The power steering system in your vehicle enables you to steer your vehicle in the direction you would like it to proceed. Power steering is really “power assisted”
steering. “Power assisted” steering will allow you to steer your vehicle manually when the engine is not running or if you have a failure in the power steering system which disables it.
Power steering utilizes a hydraulic pump running off a belt driven by the engine, this pump enables a small amount of fluid to be under pressure. This pressure in turn assists the steering mechanism in directing the tires as you turn the steering wheel. The power steering system typically includes a pump, power steering fluid, a pressure hose assembly, a control valve and a return line.
There are two basic types of power steering systems used on vehicles. The rack and pinion steering system and the conventional/integral steering gear system, which is also known as a recirculating ball steering system. The rack and pinion steering system is the most commonly used power steering system on todays’ vehicles. The steering shaft turns a gear that moves the rack side to side, utilizing a power unit built directly onto the rack assembly. The steering gear system is generally used most often on trucks, it has a series of steel balls that act as rolling threads between the steering shaft and the rack piston. The steering wheel shaft connects to a gear assembly and a series of links and/or arms that turn the wheels to the left or right.
The best way to maintain the power steering system of your vehicle is to regularly check the power steering fluid level and condition. A low fluid runs level can cause damage to some of the components of the steering system. It is recommended to have leaks repaired if they arise, and to have the fluid flushed about every 50,000 miles to keep it clean from contaminants. This fluid is key to keeping the power steering pump, steering gear or rack and pinion assembly lubricated and is the hydraulic element of the power steering system.
Watch for, heavy or unresponsive steering, unusual noise while turning, a shimmy or shake of the steering wheel, the steering wheel not being able to return to the "center", and fluids leaking from under car.