6 Reasons For Steering Wheel Hard To Turn & Solutions

The steering wheel is an important part of the control mechanism of a vehicle. Without it, you won’t be able to make a turn, change lanes, avoid a pothole or maneuver into the parking spot. A problem like steering wheel hard to turn is very dangerous both to you and other cars on the roads because it can lead to accidents. Imagine having to change lanes or take a turn on a highway or a busy street but the steering wheel sticks or turns too slowly. This is just as deadly if you are driving on a treacherous, mountainous road.

There are no early signs for the steering wheel hard to turn problem. Usually when you find yourself in this situation in the middle of traffic, it would be already too late. Learn the common reasons of steering wheel hard to turn, how to fix the problems and how to prevent them from happening.

Steering Wheel Hard To Turn: Common Reasons & How To Fix

You might find the steering wheel hard to turn at low speeds and then the problem miraculously seems to ease somewhat once you speed up, simply because you would most likely slow down while making a turn. This doesn’t mean that you should ignore the issue of steering wheel hard to turn, as it’s certainly not going to go away on its own.

When this issue occurs, you could be certain that there is a glitch in your power steering system. It could be the fluid, pump, or the serpentine belt. All of these things work together to reduce the resistance of the wheel at the time of turning. When any or all of these things fail to function properly, you will experience a steering wheel hard to turn because of the high-level of resistance.

Skipping scheduled servicing coupled with the natural wear and tear of certain components are the most common reasons for a stiff steering wheel. Therefore, your best bet is to keep up with routine maintenance, or else once you find yourself with a sticking steering wheel in the middle of a busy road or on the highway, there would be nothing you can do.

Power steering fluid leakage

steering wheel hard to turn
Adequate power steering fluid is crucial for the power steering system to work. Credit: Auto Exhausts & Tyres

For the power steering system to work, you need an adequate amount of a special fluid called power steering fluid. This fluid serves as the pass through which power is transferred from the steering wheel to the steering mechanism of the vehicle to turn your wheels. It also acts to lubricate and protect the moving parts within the system from overheating and corrosion.

The most common cause of a steering wheel hard to turn is there is not enough power steering fluid in the system. This will likely happen when there’s fluid leaking from a crack in the pressurized hose area, or if this area gets loose. 

Fluid leaks through that crack, thus reducing pressure in the system and making the power steering pump work harder to make up for the loss of pressure. As a result, the steering wheel does not get enough supply of fluid to turn freely, and you will have to exert much more force than usual.

Refilling the liquid in the power steering tank will fix the problem for the time being and the car may be drive-able for a while, but the leak must be taken care of. Otherwise, it will eventually cause your power steering pump to fail which can be an expensive replacement.


Thickening power steering fluid 

If upon inspection, you find the power steering fluid full but still hard to turn, then the next likely culprit is a thickening power steering fluid. This is an unavoidable problem that occurs as time goes by.

Like all other types of fluid in a vehicle, the power steering fluid doesn’t have an infinite life and they also collects dirt and debris over time. Therefore, it’s crucial to regularly change it as per the manufacturer’s recommended intervals. Failure to change it within the specified period means the fluid will thicken and lose its ability to lubricate the system properly. 

A thickened power steering fluid might still allow you to turn the wheel, but you’ll have to use far more force to do so, and a steering wheel hard to turn in incidents that require instant steering might compromise your safety. The only solution is to flush the old fluid out of the system and refill it with new, fresh power steering liquid.

Malfunctioning power steering pump

The power steering system consists of two main parts: the rack-and-pinion unit, and secondly, the power steering pump. The power steering pump is what transfers the steering system fluid to the rack and pinion unit. When you turn your steering wheel, the control valve in the system lets the fluid flow into the pinion, thus allowing you to turn the wheel without much physical exertion. As the steering wheel turns, the pinion moves against the steering rack, which drives the four wheels to the direction that you are navigating.

In addition, a major role of the power steering pump is maintaining the optimum amount of pressure in the system, so that you can turn the steering wheel smoothly without exerting a lot of force. If the pump malfunctions for any reason, the “power” part of your steering system also fails and you will find the steering wheel hard to turn. 

A malfunctioning pump will not lock the wheel completely, but it will need much more force, which could be dangerous when you need to take a sharp turn in an emergency situation.

A power steering pump is actually made to last for thousands of miles, although sometimes it can just fail prematurely. Before failing, a faulty power steering pump will often make a whining or groaning noise, especially during a sharp turn. Since the pump is driven by a belt, as engine RPMs increase, this sound will also be louder and more excessive. 

That said, a pump can fail due to loose or damaged connectors to the pump. So before you get your power steering pump replaced right away, inspect to see if this is the culprit. A pump replacement would cost you between $100-$200 if you do it yourself and around $500 if you get professional service.

Bad Steering Rack

Your steering rack is a crucial part of the rack and pinion unit. The steering rack’s role is to attach the steering wheel to the mechanisms that turn the wheels to the direction that you’re navigating. The steering rack is connected to the steering wheel through a series of shafts and U-joints. These parts and the rack itself simply wears out after extensive driving. 

If you find the steering wheel hard to turn after just starting the car, but the wheel will gradually turn more smoothly as you continue driving, the problem is definitely with the steering rack. It happens because the rack warms up as the engine is running, allowing the lubricant to settle in. You can keep driving with this condition but leaving the deteriorated rack as it is will escalate the problem. 

You will pay anywhere from $650 to $1,200 for a steering rack replacement, of which parts would cost between $350 and $830 and labor would cost between $280 and $360. The prices on parts vary widely depending on your vehicle’s particular make and model.

Damaged Serpentine Belt

>> Finding cheap used cars from reliable Japanese sellers? Click here <<

Another common cause of steering wheel hard to turn is a cracked or broken serpentine belt. This belt is responsible for many important jobs within the engine, including the operation of the power steering pump. The belt ages and gets worn out over time because it works all the time when you drive the car.

As it becomes loose, cracks, and frays, the steering wheel will start showing the sign of stiffness. Delaying the repair or replacement will cause the belt to break, making the steering wheel go kaput.

A loose or broken serpentine belt can cause other components that rely on it to also stop working, such as the water pump, the alternator and the air conditioning compressor. A faulty belt will also cause damage to the pulley as well, and the car will definitely overheat, which is detrimental. 

The average cost for serpentine belt replacement is between $110 and $130, parts typically cost around $60 while labor costs would be between $50 and $70. 

Tire Pressure

Surprisingly, bad air pressure could be a cause for the steering wheel hard to turn issue. Improper tire pressure, especially deflated tires, can trigger this problem. All the tires of your vehicle should have been inflated according to the manufacturer’s recommended PSI.

Also, the front-end alignment is another important thing. Uneven wear on the front tires will make your car pull to a side while driving or taking a turn. Uneven tire tread leads to misalignment of the wheels, which can also a reason that triggers hard and stiff steering at the time of making turns on the road.