5 things that will damage your steering system

Arif · Nov 7, 2020 10:00 AM

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Steering problems are becoming more common these days with some brand-new cars even exhibiting defects in this department. This is a matter to be taken seriously, since defective steering systems are dangerous and can be fatal. Manufacturers with defective steering systems clearly have to own up to their mistakes and rectify the problem.

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Basic steering and damping components. (power steering not shown) Photo: moogparts.eu

Should it be that the steering system in your car is faultless, you are still responsible for keeping it in the best condition possible. Like other systems of the car, the steering system is also bound to fail. But some things that we do (or don’t do) could actually accelerate its wear and tear. 

What are the things that could damage the steering system? We have listed them out here for you.

1. Mindless driving over bumps and potholes

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Potholes are just inverse speed bumps. Photo: pothole.info

Your steering system is made of several pieces and joints. There’s the pinion, the rack, the lower arms, the tie rods, ball joints, and CV joints. The joints especially, are more prone to damage.

These parts are able to take some force but not too much. One tiny pothole or one ran-over tiny speedbump wouldn’t do much harm. But a big pothole or repetitive shock to the system could cause serious damage.

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Tie rod ends could break under excessive force. Photo: priuschat.com

When this happens, the inner tie rods and lower arms could come loose, or worse, break. Your wheels will have more free play and the obvious symptoms are clunking sounds (while driving) and a shuddering steering wheel.

Keep in mind to avoid potholes and approach speed bumps carefully. While you may think steel wheels make your car invincible, the shock to the steering and damping system does more harm than you think.

2. Approaching ramps at extreme steering angles and speed

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Approach ramps gently

Just like bumps and potholes, hitting a ramp with your steering at extreme angles is also not a great idea. Same thing - excessive stress to the joints. Be gentle on the ramps. Take good care of your car.

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Photo: hagerty.com

 

3. Dry steering (with hard braking)

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Photo: itstillruns.com

This particular point needs some extra definition. Dry steering is what happens when you steer the car while the car is stationary. You may have heard some people telling you not to do it but you don’t really understand why.

There are also sources that say dry steering does absolutely no harm to your car. Both are actually right, but there is one point that they are not telling you. That one point is…

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Are you dry steering with hard braking applied or not?

If your car is on level surface and you don’t have the brakes applied, the car will move about a bit even if you dry-steer. The car is not “locked” in one position since you’re not hard braking and the flexing forces are dispersed.

However, if you hard-brake while dry-steering, the car body is in a "locked" position and the joints will experience some flexing. This one’s not good. But if you really have to dry-steer while hard-braking, don’t worry too much about it. If done occasionally, the damage to the steering system is minimal.

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Photo: medium.com

The main victims of dry steering are your tyres. They will wear out faster. That's it.

4. Poor maintenance

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All parts will wear out over time. Even lower arms can corrode. Photo souce 

At the center of the steering system is the steering rack and pinion. The steering rack is sealed but the seals can crack, especially at the area between the steering rack and the tie rod. Unfortunately, the steering rack is positioned in a rather high-risk area – the engine bay is hot and the steering system is exposed to the elements.

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Leaking power steering fluid. Photo: naijauto.com

Eventually the seals could fail and the steering fluid could leak. Bad stuff. Make sure the seals are in good working order and check your power steering fluid levels (if applicable). Bushings will also eventually fail so have them checked out.

Steering racks with EPS also require lubrication, but they are not something you service.

5. Going Full-lock on the steering wheel

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You’ve probably heard your dad say this and it’s mainly true for hydraulic power steering systems. In some older car owner manuals, this is explicitly stated. At full lock, the hydraulic power steering system could cavitate. There’s also added mechanical stress to the system when you full-lock.

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Owners manual of an early Honda City. Photo: team-bhp.com

Electronic power steering systems work differently. The “power assist” is directly on the column, not on the rack. So, it doesn’t really apply. 

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We hope those tips help you become a better driver and take better care of your car’s steering system. Until then. Drive safe.


 

Arif

Writer

Previously an engineer in an automotive manufacturing company and a highway concessionaire. A part-time research student on biofuels and diesel engines. Obsessed with vehicle electrification and the future of transportation.

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