5 Causes of a Steering Wheel That’s Hard to Turn (at Low and High Speeds)

(Updated on August 17, 2021)

One of the most important systems on a vehicle is its steering system. Any issue in the steering system could lead to lethal consequences if a loss of control results. This is especially true if you find yourself driving at higher speeds.

If your steering doesn’t work properly or becomes very difficult to turn, things could go south quick. You might end up hitting a tree, a car, or even someone on the road.

There are several issues related to a car’s steering. One of the most common among them is a steering wheel that’s hard to turn at low speeds. This is often the first symptom you’ll notice if you have a steering issue. It has to be fixed immediately so as to avoid major issues.

5 Reasons Your Steering Wheel is Hard to Turn

There are several reasons of a steering wheel being difficult to turn (especially at low speeds). Some of the most common causes are discussed below to help you figure out the root cause.

1) Damaged Belt

bad serpentine belt symptoms

One of the most common reasons of steering wheel requiring much more effort to turn at low speeds is a broken or a damaged accessory belt. The serpentine belt wears over time. It gets loose and that’s the point when the steering wheel starts getting a bit harder to turn.

If left damaged, the belt will eventually break and steering will become increasingly difficult. It’s important to replace the serpentine belt before it breaks. When the belt wears and starts becoming loose, it should be replaced immediately, otherwise you risk being without power steering at the worst possible time.

2) Low Power Steering Fluid

power steering fluid leak

The power steering system needs oil to work smoothly. The purpose of power steering fluid is to keep the entire system working seamlessly without any resistance by lubricating the power steering system.

Over time, the fluid gets contaminated and thicker and needs to be replaced. If you haven’t replaced the fluid for ages, your power steering will feel very heavy at low speeds. Refer to your car’s manual to see what the manufacturer’s recommended power steering fluid change interval is.

There may be times when the power steering fluid level gets low. This makes turning your steering wheel more difficult and is considered one of the main causes. In fact, as soon as you feel the steering stiffen at low speeds, check the power steering fluid level. If it is low, top it off with the correct fluid. This is often times enough to fix the issue.

But topping off the fluid will not solve a power steering fluid leak. If the fluid level drops again, it means there is a leak somewhere. You have to find it and fix it. Check for loose hoses or cracks as a starting point.

3) Pump Failure

bad power steering pump

The power steering system has a pump which is responsible for generating the pressure to allow for smooth, easy turning of the steering wheel.

A faulty power steering pump will make it MUCH more difficult to turn the steering wheel. Normally, power steering pumps do not fail completely, rather they fail prematurely, so even a failed pump will not jam the steering. The idea is to check the pump and fix or replace it if it has failed.

If you have a steering wheel that’s hard to turn at low speeds, you should get it fixed as soon as possible as driving your car with it can result in serious issues on the road.

4) Caster Angle Too Steep

what is caster

Caster is sort of a “dynamic camber”. That is, the more you turn the steering wheel, the more camber you get on the front wheels.

The greater your camber in a turn, the more the wheel wants to force themselves back to center and drive in a straight line. If you have a manual steering rack, you will notice the steering effort increase immensely as you turn the wheel, particularly in high G turns on a race track.

If you have a manual or de-powered steering rack, try reducing your caster angle and see if it helps with your steering effort. To accomplish this you’ll need an alignment, likely from a professional.

5) Steering Rack Problems

rack and pinion leak

If you have a high mileage vehicle, your steering rack can be in need of an adjustment or replacement simply through normal wear and use.

A steering rack consists of several internal components. If these components wear out or become out of adjustment, they may make the steering wheel significantly harder to turn.

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