Steering Wheel Hard to Turn (Top 5 Reasons and How to Fix)

Steering Wheel Hard to Turn

When you’re driving your vehicle and turn the wheel, you expect it to be easy. Ever since the widespread implementation of the power steering pump, consumers have expected nothing less.

Not being able to turn the steering wheel easily and quickly isn’t just an inconvenience; it’s a safety hazard. But what’s making your steering wheel hard to turn, and how do you fix it?

Whether you’re looking to fix it yourself or just want to know a little more so you don’t get ripped off at the dealership, just keep reading, and we’ll walk you through everything you need to know.

Power Steering Pump Malfunction

It’s what made it easy to turn in the first place, so it makes sense that if it’s hard to turn, your power steering pump might be to blame.

Power steering pumps can have minor concerns, but if the pump itself is bad, it generally quits all at once. If that’s the case, you’ll notice it right away, and it will be easier to turn after you’re moving. But it will be extremely difficult and one heck of a workout if you’re trying to turn the wheel while you’re not moving.

It’s the most common reason that your steering wheel is hard to turn, and it’s where you should start your search to find the problem.

Repair and Average Cost

Changing your power steering pump isn’t too bad of a job if you know what you’re doing. You’ll have to remove the serpentine belt, take off some hoses, and disconnect the bolts before installing the new one.

While it’s typically not a hard job to complete, costs for power steering pumps vary widely depending on what you drive. They can cost anywhere between 60 and 400 dollars, and that’s for parts alone. Furthermore, you’ll need to invest in some power steering fluid, but you don’t usually need much of it.

If you decide to skip the headache and just take it to the shop, you can expect the repairs to cost you anywhere between 150 and 650 dollars, depending on the type of power steering pump you need and how hard it is to get to.

Power Steering Fluid Needs Replacing

Steering Wheel Hard to Turn

Your power steering pump needs fluid to run correctly, so it goes without saying that you need to check your power steering fluid if your power steering has kicked off. Typically, if your power steering pump is extremely low on fluid, it won’t just be hard to steer. You’ll also hear a loud noise coming from your engine bay as the power steering pump struggles to work.

If your power steering fluid is low, you’ll need to get it repaired and topped off as soon as possible. That’s because running a power steering pump with fluid isn’t just inefficient and loud; it can also lead to your power steering pump burning out, then you’ll have even more repairs to worry about.

Repair and Average Cost

While the power steering fluid itself is cheap, and you can usually get more than you need for, under 15 dollars, it’s the cause of the leak that can really set you back. If the power steering pump itself is leaking, you’ll probably be better off just replacing it, but you might get lucky and be able to find a seal kit for it.

If that’s the case, you can save some money on the pump, but the kits generally cost about 20 dollars. You also might have a busted or loose hose. These components typically aren’t expensive, but it might be hard to track down the leak if you don’t have any mechanical experience.

Inadequate Tire Pressure

If tire pressure is the issue, it’ll be a lot easier to turn than if your power steering pump gave out. Chances are you won’t notice a difference in the ability to turn the wheel at all unless the tire pressure is extremely low, like if you have a flat tire.

Still, if you’re only noticing a little difficulty when you’re turning the wheel, get out and check your tire pressure just to be safe!

Repair and Average Cost

If all you need is some air, then it’s the best possible outcome because it’s free! However, in the more likely scenario that you need to replace one of your tires, it’s going to at least cost you 100 dollars, and if you get a high-quality brand, it might be closer to 400 dollars.

Keep in mind that you should always change both tires on the same axle together. That way, they wear evenly. Most tire shops will include the tire change cost into the sale of your new tires, but if they don’t, it’s typically less than 100 dollars.

Damaged or Missing Serpentine Belt

Your power steering pump is belt-driven, so if your serpentine belt is either broken or missing, you won’t get any power steering! While this isn’t an expensive repair, it is one that you need to get fixed immediately.

Your power steering pump isn’t the only component that is belt-driven, even if it is one of the most noticeable. Your water pump, air compressor, and alternator are just a few of the components powered by your serpentine belt.

It would be best if you didn’t attempt to drive the vehicle anywhere until you’ve replaced the serpentine belt, and everything is running correctly.

Repair and Average Cost

Serpentine belts are cheap and relatively straightforward to install for most vehicles. Typically, the belts are under 100 dollars, but beware that if your belt wasn’t old, something caused it to snap. You should check your pulleys to ensure that they aren’t seized before installing a new belt and potentially snapping it right away.

Loose or Damaged Rack and Pinion

Loose are damaged rack and pinions will present with an entirely different set of signs then everything else that we mentioned here. It might not be physically hard to turn the steering wheel, but it still can be hard to turn the car.

If your rack and pinion are loose, you’ll typically have some play in your steering wheel, and you might hear a clunk when it does finally move. However, if something is jammed up against it, then the only sign that you might have is some sort of noise coming from the rack and pinion and difficulty turning it.

If that’s the case, you’ll need to get it repaired as soon as possible, or else other problems will start to crop up.

Repair and Average Cost

It’s the most expensive option, but it’s also the rarest. A new rack and pinion cost between 200 and 500 dollars, and it’s a ton of work to replace. Even after you complete the swap, you’ll need an alignment adding to the cost.

It’s why if you take it to a shop, the cost of replacing your rack and pinion skyrockets to between 1,400 and 2,000 dollars. It’s a good thing that a loose or damaged rack and pinion rarely make it hard to turn the steering wheel.

Troubleshooting Tips

This step-by-step guide won’t tell you everything you need to know, but it’ll certainly get you looking in the right direction.

1. How Hard is it to Turn?

If you’re at a standstill and it takes everything you can to turn the wheel, it’s probably your power steering pump, serpentine belt, or fluid levels. This is especially true if, as you drive, it gets significantly more comfortable to turn.

Open the hood, check the fluid levels, and go from there. If the fluid levels are correct and your serpentine belt is still attached, it’s probably your power steering pump.

 2.What do You Hear? 

Follow the noise. If you can track down where it’s coming from, you’re one step closer to the solution. It might be a grinding from a wheel, which points you directly to your air pressure, or it might be a clunking from under the vehicle, which is where the rack and pinion is.

When you’re troubleshooting a vehicle, sound and feel are your two most significant tools. Use them correctly, and you can identify just about any issue.

3. Have You Seen Any Leaks?

Power steering fluid and the oil inside your rack and pinion aren’t supposed to go anywhere. So, if you notice some fluid puddling in your driveway or under your vehicle, that’s a big sign that you have a problem. Identify the fluid and where it’s coming from, and there’s a good chance you’ve identified your problem.

Summary

It can be incredibly frustrating when it’s getting harder and harder to turn your steering wheel. Even worse, it’s terribly unsafe. Whether you need to switch lanes suddenly or have a sudden turn that you need to take, the last thing that you need to be worried about is if you’re going to be able to turn the wheel.

With a little know-how, research, and hard work, the good news is that figuring out what’s causing your difficulties is a pretty straightforward task!