Steering Wheel Hard to Turn Guide on Common Causes and Fixes

Steering wheel hard to turn is a problem many drivers encounter. It could result from problems related to your rack and pinion, fan belt, V-belt, or hydraulic pump.

Steering Wheel Hard to Turn

If your steering is hard to turn, there’s no need to worry because this article covers the common causes and fixes.

What Makes Your Steering Wheel Hard To Turn?

Your steering wheel is hard to turn due to low power steering fluid, damaged or defective rack, steering pump failure, or broken serpentine belt and V-belt. Low air pressure and tire pressure are other factors that can lead to a stiff steering wheel.

Power Steering Fluid Is Insufficient or Old

You can experience stiff wheel issues when you’re low on power-assisted steering fluid or haven’t changed it. This problem is one of the most common causes of stiff wheels. You should check to confirm if the pressurized hose area is leaking or if the hose is loose.

Power-assisted steering fluid usually helps transfer the hydraulic pressure from the assisted steering pump to the steering gear, making it easier to turn the wheels. If the fluid is old or low, it can cause increased friction in the steering and reduced hydraulic assistance, resulting in a harder-to-turn steering wheel.

When the fluid is low, it will become thick if you don’t replace it immediately. This thickness will make the pump function less effectively, causing stiffness in the steering wheel.

Faulty Steering Rack

A broken or faulty rack and pinion is another common cause of stiff steering helm issues. If you find your steering wheel difficult to turn at some point, but it later gets better, it is likely a steering rack issue. You should check your rack and pinion for any faults or damages.

The rack usually converts the rotational motion of the steering into a lateral movement to turn the wheels. If the rack and pinion are damaged or have internal issues, it can create resistance in the steering mechanism, making it difficult for the steering wheel to turn smoothly while driving.

Malfunctioning Power Steering Pump

If you find it difficult to turn your steering while driving at a low speed, you probably have a faulty power steering (or hydraulic) pump. Sometimes, it could be a result of a loose pump connector. The loose connector automatically reduces the hydraulic steering pressure, making the wheel tough to turn.

Steering Pump Failure

The power-assisted pump generates the hydraulic pressure your wheel needs to assist with steering. If the power-assisted pump fails, there will be little to no hydraulic assistance to the steering wheel. When this happens, the wheel becomes very difficult to turn, especially at low speed.

Steering Rack Is Worn Out

If your steering wheel is still hard to turn after replacing the fluid, your rack and pinion are probably worn out or defective. A common sign of a worn-out rack is that the wheel gets harder to turn after driving for a while. The wear gets worse if not fixed immediately.

A rack and pinion with worn-out or malfunctioning components can make steering difficult. Any irregularities in the rack’s operation can cause increased resistance. It can also hinder the smooth turning of the wheels. Hence, you should check the rack’s components for any wear or if any part is defective.

Damaged Serpentine Belt

A broken or damaged fan belt is another common cause of your steering helm becoming stiff. Since the accessory belt is continuously running, it’s normal to get loose more often than other components. Once the belt is loose, it tightens the wheel, making it hard to turn.

The fan belt mechanically drives various engine accessories, including the power-assisted steering pump. Hence, if the fan belt breaks, the assisted steering pump will stop functioning. This action will result in manual steering, which requires significantly more effort.

Defective Power Steering Belt

A loose or damaged V-belt can cause a steering helm to become hard to turn. It will disrupt the power transfer from the engine’s fan belt to the power pump. The pump assists in turning the wheels by using hydraulic pressure, which eases the effort required.

When you have a loose or damaged V-belt, the belt slips or loses tension. This action will result in insufficient pressure to operate the power-assisted steering system effectively. Consequently, the steering wheel becomes difficult to turn, requiring increased physical effort to drive the vehicle.

You Have a Bad Ball Joint

Another reason your steering may be hard to turn is if you have a bad or worn knuckle joint. When this component goes bad, it can cause excessive play or looseness in the front wheels, leading to a loss of control and reduced responsiveness in steering.

The worn joints wouldn’t move as smoothly as they should. This situation will increase friction between the knuckle joint and other suspension components. Thus, it will be harder for the wheels to turn freely when you’re driving at a slower rate.

If you check and find the joints to be worn, you should have it fixed immediately to avoid further damage. A severely damaged knuckle joint may bind or stick, preventing the wheels from moving freely and increasing the effort needed to turn the steering wheel.

What To Do if Your Steering Wheel Is Hard To Turn

If your steering wheel is hard to turn, start by replacing contaminated fluids, fixing bad racks and pumps, or tightening the belt. Whenever your wheel is stiff or hard to turn, you should check out the fan belt or the steering fluid, rack, belt, and pump.

Refill or Replace the Power Steering Fluid

Over time, your vehicle’s hydraulic fluid can become contaminated, leading to a stiff wheel. To fix this, you’ll need to replace the old fluid with fresh hydraulic fluid. To begin the process of changing the hydraulic fluid, first, locate the fluid reservoir.

The reservoir is near the engine bay, mostly by the passenger side, labeled Power Steering or P/S. Ensure the area around the reservoir cap is clean to prevent debris from entering. Next, remove the cap and drain the old fluid from the reservoir using a fluid pump.

After draining, refill the reservoir with the new automatic transmission fluid. To purge any air that may have entered the system, start the engine and turn the steering from one side lock to the other several times. Finally, recheck the fluid level and top up if necessary to complete the process.

Fix the Broken Fan Belt

If the belt is cracked, frayed, or loose, it may need to be replaced for the steering to stop being hard to turn. To replace the fan belt, start by locating it under the hood. Next, use a wrench or a tensioner tool to release tension from the belt, allowing easier removal.

Fix Stiff Steering Wheel

Once the tension is relieved, carefully take off the old belt from its pulleys, making sure to note the way it wraps around them. Then, install a new belt of the correct size and type. After placing the new belt, use the tensioner tool again to apply the appropriate tension.

Finally, confirm that the belt is securely seated on all pulleys. You should also double-check its alignment to prevent any issues when driving. Once you complete these steps, your belt should work properly, releasing the steering’s stiffness.

Repair the Bad Steering Rack

If you find out that the rack and pinion is damaged or worn out, you should have it fixed immediately. However, you should note that repairing the rack and pinion is a complex task and requires adequate concentration. Here are the general steps involved in fixing a bad rack and pinion.

First, you need to determine the specific problem with the rack and pinion. Common issues include leaks, worn-out components, damaged seals, or internal gear problems. Thoroughly inspect the rack and pinion and its components to identify the damage. Next, disconnect the battery and lift the vehicle.

Locate the rack and detach the tie rods, steering shaft, and other parts. Then, unbolt the rack and pinion from its mounting points and carefully remove it from the vehicle. Disassemble it to access the damaged parts. Next, identify the damaged or worn-out parts and replace them with new components.

Once you’re done, reassemble the rack while paying attention to proper alignment and the correct installation of all parts. Check for leaks and test for proper gear engagement and smooth movement. Finally, replace the rack, carefully reconnect the other components, and tighten the mounting bolts securely.

Fix the Power Steering Pump

Fixing a bad power steering hydraulic pump can be challenging and often requires expertise. However, you can follow these steps to fix the pump. First, locate and remove the pump, usually connected to the fan belt. Make sure you detach the hoses and any other connections to the pump.

Depending on the specific issue, you have a few options. For instance, if there’s a leak, check the pump’s seals and O-rings and replace any damaged or worn-out components. If the pump’s shaft or internal gears are damaged, you may need to replace the entire pump with a new one.

After installing the repaired or new pump, you should flush the power steering system to remove contaminants and ensure proper operation. You can use the fluid flush kit. Put the power hydraulic pump back into its position and reconnect the hoses and other connections.

Reinstall the serpentine belt and adjust the tension according to your vehicle’s specifications. Refill the ATF reservoir. Finally, start the engine and test the steering to ensure the new or repaired power hydraulic pump is functioning correctly. Check for any leaks, unusual noises, or difficulties in steering.

Secure the Power Steering Belt

To secure or tighten the belt, begin by locating the V-belt. The belt is easy to find as it runs around the power pump pulley. After locating the belt, check its tension. If it feels loose, shows excessive deflection, or has signs of cracks or wear, consider a replacement.

To adjust the belt tension, loosen the adjusting bolt or use a tensioner tool, as many vehicles have an automatic tensioner pulley that maintains the correct tension. Use the appropriate size wrench or socket to loosen the adjusting bolt or the tensioner tool to release tension from the belt.

Next, tighten the belt by applying pressure to the power hydraulic pump, pushing it outward to achieve the desired tension. Once you’ve tightened the belt, check its tension again by pressing it between the pulleys, ensuring it now has the recommended deflection.

Once you finish tightening the belt, start the engine and observe the belt to check for any signs of slipping, squealing, or abnormal noise. If the belt functions correctly, you’ve successfully tightened it, and the formerly hard steering will become easier to turn.


What Is the Cost of Repairing a Power Steering Pump?

The cost of repairing a power steering pump varies between $150 to $350. The total cost depends on your car brand, model, and quality of the replacement. It also costs more when you hire a professional to fix the pump. It is cheaper if you fix the pump yourself.

Bad Power Steering

Why Can a Hard-to-Turn Steering Wheel Also Prevent a Car from Starting?

Having a hard-to-turn steering wheel won’t lock troubleshooting can be a frustrating issue. However, it is crucial to address this problem promptly, as it can also prevent a car from starting. The steering wheel not locking properly can activate the vehicle’s anti-theft system, which in turn can disable the ignition. Therefore, troubleshooting and resolving this issue is essential to ensure a smooth functioning of the vehicle.

Can a Steering Wheel Lock Cause the Steering Wheel to be Hard to Turn?

A steering wheel lock, if left engaged accidentally, can indeed cause the steering wheel to become hard to turn. This lock mechanism is designed to prevent theft but can often be disengaged through the vehicle’s key or by using the specific method outlined in the owner’s manual to disable steering wheel lock.


While hard steering wheels can be dangerous, you now know what causes the problem and how to fix it.

Here’s a quick recap of what you’ve learned so far:

  • Your wheel may be hard to turn due to rack, belt, pump, or fan belt issues.
  • Proper car maintenance includes checking for fluid leakage, replacing worn or broken parts, and refilling the steering fluids.
  • The solution to a malfunctioning steering wheel depends on the cause of the problem.
  • If your wheel becomes hard to turn, you should check for and fix or replace any worn or damaged parts.

Now that you know what causes the hardness of your wheel, you can easily fix the problem whenever it comes up.

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