The modern-day car is so quiet that you can virtually hear a pin drop as you are driving along. Much of this is due to aerodynamic wizardry and soundproofing, but it is also due to mechanical efficiency and the fact that most moving parts do not make any noise at all. As this is the case, you will certainly notice if something is untoward, as a strange noise will stand out very clearly. What should you do right now, then, if you can certainly detect an odd sound whenever you turn the steering wheel?
Power Steering at Work
As you may know, your vehicle is equipped with a sophisticated power steering mechanism that is designed to make it a lot easier for you to turn the steering wheel in a tight corner. In fact, this system is so efficient that you can typically turn the steering wheel with one finger to manoeuvre, even during the slowest speed .
Much of this magic will rely on a pumping mechanism that will send fluid under pressure to the steering rack and do much of the heavy lifting work. The steering pump is connected to the vehicle's engine by a belt and pulley system, and when the motor is running, everything should work properly.
However, the belt that connects the system is made from a material that will deform over time. It may take many years for this to happen, but when it does, it may lose its efficiency and start to fray. The pump itself comes under a great deal of pressure, and the inner workings may also deteriorate with time. More often than not, the gaskets and seals inside will start to perish, and this may allow the hydraulic fluid to escape, with adverse consequences.
If the pump is trying to operate with too little fluid in the system, it may start to overheat and will begin to whine. This is probably the noise that you can hear, but it may also be associated with a slipping belt, which can give off a distinct, but similar sound as well.
If you're curious, you should be able to find the power steering pump and belt mechanism towards the rear of the engine and on the driver's side of the vehicle. Look for the steering column where it emerges through the bulkhead, and follow it down to the steering rack first.
Once you're there, you may be able to notice signs of leakage or determine that the belt has seen its better days. In this case, it's best if you take the vehicle along to a mechanic, as they will have the necessary tools to remove and replace those faulty parts.
Always make sure that you replace power steering parts with manufacturer-recommended components, so that you get many more months and years of uninterrupted service – and a quiet ride behind the wheel.