has either failed or is in the process of it.
- Inspect the condition of the serpentine belt; a slipping belt will create the same sound, and sometimes under the same conditions.
Servicing a Power Steering Pump
If the fluid is low, look for leaks in the hose or the power steering fluid reservoir. Power steering fluid does not get “used up” necessarily; if the level is low, it is likely leaking.
Hoses are the most common culprit if suspecting a fluid leak. Make sure the hose end fittings are tight, and no fluid is accumulating around them. This will be a sign a small leak at the hose end fitting is present.
If when inspecting the belt, it appears shiny or cracked on the inside surface, it is time to replace the belt. A serpentine belt was slipping on the power steering pump’s pulley, will not allow adequate pressure to the steering box. This slipping can result in steering difficulty and excess noise.
Removing the Power Steering Pump
When the belt and fluid level appear to be in order, the fluid’s condition can indicate the pumps state. Metallic shavings in the fluid, or burning smell, are indications the pump is out. Although the steps involved in removing the pump are straightforward, depending on the type of vehicle, the job can be quite difficult.
Most pumps mount near the top of the engine compartment. Some, however, mount underneath the engine, against the firewall. Follow these steps to remove the pump:
- Drain the power steering fluid into a container by removing the hoses from the pump.
- Remove the serpentine belt and set aside for installation later. This is a terrific opportunity to inspect the belt and replace it if necessary.
- Remove the bolts anchoring the pump to its mount. With little exception, this is easier said than done. Some other engine components may require removal to get the power steering pump out.
With the pump removed, two options are available for swapping the pulley out from the old pump to the new one. Use of a pulley removal tool, or depending on the parts shop where the new pump is purchased, ask the shop to swap out the pulley when they exchange the pump.
Power Steering Pump Installation
Installing the new or remanufactured pump in the opposite order of steps as it was removed, will usually get the job done. Some of the more significant steps to follow during installation are to double-check the alignment of the pump’s pulley with the other pulleys that the serpentine belt will ride on. Secondly, if boss-type fittings are used on the connections, make sure to use new o-rings to seal the system from leaks adequately.
Power Steering Pump Set-up
Once the pump is connected and all hooked up, load the reservoir with the manufacturer-approved power steering fluid. There was a time when oil was oil, and any old power steering fluid would work as well as the next, those times are no more. Advances in both fluids and pumps often dictate the use of specifically formulated fluids. Make sure to use the right one.
Bleed the air from the system once the reservoir is filled with fluid. Air in the system will cause excessive noise and erratic steering conditions if left without removing it. With the cap off the reservoir, turn the steering wheel to the stops in each direction 4 or 5 times. This will burp any entrapped air from the system. Re-check the fluid level, and seal the cap on tight.
Replacing the power steering pump is not one of the easiest jobs for the do-it-yourself mechanic, but it is certainly not impossible. The money saved, not to mention the extra care and effort put into doing the job right, will more than pay for the time spent making the repair.