Having control over your vehicle on the road is important for your safety, for the safety of other road users, and for the safety of pedestrians too. This is why if you find yourself asking the question, “Why does my steering wheel feel hard to turn?” You are already putting your safety and the safety of others at risk.
If this is the case, it is best to pull over to the side of the road, and stop while you review the issue. However, this is not always a safe option either, so you may have to wait until you get to your destination to check.
But, why would your steering wheel be hard to turn? Having any difficulties turning the steering wheel can indicate a serious issue with your vehicle’s power steering system.
This is why the issue must be addressed as soon as possible, and if it does feel difficult you should refrain from using your vehicle under these conditions.
The biggest challenge for you will be figuring out which part of the steering system is causing the issue. Namely, it is generally the power steering system, however, a steering wheel can turn stiff for any number of reasons.
If your steering wheel is feeling a bit heavy on the turning, then you are in the right place. Today we will answer every question you could possibly have about this issue, including looking at the causes and the fixes for this issue.
Do remember, if you are worried, you can always take your car into a garage to get fixed up. While it will cost, oftentimes this is the safest and fastest resolution.
The power steering system
Before we jump into the nitty-gritty details about what could be causing this problem, we need to understand the power steering system. The steering system establishes the mechanical connection between the steering wheel and the vehicle’s wheels.
Each of the parts of this system need to work properly so that the driver can steer the vehicle without having any difficulties.
Even though the steering system that your car has depends on the model, you can experience issues with turning the wheel with absolutely any steering system. It is good to note that this issue will typically occur at lower speeds, and it can therefore impact your ability to adequately respond to hazards promptly.
A majority of vehicles, especially modern vehicles are fitted with either EPS (electrical power steering), or MDPS (motor-driven power steering) systems which are equipped with an electrical motor that assists the driver in steering the vehicle.
These systems are equipped with sensors that will detect the steering columns torque and position, while a computer module will add assistive torque through a motor that is connected to either the steering column or the steering gear.
Aside from the electrical connection, vehicles that have EPS systems will also have a mechanical connection between the steering gear and steering wheel which will serve as a back-up resort if in the case that one of the systems components malfunctions. A bit like a safety net.
If the EPS system should fail then steering the vehicle, or turning the wheel will become much harder. This is a dead set sign that one of the components in your steering system is faulty and is either not doing its job properly, or is not doing its job at all.
Why is the steering wheel hard to turn?
The steering system that your car uses will depend solely on the model and when it was manufactured. If you have an older car, you will find that it will probably have a hydraulic system. Electric systems on the other hand can be found on vehicles that have been produced in the last couple of decades.
This means that the part that can cause this issue will vary depending on which system your vehicle has. That being said, in a vast majority of cases, the steering wheel will be hard to turn due to inadequate tire pressure, or a broken serpentine belt, or a variety of other possible factors.
Figuring out which of these multiple components of the steering system is no longer functioning properly is near impossible to figure out without going through a thorough inspection of the whole system. A tedious but necessary task.
This is why it is wise to take your vehicle into a mechanic as soon as you find that the issue has arisen, this avoids any further damage to your cars inner workings, and it also avoids you becoming a serious hazard, or any potential accidents caused by your lack of ability to turn the steering wheel in good time.
Reasons why it may be hard to turn
If you find that your steering wheel is hard to turn, then it is definitely a sure sign that one or more of the components of the vehicle’s steering system will need to be either fixed, or replaced entirely.
Yet, remember, this problem only occurs as a result of a few reasons which are related to the maintenance, or the daily wear and tear of certain parts of your car.
Let’s now take a look at which are the most common reasons that you may find that the steering wheel is hard to turn.
Possible damage or a loose power steering belt
It is safe to say that the power steering belt is without a doubt one of the most imperative parts of the whole steering system, this is because it keeps the power steering pump, the alternator, and the air conditioning all running smoothly.
There are two types of power steering belts and your vehicle may have either. It may have a V-belt, or it could have the more common serpentine belt. Power steering belts tend to wear out over time, much like anything else. This is simply because they are in constant use every time that you turn your car on.
It will become gradually more difficult to turn the steering wheel as the belt starts to loosen or crack. This means that there will not be any sudden change if this is the issue, and when you start to feel a difference, do not ignore it.
If you ignore it, eventually the belt will break which will cause the air conditioning system to stop working, and you simply will not be able to turn the steering wheel, not even a little bit. Simply, you would break down.
Tire pressure too high or too low
Okay, yeah, it seems unlikely that this would be the cause, doesn’t it? But, it often can be. Even if your tires are slightly deflated, then it can affect the heaviness and lightness of the steering wheel. This should be your first port of call if you have felt a slight change in the steering, as it is probably one of the easiest to identify.
The difference in the air pressure in the different tires can even cause your car to lean to one side, which will make it more difficult to turn your steering wheel as well.
Every tire should match the manufacturer’s PSI specifications. If you fail to do so, then this may result in a misalignment of the front and rear wheels. Which can cause plenty of problems.
This means that you might experience difficulties while you turn the steering wheel, which will make it more difficult for you to maintain control over the vehicle at high speeds or at low speeds. Either way, it does you no good.
A worn out steering rack
A vast majority of passenger vehicles will have the steering rack consisting of the pinion and the rack, and it is attached to the steering wheel through a plethora of shafts and joints. Like many car parts that are used daily, your pinions, joints, and shafts can break down over time.
Issues with the steering rack can manifest while the rack is still cold after you have only just started your car up. The issue will become less recognizable once the steering rack has warmed up and the lubricant reaches all the many parts of the car, then the steering wheel will start to move more freely once again.
Even though this does not sound quite as dire as the last two issues, you should still repair or replace the steering rack pronto as this issue will not stay like this, it will get worse, and more dire as time goes on.
The power steering fluid that is used is the hydraulic fluid that transfers the power through the steering system by creating the pressure that makes it possible for the wheels to turn. Modern cars will typically use power-assisted steering systems that are dependent on this fluid to ensure a smoother steering process.
This hydraulic fluid can leak through any looseness or cracks in the pressurized hose, which will, in turn, ultimately cause the power steering pump to dry and the pressure in the system to drop.
In some instances it is possible that the reason for the steering wheel being hard to turn can simply be the low level of the fluid in the power steering reservoir, you should then regularly refill the reservoir with fluid and check that the steering system has had enough fluid.
Keep a check on this to ensure that this is not the cause of your problems.
Like you would expect, it is very possible for dirt and debris to accumulate in the power steering fluid reservoir over time. And thus, given time, it can cause the fluids to become thick.
If this happens, it will prevent the fluid from flowing freely through your steering system and providing the necessary lubrication to the whole system. Then, the steering wheel will become hard to turn, especially when driving at low speeds, simply because it does not have the necessary lubrication to do so.
The best resolve to this is to simply flush the old fluids from the system and replace it with fresh fluids that are free from any dirt or debris. Additionally, you should replenish the reservoir regularly anyway in order to prevent this issue with the power steering fluid.
Functional issues with the power steering pump
Both the power steering fluid and the power steering pump generate the necessary pressure in the steering system. Once the pump in the system starts to malfunction then the pressure in the system will drop which will in turn make it difficult to turn the steering wheel.
However, you will still be able to move the steering wheel, even if the power steering pump stops functioning completely. However, turning the wheel will take a lot more effort, which is just not worth the strenuous work out. We don’t drive to get buff after all.
Replacing the malfunctioning power steering pump as soon as you possibly can will make it possible for the steering wheel to move freely once again and save you a great deal of stress, strain, and trouble.
Finding a fix
It is safe to say that resorting the steering wheel’s functionalities to normal can be very difficult if you do not know what is causing your issues. It could be deflated tires, a cracked serpentine belt, a thickness in the power steering fluid, or any of the other above issues.
Let’s look at what checks you can do to figure out the source of the issue.
Tire pressure is the first thing you should do as it is the easiest to fix. Check the tire pressure matches the manufacturers specifications, if they are not even, then fix that.
If there is nothing wrong with the air pressure, then you can rule this out.
Steering fluid and the power steering system
Next we should check the power steering system. Check the level of power steering fluid by looking in the reservoir located next to the power steering belt. If there is too little fluid, then add more. Then inspect the rest of the system.
You should check over the whole system, as fluid is not the only thing that can cause these issues.
The power steering belt
Now, we check that the power steering belt is working. It is located next to the reservoir, where we looked for the power steering fluid. Check for any cracks or worn out edges, also try to determine if it is a bit loose as this could also be a cause of this problem.
Why not turn on the engine to have a good look for yourself at the belt, making sure it is running smoothly. In case that you see it slipping while the engine is working, take it down to a mechanic to get it replaced.
Checking for leaks
Next we want to look for leaks. If there is a puncture or tear in the pressure hose, there will be a leakage of the fluid. You should search for any traces of liquid on the parts of the car surrounding the pressure hose, or underneath the car.
Installing a new hose is the best resolve for this issue.
Rods and balls of the wheels.
You should ensure that the tie rod ends and ball joints are lubricated all the time. If they are not, it can cause them to wear down even faster. Either of these parts can cause problems with the front and end alignment which will ultimately make turning the wheel harder and more strenuous.
Additionally, tie rod ends and ball joints can also cause a whole collection of issues in relation to the steering wheel of a vehicle, so checking them on a regular basis won’t go amiss.
Costing the Fix
It is very obvious to state that the best way for you to avoid having to deal with any issues that make turning the steering wheel a workout is to keep up to date with regular maintenance checks of your whole vehicle.
Any potential cause of this issue can be avoided if you pinpoint any sign of deterioration in the steering components early on. This can also be said for any other issues as well. If you notice any issues, it is better to check your vehicle regularly and avoid any issues by catching on quickly.
Similarly, replacing the fluid regularly will prevent any thickening of the fluid and so you can entirely avoid this issue with regular maintenance anyway.
Do note though, cars and their components are not immortal, and all parts will wear out sooner or later. Eventually you will have to get aftermarket parts for your steering system. Therefore, how much you will need to spend on the fix of your car will depend on which part of the car needs replacing and fixing.
As an example, a new serpentine belt can cost between $25 and $80, whereas a new power steering pump can be anywhere from $150 to $600!
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I drive even if my steering wheel is hard to turn?
You can, however you will be putting your life and the lives of others at risk, so it is best to avoid doing so, unless absolutely unavoidable.
How often should I replace the power steering fluid?
It depends, some would say every two years, others would say you should replace it every 75,000 to every 100,000 miles. We would say, either of these, probably whichever you reach first.