(Updated on June 8, 2021)
The ability to steer a vehicle comes from its power steering system. Power steering systems have changed quite a bit in the past 5-10 years. There are actually two types of power steering systems in use today, electric and hydraulic.
Electric power steering, which uses an electric motor to generate the energy for steering, is now used on most new cars sold in the United States. But hydraulic power steering systems are still used by the majority of vehicles on the road today.
Importance of Power Steering
Without power steering, a driver would not have the strength to rotate the steering wheel fast enough to make basic turns the same way a power steering equipped car would. Basically, it would be exhausting to steer the vehicle because there would be no assistance given to you.
Yes, before power steering became a standard feature, it was still possible to drive cars without it. But, steering systems were much less complex and cars on average weighed less than modern cars. This allowed less effort to be needed to turn the steering wheel.
A power steering system provides the steering mechanism with the necessary energy that it needs to allow the wheels to smoothly respond after the steering wheel is rotated. At the heart of the system is the power steering pump which is dependent on hydraulic fluid (aka: power steering fluid) to make the process possible.
The same way a sufficient amount of motor oil is important for the engine, having enough power steering fluid is critical for steering. A power steering fluid leak somewhere is usually the only thing responsible for low power steering fluid in your system.
Related: Best Power Steering Fluid Brands
Top 5 Symptoms Your Power Steering Fluid Level is Low
In a hydraulic power steering system, energy is transmitted to the steering mechanism through the use of fluid. If you were to have a low amount of power steering fluid, then your steering ability will be jeopardized.
To understand the full range of symptoms that you will likely experience from having a low amount of power steering fluid, below are the top 5 symptoms.
1) Steering Problems
Obviously, the main symptom of low power steering fluid is going to be steering problems. You will find that your steering wheel will become stiff and difficult to turn and rotate.
If you let this problem continue for too long, you will likely have an accident because it will be nearly impossible to drive your vehicle properly.
2) Noisy Turning
The power steering system uses a pump to add pressure to the steering mechanism. The pump needs to circulate the fluid to allow for smooth steering. However, if there is more air in the pump and less fluid, there will be strange noises generated when you turn the steering wheel.
All you need to do is fill your fluid reservoir with more power steering fluid and then you should notice these noises going away soon after. Of course if the noise remains, you may have other issues such as a faulty power steering pump.
3) Jerkiness of the Wheel
When you go to rotate your steering wheel to make a turn, it will jump around and feel very jerky and not smooth. For example, if you turn the steering wheel right, it might jerk to the left and then back to the right.
You will notice this happening more as you slowly drive on the road or turn into parking spaces. This is often the result of low power steering fluid.
Don’t let this problem continue because the jerkiness will only get worse. Then it could cause you to have an accident as you attempt to turn one way but get pulled another way.
Related: 25 Reasons Your Car Jerks While Driving
4) Leaky Fluid
One clearly visible sign that you have low power steering fluid is if it is leaking underneath the vehicle. All you need to do is check under your vehicle and see if there is a puddle of liquid there.
Of course, this liquid could also be something other than power steering fluid, such as oil, transmission fluid, coolant, or windshield washer fluid.
However, if the liquid has a reddish color, it is most likely power steering fluid that is leaking out.
Read also: 5 Symptoms of Exhaust Leak in Your Car
5) Steering Wheel Locks
Aside form jerkiness and difficulty turning the steering wheel, sometimes having a inadequate amount of power steering fluid will cause the steering wheel to lock up completely. You could be calmly driving along and then find that your steering wheel does not rotate at all.
This would be in extreme circumstances where you are practically out of power steering fluid completely. Hopefully, you will not let it get to this point because the previous four symptoms should occur before this one does.