Power Steering Not Working At Idle: Common Causes and Fixes

If your power steering is not working at idle, it may be due to a low power steering fluid level or a faulty power steering pump. Insufficient fluid can cause the power steering system to fail, as can a malfunctioning pump.

In some cases, a loose or worn belt could also be the culprit. To address this issue, check the power steering fluid level and add more if necessary. If the fluid level is adequate, consider having the power steering pump or belt inspected and possibly replaced.

By taking these steps, you can restore proper function to your power steering system and ensure smooth and effortless steering at all times.

Common Causes Of Power Steering Failure

Power steering failure can be caused by various factors, including a malfunctioning power steering pump, low or dirty power steering fluid, a faulty belt, or a problem with the steering rack. When the power steering is not working at idle, it could be due to a defective idle control valve or a worn-out power steering pump.

Lets, explore three main culprits that can lead to power steering problems: a lack of power steering fluid, a faulty power steering pump, and a steering gear malfunction.

Lack Of Power Steering Fluid

Insufficient power steering fluid is a common cause of power steering failure. Here are a few reasons why this may occur:

  • Leaks: Over time, power steering fluid may leak from worn-out seals or damaged hoses, resulting in a loss of fluid.
  • Low fluid level: If you haven’t checked or topped up your power steering fluid regularly, it may become too low to effectively lubricate the system.
  • Contamination: Dirty or contaminated power steering fluid can clog the system, reducing its efficiency.

Faulty Power Steering Pump

The power steering pump plays a crucial role in generating the necessary hydraulic pressure for power steering. Here are some reasons why the power steering pump may fail:

  • Fluid contamination: If debris or contaminants enter the power steering pump, it can cause damage to the pump’s internal components.
  • Worn-out pump parts: Like any mechanical part, the power steering pump can wear out over time, leading to diminished performance or complete failure.
  • Belt issues: A loose or damaged belt can prevent the power steering pump from receiving the power it needs to function properly.

Steering Gear Malfunction

The steering gear, also known as the steering rack, is responsible for translating the rotational motion of the steering wheel into lateral motion that turns the wheels.

Here are some potential causes of steering gear malfunction:

  • Rack and pinion issues: Over time, the rack and pinion mechanism can wear out, leading to excessive play or stiffness in the steering.
  • Leaks: If the steering gear housing develops a leak, it can affect the performance and reliability of the steering system.
  • Mechanical damage: Any physical damage to the steering gear, such as bent or broken components, can result in power steering failure.

Symptoms Of Power Steering Failure At Idle

Symptoms of power steering failure at idle include difficulty in turning the steering wheel, whining or squealing sounds, and increased effort required to maneuver the vehicle. These issues can be caused by low power steering fluid, a faulty pump, or a worn-out belt.

Difficulty Steering At Low Speeds

  • Turning the steering wheel becomes more challenging when the vehicle is at a slow speed.
  • You may experience resistance or stiffness when trying to make turns at parking lot speeds or while maneuvering in tight spaces.
  • The lack of power assistance at idle can make it feel like you are physically struggling to turn the wheel.

Whining Or Squealing Noises

  • If your power steering is not working properly at idle, you may hear whining or squealing noises coming from the steering system.
  • These noises can indicate a problem with the power steering pump or the belts that drive it.
  • The whining noise may change in pitch when you turn the wheel, and the squealing noise may occur when you start the engine or turn it off.

Vibrations In The Steering Wheel

  • Another symptom of power steering failure at idle is vibrations in the steering wheel.
  • You may feel an unusual shimmy or shaking sensation while holding the steering wheel at idle.
  • These vibrations can be a sign of fluid contamination, air in the system, or wear and tear on the steering components.

Troubleshooting Power Steering Problems

Experiencing power steering problems at idle? Learn the troubleshooting steps to fix this issue and regain control over your car’s steering system.

Follow the steps below to identify the issue and get your power steering back to optimum functionality.

Step 1: Checking Power Steering Fluid Levels

To begin troubleshooting, it’s essential to check the power steering fluid levels. Insufficient fluid can cause power steering problems at idle. Follow these steps to ensure proper fluid levels:

  • Open the hood of your vehicle and locate the power steering fluid reservoir.
  • Remove the cap and use a dipstick or the level indicator on the reservoir to check the fluid level.
  • Ensure the fluid level falls within the recommended range, indicated by the “Full” and “Add” marks on the reservoir.

If the fluid level is low, add more power steering fluid as needed. Be cautious not to overfill the reservoir, as it can lead to other issues.

Step 2: Inspecting The Power Steering Pump

If the power steering fluid levels are adequate, the next step is to inspect the power steering pump. A faulty pump could be causing the power steering problem at idle. Here’s how you can inspect the pump:

  • With the engine running, check for any abnormal noises coming from the power steering pump, such as squealing or grinding sounds.
  • Examine the pump for leaks or signs of damage.
  • Ensure the drive belt connected to the power steering pump is properly tensioned and not worn out.

If you notice any issues during the inspection, such as leaks or abnormal noises, it may be necessary to repair or replace the power steering pump.

Step 3: Assessing The Steering Gear

If the power steering fluid levels and pump appear to be in good condition, the next step is to assess the steering gear. A problem with the steering gear can cause power steering failure at idle. Follow these guidelines to assess the steering gear:

  • Inspect the steering gear for any visible damage, leaks, or loose components.
  • Check the steering gear bellows for cracks or tears.
  • Ensure that all steering gear fasteners and bolts are tightened properly.

If you identify any issues with the steering gear during the assessment, it may be necessary to repair or replace the affected components.

How To Check Power Steering Fluid Levels

To check power steering fluid levels when your power steering is not working at idle, follow these steps:

1) Park the car on a level surface and let the engine cool down.

2) Locate the power steering fluid reservoir and remove the cap.

3) Check the fluid level against the markings on the reservoir.

Top up if necessary with the manufacturer’s recommended fluid. Regularly checking and maintaining fluid levels can help ensure proper power steering functionality.

Locating The Power Steering Fluid Reservoir

  • The power steering fluid reservoir is typically located near the engine, close to the power steering pump. It is often made of plastic and has a cap with a picture of a steering wheel or the word “power steering” on it.
  • Look for a container that is smaller than the coolant reservoir but larger than the windshield washer fluid container.
  • If you’re having trouble locating it, check your vehicle’s owner’s manual for a diagram or specific instructions.

Checking The Fluid Level

  • Start by ensuring that your car’s engine is turned off and cooled down.
  • Open the hood of your vehicle and locate the power steering fluid reservoir.
  • Clean around the reservoir cap to prevent any dirt or debris from falling into the system.
  • Remove the cap of the power steering fluid reservoir and wipe the dipstick clean.
  • Insert the dipstick back into the reservoir and then pull it out again to check the fluid level.
  • The dipstick will have markings denoting “MIN” (minimum) and “MAX” (maximum) levels. The fluid level should ideally be between these two marks. If it is below the “MIN” mark, you may need to add more fluid.
  • Note the color and consistency of the fluid while checking. The power steering fluid should be a transparent or light reddish color. If it appears dirty, dark, or has a burnt smell, it may indicate a problem that needs further inspection.

Adding Or Topping Up Power Steering Fluid

  • If the power steering fluid level is below the “MIN” mark, you will need to add more fluid.
  • Use a funnel to avoid any spills or mess. Insert the funnel into the reservoir opening.
  • Slowly pour the recommended type of power steering fluid into the funnel. Refer to your vehicle’s owner’s manual for the specific type of fluid required.
  • Add the fluid in small increments, periodically checking the fluid level with the dipstick to prevent overfilling.
  • Continue adding fluid until it reaches the appropriate level between the “MIN” and “MAX” marks.
  • Screw the cap back on securely, ensuring it is tightened properly.
  • Clean up any spilled fluid and close the hood of your vehicle.

Common Power Steering Pump Issues

Power steering pump issues can lead to power steering not working at idle, causing difficulty in maneuvering the vehicle. This problem can be caused by a faulty pump, low fluid levels, or a worn-out belt. Regular maintenance and prompt repairs can help prevent further damage.

Below are a few key factors that may be causing your power steering to fail at idle:

Worn Out Or Damaged Belt:

  • Belt slipping: A worn-out or damaged belt can cause the power steering pump to slip, resulting in a loss of power steering at idle.
  • Cracks or fraying: Over time, the belt can become worn out, developing cracks or fraying. These issues can impact the proper functioning of the power steering pump.
  • Tension adjustment: If the belt is not properly tensioned, it may not be able to provide enough power to the power steering pump, causing it to fail at idle.

Leaking Power Steering Pump:

  • Fluid loss: A common issue with power steering pumps is leaking. Leaks can result in a loss of power steering fluid, leading to diminished performance at idle.
  • Faulty seals: Seals within the power steering pump can deteriorate over time, causing fluid to escape and impairing the pump’s ability to function effectively.
  • Inspect for leaks: If you suspect a leaking power steering pump, thoroughly inspect the pump and surrounding areas for signs of fluid leakage.

Faulty Pressure Relief Valve:

  • Pressure regulation: The pressure relief valve in the power steering pump is responsible for regulating the pressure of the power steering fluid. If it becomes faulty, it can disrupt the proper flow of fluid, resulting in power steering issues at idle.
  • Stuck valve: A pressure relief valve that gets stuck open or closed can prevent the power steering pump from operating as intended.
  • Professional inspection: If you suspect a faulty pressure relief valve, it is recommended to have a professional mechanic inspect and diagnose the issue for proper resolution.

Diagnosing Steering Gear Problems

If you’re experiencing issues with your power steering not working at idle, it’s crucial to diagnose the steering gear problems accurately. Below are some essential steps to inspect and test for potential problems:

Inspecting For Leaks Or Damage:

  • Check for any visible leaks in the power steering system, including hoses, seals, and connections. Leaks can lead to a drop in power steering fluid levels, causing steering problems.
  • Inspect the power steering gear for any signs of damage, such as cracks or leaks. Damaged steering gear can result in a loss of power assistance while steering.

Testing For Steering Gear Binding:

  • Start the engine and turn the steering wheel in both directions. If you notice any stiffness, resistance, or a delayed response while turning, it may indicate binding in the steering gear.
  • Make sure the power steering fluid is at the proper level. Low fluid levels can contribute to steering gear binding.
  • Check the condition of the power steering pump. A faulty pump can cause inadequate fluid flow and result in steering gear binding.

Checking Steering Gear Column:

  • Inspect the steering gear column for any looseness or play. Excessive play can indicate wear or damage in the steering gear assembly.
  • Check the steering gear column connections and bolts for tightness. Loose connections can cause the steering gear to malfunction.
  • Ensure that the steering gear column is properly aligned. Misalignment can cause steering gear issues and affect the overall steering performance.

Preventive Maintenance For Power Steering System

Ensure optimal performance of your power steering system with preventive maintenance. Don’t let power steering failure at idle hinder your driving experience. Follow these tips for a smooth and efficient power steering operation.

Regular Inspection and Fluid Checks:

Regularly inspecting the power steering system is essential to prevent issues when the vehicle is at idle. Here are a few key steps to keep in mind:

  • Look for any leaks or visible damage in the power steering components such as hoses, belts, and the power steering pump.
  • Check the power steering fluid level at least once a month by locating the reservoir and reading the dipstick or level indicator.
  • Ensure that the power steering fluid is at the correct level. If it appears low, add the recommended fluid as per the vehicle manufacturer’s specifications.

Replacing Power Steering Fluid:

Over time, power steering fluid can break down and lose its effectiveness, resulting in power steering issues. Replacing the power steering fluid at regular intervals is crucial. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Begin by locating the power steering fluid reservoir. Refer to the vehicle’s owner’s manual for its exact location.
  • Use a fluid siphon or turkey baster to remove the old fluid from the reservoir. Ensure that you dispose of the used fluid responsibly.
  • Fill the reservoir with fresh power steering fluid of the recommended type and quantity.
  • Start the engine and let it run for a few minutes, while turning the steering wheel from lock to lock to purge any air bubbles from the system.
  • Check the fluid level again and top it up if necessary.

Maintaining Correct Belt Tension:

The power steering belt plays a crucial role in transmitting power from the engine to the power steering pump. A loose or worn belt can affect the power steering system’s performance. Here’s how to maintain correct belt tension:

  • Inspect the power steering belt for signs of wear, cracks, or fraying.
  • Ensure that the belt is properly tensioned using the tensioner or adjustment bolt, following the manufacturer’s specifications.
  • When adjusting the belt tension, make sure it has the correct amount of deflection. Too loose or too tight can cause problems.
  • Inspect the belt regularly and replace it if there are signs of excessive wear or damage.

Importance Of Proper Power Steering Fluid

Proper power steering fluid is crucial for a smoothly functioning power steering system. If your power steering is not working at idle, it may indicate a low or contaminated fluid level.

Regularly checking and maintaining the correct power steering fluid can prevent issues and help ensure optimal steering performance.

Choosing the Right Type of Fluid:

  • Selecting the correct power steering fluid is crucial for the smooth functioning of your power steering system. Not all fluids are created equal, so it’s vital to choose the one that meets your vehicle’s specific requirements.
  • Make sure to consult your vehicle’s owner’s manual or contact a trusted mechanic to determine the appropriate type of fluid recommended for your power steering system.
  • Using the wrong type of fluid can lead to various problems, including decreased performance, excessive foaming, and potential damage to the power steering pump.

Fluid Compatibility with the Power Steering System:

  • Ensuring the compatibility of the power steering fluid with your system is essential to maintain its optimal performance. Using an incompatible fluid can cause detrimental effects on your power steering system.
  • Pay attention to factors such as fluid viscosity, additives, and compatibility with rubber seals and components.
  • Always opt for a fluid that is recommended and approved by the vehicle manufacturer or trusted aftermarket suppliers to ensure compatibility and avoid potential issues.

Periodic Fluid Replacement:

  • Regularly replacing the power steering fluid is essential for its effectiveness and longevity. Over time, the fluid can become contaminated with dirt, debris, and moisture, leading to decreased performance and potential damage to the system.
  • Follow the manufacturer’s recommended service intervals for power steering fluid replacement. Typically, this ranges from every 30,000 to 60,000 miles, depending on the vehicle and driving conditions.
  • Be aware that severe driving conditions, such as frequent towing or extreme temperatures, may require more frequent fluid changes to maintain optimal performance.

Potential Long-Term Effects Of Ignoring Power Steering Issues

Ignoring power steering issues, such as not working at idle, can have potential long-term effects on your vehicle. These issues can lead to increased steering effort, difficulty in maneuvering, and even complete steering failure, posing a serious safety risk on the road.

Addressing the problem promptly and seeking professional assistance is crucial to maintain the proper functioning of your power steering system.

Strain On Other Steering Components

  • Increased stress on the steering rack and pinion, causing premature wear and tear.
  • Strain on the tie rods and ball joints, which connect the steering system to the wheels.
  • Overworking of the power steering pump, leading to its eventual failure.

Uneven Tire Wear

  • Misalignment caused by power steering problems can result in uneven tire wear.
  • Inadequate steering control may cause tires to wear down faster on specific areas, leading to premature tire replacement.
  • Uneven tire wear also affects the vehicle’s stability and safety.

Loss Of Control During Maneuvers

  • Power steering deficiencies can make it difficult to navigate tight corners or perform sudden maneuvers.
  • Without proper control, you may experience difficulties in avoiding obstacles or staying on the road during emergency situations.
  • Loss of control increases the risk of collisions or accidents, jeopardizing the safety of both the driver and others on the road.

Addressing power steering issues as soon as they arise is vital to maintain your vehicle’s performance, safety, and longevity. Regular inspections, maintenance, and necessary repairs can help prevent these potential long-term effects. Stay proactive and ensure a smooth and reliable driving experience by attending to power steering problems promptly.


Overall, it is clear that power steering not working at idle is a common issue faced by many drivers. It is important to pay attention to the signs and symptoms, such as difficulty turning the wheel or an increase in steering effort.

The problem could be caused by a variety of factors, including low power steering fluid levels, a faulty power steering pump, or a worn-out drive belt. Taking immediate action to address these issues is crucial to ensure the safety and functionality of your vehicle.

Regular maintenance and inspections can help prevent power steering problems from occurring in the first place. Remember, the power steering system plays a vital role in enhancing your driving experience, so it is essential to address any issues you may encounter.

By understanding the potential causes and seeking professional assistance, you can keep your power steering system running smoothly and enjoy a hassle-free driving experience.

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