Power steering is a hydraulic system, meaning it uses the power of a force pushing on a liquid in order to create motion. These types of systems are capable of exerting extremely high amounts of force with little energy input, making it an effective way to control your car. However, this harmonious system only works properly when the hydraulic fluid is clean. Contaminated fluid can wear down fittings, clog the steering system, create an increase in friction, and even causes the failure of some components, such as your pump. This is why you should change your vehicle's power steering fluid at the manufacturer-recommended interval, which you can find in your owner's manual.
In order for your power steering system to work properly, it needs a very precise amount of fluid running through it. Too much and your valves and seals could collapse under the pressure. Not enough and the fluid can't exert the force needed to turn your car. Replacing your fluid on time will help prevent this issue, but any leaks can cause a loss of fluid that will ultimately lead to power steering failure.
Power steering is made possible by an engine-powered pump. Because your engine is connected to your power steering pump, any stretching, fraying, corrosion or breakage can cause the immediate failure of your system. We recommend having your power steering belt checked with every maintenance service, and replacing it if it shows any signs of wear, aging, or damage.
Your power steering pump is the main component in your system. They are used every time you drive your car. While pumps are quite durable, they can and will eventually wear out. Too much strain on a pump can cause them to fail prematurely (i.e. strain from being pushed to operational limits like turning your steering wheel all the way to the right or left). If you begin noticing a lot of noise when you turn the wheel, your pump may be on the verge of failure.
Power steering can withstand some less-than-ideal road conditions, including potholes, unexpected bumps, or hard jolts against your wheels. However, it's important to remember that your system isn't invincible. Pumps, belts, and other steering system components can break if put under too much stress too quickly. This is why we strongly recommend avoiding particularly rough roads, unless you have a vehicle equipped with a steering pump designed to handle such obstacles, such as a 4x4 vehicle or all-terrain SUV used for off-road driving.
Maintaining your power steering system is actually easier than you may think. By driving safely and predictably, you'll prevent a lot of the sudden strain on your system and keep it working for many years to come. Just like most components of your vehicle, general maintenance can go a long way.