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Top 6 Causes of Steering Wheel Hard to Turn and Solutions

The steering system is an important part of the control mechanism of a vehicle. It provides control over the direction the driver wants to guide the car. A problem like steering wheel hard to turn is dangerous because it can lead to accidents when you are driving on a highway or a street filled with cars or people. Just imagine a situation when you need to change lanes or take a turn but steering wheel sticks or moves slowly. It could be a deadly situation if you are driving on a treacherous, mountainous road.

Steering Wheel Hard to Turn – What Are the Reasons?

Irregular maintenance and late servicing coupled with the wearing off of some components are the reasons of the stiff steering wheel. It’s important to know about them as it will help you to spot the signs early and take the car to servicing before they become worse.

1. Tire Pressure

Surprisingly, bad air pressure could be a cause for steering wheel hard to turn. 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.

stiff steering wheel
Uneven tire pressure could cause this problem. Source: CARFAX

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.

2. Bad Steering Rack

The steering rack is connected to the wheel through a series of shafts and U-joints. These parts and the rack itself get damaged and worn simply because of everyday driving. If you find the stiffed wheel just after starting the car, the problem is definitely with the steering rack. The wheel will gradually feel free to move when you continue driving. It happens because the rack gets hotter with the running of the engine, 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.

3. Damaged Serpentine Belt

steering wheel hard to turn
Damaged serpentine belt is another reason. Source: Drive2

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Another common cause of steering wheel hard to turn is a cracked or broken serpentine belt. The belt gets worn out over time because it works all the time when you drive the car. The wheel starts showing the sign of stiffness when the belt begins to erode and becomes loose. Delaying the repair or replacement will cause the belt to break, making the steering wheel to go kaput.

4. Fluid Leakage

Inadequate level of fluid in the steering system is another top reason. It happens when the pressurized hose area develops a leak or gets loose. Fluid leaks through that crack, leading to reducing pressure in the system and drying out the pump. As a result, the wheel does not get enough supply of fluid to perform freely.

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5. Pump Malfunction

Along with the fluid, the pump also has a major role in creating the right amount of pressure in the power steering system. If the pump gets damaged or stops working for any reason, it will be difficult to turn the steering wheel. An impaired pump will not stall the wheel completely. You will still be able to move it but it will need much more effort, which could be dangerous when you need to take a sharp turn on the road.

6. Thick Fluid

Like all other types of fluid in a vehicle, the power steering fluid also collects dirt and debris over time. It becomes too thick to flow freely and lubricate all the parts of the system if you don’t change it within the specified period. It especially causes steering wheel hard to turn at low speeds. The only solution is to flush the old fluid out of the system and refill it with new, fresh liquid.

steering wheel hard to turn at low speeds
Change the power steering fluid when it becomes too thick. Photo: Robert Couse-Baker/Flickr

Steering Wheel Hard to Turn at Low Speeds

The problem of steering wheel hard to turn becomes most noticeable when you are driving at low speeds because most people lower the car’s speed while making a turn. 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 stiff steering wheel because of the high-level of resistance.

The solutions for Steering Wheel Hard To Turn

Solutions for steering wheel hard to turn
Solutions for steering wheel hard to turn. Credit: Getty Images

Here are some solutions to handle with steering wheel hard to turn:

1. Check air pressure of your car tires

If you find out that your steering wheel hard to turn at low speeds, the first thing you should check will be the air pressure of all your tires. All tires of a car should be filled with equal air and stayed at automaker’s recommended PSI (Pound per Square Inch) in order to prevent improper air amount in tires that leads to stiff steering.

2. Check power steering condition and fluid level

Steering wheel hard to turn at low speeds can happen due to some problems related to power steering fluid level and condition. Therefore, if this case occurs, you need to check both power steering condition and fluid level. (Note: You can easily found the power steering fluid in a cylindrical reservoir which is close to a power-steering belt and being labeled clearly. The cylinder may be a plastic cylinder or a metal one). Inadequate fluid is the reason makes hard and stiff steering. Thus, you need to keep the fluid at accurate full level and the color should be a dark red. If you observe that the fluid color is too dark and old, it’s time for you to change the fluid.

3. Check the pulley on the power steering unit

When your steering wheel hard to turn, inspecting the pulley on the power steering unit is what you should do. Notice that you only check the pulley when the engine of your car off to ensure the safety. Normally, proper tension doesn’t exceed one inch of play or three quarters. For checking tension, you just press your thumb down on the belt. Make sure that the pulley belt condition is good enough with no cracks or frayed edges.

Moreover, you also take a visual check with the car engine running to ensure that the pulley belt is running well. If you observe that the belt is slipping, you can face stiff and erratic steering.

4. Check the power steering unit

Next thing to do is inspecting the power steering unit. As a leak from connecting pressure hoses will decrease your pressure and thus leads to hard steering. Hence, a visual check for fluid leaks here is what you should do.

5. Check the front end parts 

Check the front end parts like tie rod ends and ball joints for wear and lubrication. Too much wear on ball joints or tie rod ends is too dangerous and can cause steering wheel to turn as well. Inspecting these parts to make sure that your car has got proper front end alignment. A warning sign would be irregular front tire wear and your car will pull to one side when you drive it. You can face stiff steering, particularly when you make a turn if all the wheels of your car are not aligned precisely.

Moreover, regular maintenance and scheduled servicing are the best ways to keep your car free of this problem. You should check the fluid level at regular intervals. Also, make sure to have the power steering system diagnosed every time you send the car to a servicing shop for the schedule checkup.

Bonus: Check out the video below to know how to fix power steering in your car:

Hopefully this article will help you answer the question “Why is my steering wheel hard to turn?” and gives you some useful methods to handle with it. If you have any question about cars, leave out car experts a comment below, we will answer it for you.

  1. Timai Kawas says

    I’m interested to join because I have attended a training on motor vehicle mechanics.. Happy to learn some new ideas thanks much..

  2. Susan D Stratz says

    When making a very sharp left turn the power steering goes out. Afterwards when turn car off it resets and drives fine?

  3. Roy says

    Power steering hard when the rpm is low, when I raise the rpm it will come easy what’s the problem can someone help me

  4. Okugbere sunday says

    Please I have a dump 12tires truck but when it on load the steering gets hard even when there is enough fluid and the steering pump is new, but when its empty the steering is free . could it be kinpin problem or what?

  5. Steven says

    My 2018 legacy steering seems stiff to me going in a straight line it’s like manual steering my wrist get tired and ism a 250 pound man..its got the electric steering,not a liquid steering pump…other than that I love the car

  6. JM brian says

    Hi sir.

    I have a problem with power steering. When I start the car in the morning everything is fine, the steering seems to be working normally, but when I drive to the nearest shop to buy some breakfast 5 mins from my house, I turn the car off and when Ive done with my breakfast and start the car, the steering goes heavy. Change steering pump but same problem occurs. However if the car left to cool down approximately 30mins, then it will work fine.

  7. George Wesh says

    Hey. I didn’t hear you mention bad battery as cause for stiff steering wheel.
    I had the problem of hard to turn steering at low speeds… My mechanic advised me to change the battery which was already showing signs of end of life. After I changed the battery that problem went away completely and it’s now months since I changed the battery. I understand this can happen since the steering wheel being a powered one, at low speeds the battery being bad will have low voltage, therefore supplying low power to the steering wheel.

  8. Chas Chapman says

    There are the moments come when steering wheel becomes stiff and hard to turn. Low tire pressure, bad wheel alignment, irregular servicing- could be the cause. The steering wheel always stays flexible under normal circumstances. But when something goes wrong, the steering wheel does not work properly and requires more energy for its normal operation. You need to check power steering fluid regularly, tire pressure from time to time, and replace the belt whenever it is needed in order to keep the steering wheel in a matchless order.

  9. Jerry Zuks says

    When I turn the wheel of my Nissan car it little bit hard to turn. what is the problem?

  10. Faisal Hassan says

    After driving for 10 to 15 Km the steering of my car stuffs and becomes hard to rotate, what is the reason behind this.

  11. Kenneth Dadson says

    My car is a KIA Sportage ( 2012 model). The steering wheel becomes tight and hard to turn when the engine is heated. The steering wheel functions well when the engine cools down . What might be the problem?

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