One of the reasons why auto services like Walmart and Meineke provide suspension and steering checkups is these components serve several vital functions in your car. For starters they work as cushions on uneven street terrain and bumps. Second, the suspension keeps underside components from touching the ground, and when they’re in good condition directs your vehicle where to go.
How a Car Suspension and Steering Works
Modern cars use a rack and pinion steering system so when the wheel turns a pinion gear is rotated, touching the steering rack and allowing it go right or left. This movement is transmitted from the tie rods onto the spindles, moving the wheels in the direction you want them to go. The system used in SUVs and trucks are a bit more complex but generally follow the same principles.
A rack and pinion system with power assistance has a cylinder hooked up to the rack that holds the hydraulic fluid, and this is what makes your car easy to steer. And that’s how they should go when working properly. Over time however these components will break down and affect the quality of your ride and safety.
Now that you know how these systems work you’ll be in a better position to understand the warning signs.
Pulling to One Side
The most common sign of a problematic steering system is when your car keeps puling to one side as you drive. When this occurs, it’s an indicator that the suspension and steering components are worn out and need a replacement. However, this problem can also be due to a misalignment or tires with different tread wear levels or inflation.
Another sign is when your car keeps bouncing even after you’ve gone past a pothole or hump. After going over one of those your car should quickly return to smooth driving, but if it doesn’t there is probably something wrong with the leaf spring, struts or shocks. If this happens often you should have it checked for suspension and steering problems.
Another indicator of a problem is when the steering slips when you’re holding it at a turned position. This is a very clear sign there’s a problem with the steering system, but the exact cause can range from damaged or worn out steering rack parts, a steering belt that’s come loose or a lack of steering fluid.
Sometimes you’ll notice that steering will take more effort than before regardless of the road you’re driving on, and in severe cases it feels like you’re wrestling with the car. There are many possible causes for this such as low power steering fluid, the steering rack is leaking or the power steering pump is in need of a replacement. While any of these can be the culprit, the symptoms are the same, in that it’s hard to steer and maneuver the car. If you’re not sure of the cause, take it to a service shop and have a mechanic look over it.
Steering Wheel Bounces
Have you ever felt the steering wheel bounce up and down while you’re driving at high speeds, or felt that bounce while braking? The most likely reason is the wheels have become imbalanced or something has become amiss in the suspension. It’s also possible that the tires are incorrectly inflated or one is more worn out than the other. It’s also possible that there’s a problem with the brake rotor or some of the wheel bolts have gotten loose.
Steering Wheel Wanders Off
This is another common problem, with the car swaying from one side to the next as you turn. The most likely culprit is damaged tie rods or strut bearings, but it could also be due to ball joints that have worn out or bad steering rack mounts.
Clunking or Knocking
Steering and suspension problems usually result in knocking when your car goes over road bumps or bumps, and this means the struts or shocks have to be replaced. At the same time this could also be indicative of failing strut bearings or ball joints.
This problem may also be accompanied by a loud whistling, screaming or screeching sound, and this is probably due to a steering pump belt that has worn out or gotten loose. However it is also possible that the steering pump itself is damaged. Before you reach that conclusion you need to make sure that there aren’t any problems with the other components in your car first.
What to Do
As you can see there are a lot of potential problems and issues that can arise with a car’s steering and suspension system. However, there are symptoms as described above, and now that you know what they point to, it’ll be easier to get the problem fixed by a qualified mechanic.