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Ah power steering. It really is one of the key features on modern cars, making driving so much easier. But when the power steering unit starts to go wrong, it can be a big pain in the backside.

Finding out which part – or parts – of the system has let you down is a big step toward repairing the system and getting your car back on the road. In this article we’re going to take a look at one of the most usual suspects when it comes to a failing power steering unit – the power steering belt.

steering wheel

What is a Power Steering Belt?

Well, if you’re going to know if it’s gone wrong, then you probably need to now what it is, right? The power steering belt is on one of the most important components within the power steering system. It literally transfers the power to the vehicle’s steering, meaning that without the power steering belt, well basically there is no power steering at all.

Luckily, there are a few easy to spot symptoms that can help you to find out if you have a failing power steering band.

Symptoms to keep an eye out for include:

Symptoms of a Bad or Failing Power Steering Belt

  • Intermittent Power Loss

Sometimes it is the driving situation where you notice the symptom that can be as important as the symptom itself. That is the case with this one, which you will most likely see occurring when the power steering unit is placed under high demand.

For example when you are parking the car and making harsh movements on the wheel, or when you are driving on twisting roads or marking hard 90 degree turns at intersections. If during any driving maneuver like this you notice that the power steering seems to be cutting out intermittently, this is a sign of slipping power steering band.

When the bands starts slipping, that is a sign that it is worn. It will continue to slip, with the problem getting worse and worse until the band will eventually just snap and fail.

  • A Noisy Belt

Noise can be another great indicator of a power steering belt that is in trouble. When you turn the wheel, if you hear a grinding or a squealing sound, then that is bad news for you and your power steering belt.

It can also be hard to hear this symptom during normal driving conditions. What with the usual vehicle noises like the engine and wheels on the road top, you don’t want to spend every journey with your ears tuned for power steering belt noise!

What we would suggest is doing this trial on a stationary car. With the engine running, have someone turn the wheel back and forth whilst you wait outside. Lifting the hood can also help you to hear a little better.

  • Visual Inspection

Last but not least, if you have concerns about your power steering belt then it could be time to get under the hood and see what is going on down there. This could be because you have noticed one of the symptoms we discussed above and you want to confirm your diagnosis.

Or you could just make checking out the power steering belt part of your ongoing maintenance routine for the engine and for the car as a whole. Whatever the reason, there are a number of things to look for, such as:

A Broken/Damaged Belt

There probably isn’t a clearer indication of a bad or failing – or even failed – power steering belt than if you can see damage on the belt itself. This damage can present as a stretching on the belt or it can be frayed edges, cracking and breaks. Naturally, a belt in this condition needs to be replaced as soon as possible.

  • Contamination

The belt area should be nice and clean. If you can see anything in there, like oil, this is a clear indication that the belt is not running right and should be replaced. The power steering belt area is also notorious on certain models of cars and trucks for hoovering up gravel and other pieces of debris. If you see this, gently brush it away with a soft bristle brush and then check that the debris has not caused any damage to the belt.

  • Rib Damage

Also check out the rib areas where the belt connects. Look for uneven wear or damage or cracking to the ribs. If you notice this then the ribs will likely need to be replaced. It can also be a good idea to replace the power steering belt at this point too. There is a chance that the ribs have damaged it anyway. Replacing it also rules out the belt as the cause of the rib damage, preventing the damage from reoccurring.

power steering belt

Can You Repair a Bad or Failing Power Steering Belt?

So there you have it, several symptoms to keep any eye out for if you are concerned about a bad or failing belt. Now you know what to look for, the next question naturally is what can be done to repair the belt if you have noticed any issues.

This is actually a pretty hard question to answer, mainly because we have no idea what your personal mechanic skills are, nor the tools that you have available in your home garage.

The short answer is that yes, you probably can replace the belt yourself. It is not the most complicated job to be found on a vehicle, though it is also not one of the easiest either. One of the main issues is actually accessing the belt properly. This is going to be easier on some models of car than others, and it is not unknown to hear of cars where the engine has to be completely disconnected and hoisted out of the way.

That may well be beyond the skill set – and tools – of the average at home mechanic! Just remember that if you are looking to do the work yourself, buy the best quality belt you can, ideally made by the manufacturer of your car or an OEM supplier.

If that all sounds like too much work, this is certainly a job that you can happily pass along to a professional mechanic. It is not the most expensive job in the world, nor is it a particularly time consuming task for a pro mechanic with a well equipped pro shop. So it’s not going to break the bank, nor should your car be off the road for too long.

Can You Drive a Car Without Power Steering

You can, but just because you can doesn’t mean that you should! On the one hand, vehicles all used to be driven without power steering. That being said, the average car today is both more powerful and heavier than many cars of yesterday, making them much harder to control without power steering.

You also have to bear in mind that the power steering unit is designed to perform a purpose. If you drive it with broken or damaged components, you risk causing further damage to the power steering unit itself. That can then turn a simple repair into a far more costly and complex job!

Other Symptoms of a Failing Power Steering Unit

If you are having problems with your power steering, but have investigated and ruled out the power steering belt as a cause, then it may be an idea to take a look at the power steering pump. Aside from the belt, this is perhaps the component most likely to fail.

Look for:

  • Whining Noise

This is different from the noises and sounds that we talked about above. If you hear a high pitched whine when you turn the wheel, that is a classic symptom of a failing power steering pump.

  • Slow Response

If you are turning the wheel but feeling a delay between steering wheel movement and an affect on the vehicle steering, this is another indication of a pump on it’s last legs.

  • Stiff Steering

This symptom can often present at the same time as the one above, a slow response to wheel turns. Essentially, you are going to know what your car feels like to drive, right? Well when you notice that you are having to put more effort into turning the wheel then you have before that is another symptom a failing power steering pump.

There you go, some bonus symptoms of a failing pump – don’t say we don’t give you anything! Bear the symptoms for both a failing band and a failing pump in mind and you have everything you need to diagnose failures in two of the most major components within your power steering.

Conclusion

There we go folks, the end of the line! A bad power steering band is relatively easy to detect, especially if you look out for the features that we talked about above. As far as replacing the band, this is something that you may be able to do yourself – but it is also the kind of fiddly job that is ideal to pass along to a pro whilst you kick back with a beer.

Sources:

  1. How Car Steering Works – howstuffworks
  2. Power Steering Belt Replacement Service – YourMechanic

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