Power steering was once considered a luxury, and was only fitted to heavy goods vehicles and the most expensive and salubrious of cars. The world of modern motors is far different, as the addition of various safety features and electronic components has made the average car far heavier, and now all but the smallest of city cars is fitted with an efficient power steering system designed to make maneuvering your car easier.
However, power steering systems are just as vulnerable to mechanical malfunction as the other components of a car, and a faulty pump is one of the most commonly encountered power steering problems. Fortunately, power steering pumps rarely fail without warning, and a power steering pump that is on its way out will usually produce one or more audible symptoms. Keeping an ear out for these symptoms, and having your pump repaired or replaced by power steering repair specialists when they occur, will make keeping your car on the road that much easier.
What are the symptoms of a failing power steering pump, and what do they signify?
Whining noises when turning
If you hear a high-pitched whining noise coming from your power steering system as you turn the steering wheel, chances are that your pump has sprung a leak and is venting its precious supply of power steering fluid. The whining is caused by the rush of air entering the pressurised innards of the pump as the fluid is ejected.
This is a problem that should be repaired as soon as possible; not only will your gradually-diminishing levels of power steering fluid make your vehicle progressively harder to maneuver, but the air entering the pump can severely damage the pump's impeller and internal surfaces. A minor leak in a power steering pump can often be welded or patched shut, but more serious leaks will necessitate professional replacement of the entire pump assembly.
Whining noises when starting engine
The impeller within your power steering pump is powered by a belt attached to your vehicle's engine, and a power steering belt that is properly adjusted and in good working condition is vital for the efficiency of your power steering system. if your power steering system makes a whining noise as you start the engine, this can signify that the belt has perished or slipped, and is no longer providing adequate power to the pump.
Power steering belts are relatively inexpensive, and can be replaced by yourself if you have a reasonable amount of mechanical expertise. However, a badly fitted belt can cause more problems than it solves, so you should have the belt replaced professionally if you are at all unsure of your ability to do it yourself.
Groaning noises when steering or driving at low speeds
A low, groaning noise coming from your power steering pump is generally a bad sign, and usually occurs before complete and total failure of the pump. It can be caused by a blocked or damaged pump impeller, blockages in your steering system's fluid lines, or a worn-out pump pressure sensor, and determining which of these problems is causing the ominous groaning can be very challenging.
If your steering pump starts to groan, you should take your vehicle to a power steering repair service as soon as possible, as the pump is liable to give out entirely at any moment and leave you with drastically curtailed maneuverability. These services will conduct a complete inspection of your power steering pump and the rest of the steering system, and will replace the pump in the unfortunately likely event that it is too damaged or worn out to be salvaged.