What causes stiff steering? (And how you can fix it!)

Stiff steering is an issue which can often affect used, seized and salvage cars occasionally, and it’s certainly a problem that’s not to be ignored. If you notice resistance when you’re trying to steer the car - or even worse, if your power steering has gone completely - it can not only be physically draining because of the extra effort, but it can make you far slower to react, which makes the vehicle hugely more dangerous for both you and other road users.

What’s more, it can affect performance and even result in permanent damage to the car, which may end up sending it to the scrapheap sooner than you’d have liked. There are a couple of notable causes often underlying the issue, including tyre pressure or wheel alignment, and issues with the oil. We’ve summed up some of the most likely causes below!

Tyre pressure, tyre damage or wheel alignment

Incorrect tyre pressure is one of the most common causes of heavy steering (although thankfully it’s also one of the easiest problems to fix). When the tyres aren’t inflated properly, it has a direct impact on how well they’re able to maintain a grip on the road - which in turn, directly affects how heavy and responsive the steering is. Sometimes it might not be to do with their pressure, but as the result of actual damage to the tyres.

Equally, if the wheels aren’t aligned properly, this can also end up being a serious issue. For example, the front tyres aren’t quite aligned properly with the rear tyres, it can end up placing undue pressure on the front tyres, leading to uneven wear and ultimately heavier steering.

Possible solutions: First of all, make sure that your tyres are at the right pressure. The correct PSI can be found in your owner’s manual, and on a plate inside the driver’s door frame. If your tyres are at the right pressure, it’s also a good idea to check them for damage while you’re down there. If you’ve got the equipment and expertise to make sure that your wheels are properly aligned, make sure to do it - but if not, make sure not to hang around getting it to a professional mechanic. 

Problems with your fluid or oil

Lack of power steering fluid or oil is another major cause of power steering difficulties. Sometimes this can be caused by a leak, or alternatively it could be natural degradation of certain internal components - for example a loose power steering belt, or a problem with the power steering pump. It’s fairly easy to tell when you’ve got low power steering fluid or oil, because it often results in a noticeable grinding noise when you steer. 

You may even have power steering fluid or oil that’s actually too thick. Essentially, this is because fluids like these can collect dust and dirt over time, which might eventually mean that it becomes too thick to flow freely, and properly lubricate all parts of the system. Again, that telltale grinding noise can sometimes give you a clue. 

Possible solution: The very first thing to do is to check your power steering fluid levels, and check for any signs of a leak around your used car or salvage vehicle. If you do see that the fluid levels are exceptionally low, you may choose to top them up - but be aware that this is only a temporary solution, and should only be used to get you to someone who can provide you with professional help on the issue, should you need it. 

A fractured or worn out hose is also a good indicator, so if that’s intact then you may want to check the connections; such as any loose or damaged clamps. If those all appear to be in good condition, then think about replacing the steering pump instead - the seal on that is often the first thing to go. In fact, a new steering pump often ends up being the solution to the problem, as its components and connections are the most prone to becoming worn and damaged over time.

You may find that the problem with your used car’s power steering is fairly easy to solve - but on the occasion that it’s not, then don’t worry. Here at RAW2K you can get a great bargain on a huge range of seized cars, salvage cars and used cars, so you won’t have to look far to find a bargain! We’ve got models from a variety of leading manufacturers, including Ford, Vauxhall and Volkswagen. Why not take a look around, and see what you can find?