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The most common problems of a steering system are as follows:

Steering wheel play
Hard steering
Abnormal noises when turning the steering wheel

These problems normally point to component wear, lack of lubrication. or an incorrect adjustment.
You must inspect and test the steering system to locate the source of the trouble.

Steering Wheel Play
The most common of all problems in a steering system is excessive steering wheel play. Steering wheel play is normally caused by worn ball sockets, worn idler arm, or too much clearance in the steering gearbox. Typically, you shou Id not be able to turn the steering wheel more than 1 1/ 2 inches without causing the front wheels to move. If the steering wheel rotates excessively, a serious steering problem exists.

An effective way to check for play in the steering linkage or rack-and-pinion mechanism is by the dry-park test. With the full weight of the vehicle on the front wheels, have someone move the steering wheel from side to side while you examine the steering system for looseness. Start your inspection at the steering column shaft and work your way to the tie-rod ends. Ensure that the movement of one component causes an equal amount of movement of the adjoining component.

Watch for ball studs that wiggle in their sockets. With a rack-and-pinion steering system, squeeze the rubber boots and feel the inner tie rod to detect wear. If the tie rod moves sideways in relation to the rack, the socket is worn and should be replaced.

Another way of inspecting the steering system involves moving the steering components and front wheel BY HAND. With the steering wheel locked, raise the vehicle and place it on jack stands. Then force the front wheels right and left while checking for component looseness.

Hard Steering
If hard steering occurs, it is probably due to excessively tight adjustments in the steering gearbox or linkages. Hard steering can also be caused by low or uneven tire pressure, abnormal friction in the steering gearbox, in the linkage, or at the ball joints, or improper wheel or frame alignment.

The failure of power steering in a vehicle causes the steering system to revert to straight mechanical operation, requiring much greater steering force to be applied by the operator. When this happens, the power steering gearbox and pump should be checked as outlined in the manufacturer's service manual.

To check the steering system for excessive friction, raise the front of the vehicle and turn the steering wheel and check the steering system components to locate the source of excessive friction. Disconnect the pitman arm. If this action eliminates the frictional drag, then the friction is in either the linkage or at the steering knuckles. If the friction is NOT eliminated when the pitman arm is disconnected, then the steering gearbox is probably faulty.

If hard steering is not due to excessive friction in the steering system, the most probable causes are incorrect front end alignment, a misaligned frame, or sagging springs. Excessive tire caster causes hard steering. Wheel alignment will be described later in this chapter.

Steering System Noises
Steering systems, when problems exist, can produce abnormal noises (rattles, squeaks, and squeals). Noises can be signs of worn components, unlubricated bearingsor ball joints, loose components, slipping belts, low power steering fluid, or other troubles.

Rattles in the steering linkage may develop if linkage components become loose. Squeaks during turns can develop due to lack of lubrication in thejoints or bearings of the steering linkage. This condition can also produce hard steering.

Some of the connections between the steering linkage components are connected by ball sockets that can be lubricated. Some ball sockets are permanently lubricated on original assembly. If permanently lubricated ball sockets develop squeaks or excessive friction. they must be replaced.

Belt squeal is a loud screeching sound produced by belt slippage. A slipping power steering belt will usually show up when turning. Turning the steering wheel to the full right or left will increase system pressure and belt squeal. Belt squeal may be eliminated by either adjusting or replacing the belt.

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