What makes the steering wheel stiff?

Wednesday September 10 2014

There some moments when the steering wheel becomes stiff and hard to turn. From irregular servicing, lack of fluid oil to low tyre pressure or bad wheel alignment, any of these could be the cause. It is preventable though.

Under normal circumstances when the car is in good condition, the steering wheel is always flexible when turning. But one may wonder why it sometimes becomes stiff and find that they are compelled to use more energy to turn it. Unless proper servicing is done, this problem might persist until one visits a mechanic to rectify it.

Sam Habyarimana, a mechanic in Wandegeya, says when the power steering fluid is poured in its tank, it goes down to the steering pump, which also pumps it further to the steering box. The turning action of the steering creates pressure that pumps the steering wheel fluid back to its tank, making it more of a recycling process.

What could be the cause?
Habyarimana says when there is leakage on any of the pipes involved in the above system, particularly on the one transporting

the fluid to the steering wheel box, the pressure that is created during turning of the steering wheel reaches a point when there is no fluid in the box to lubricate the process , thereby creating a lot of friction between the steering wheel stick and the steering wheel box.

“It is this friction that causes the steering wheel to stiffen and one may use a lot of force if they are to drive their car,” Habyarimana says. He adds that there could also be a problem in the steering pump.
Unless it is fixed, the steering will be subjected to hardening when turning.


Jackson Mugisha, also a mechanic, says by the time a steering wheel becomes difficult to turn, it signifies that the steering belt that connects the engine’s main drive pulley system to the power steering could be old or loose. It must have the right tension if it is to function properly and may either require tightening or replacement.

“Failure to replace or tighten the belt may cause the steering wheel to become stiff necessitating one to use some force to negotiate a corner when driving,” Mugisha says.

He adds that there is no vehicle that was made with a stiff steering wheel be it trailers or small cars because they are manufactured with a system that maintains the steering belt in the right condition. “Mugisha explains that how often a car is serviced can determine how stiff the steering wheel is.” To prevent this problem from happening again, make sure you regularly service your vehicle at the required mileage suggested by the mechanic who does your servicing. Make sure that you avoid other things that contribute to stiffen of the steering wheel such as low tyre pressure and lack of power steering fluid.



*Check the air pressure in your tyres. All tyres should have equal air and filled according to the manufacturer’s recommended PSI. Improper amounts of air in tyres, especially if they are too low, can cause stiff steering.

*Check your power steering fluid level and condition( The power-steering fluid can be found in a cylindrical reservoir near one end of the power-steering belt, and should be clearly labeled. The cylinder may be made of either plastic or metal). Lack of fluid will cause stiff and hard steering. Maintain the fluid at proper full level and the colour should be dark reddish. If the fluid is very old and too dark you may want to change the fluid.

*Inspect the pulley on the power steering unit with the car engine off. Proper tension is no more than three quarters or one inch of play. Press down on the belt with your thumb to check tension. Be sure the condition of the pulley belt is good without frayed edges or cracks.

Also perform a visual inspection with the engine running to be certain that the pulley belt is turning smoothly. If the belt is slipping you can encounter erratic and stiff steering.
*Inspect the power steering unit. You can visually check for fluid leaks at connecting pressure hoses. A leak here will reduce your pressure and thus cause hard steering.

Another test would be to run the engine and while in park mode, have someone turn the wheels back and forth as you listen for any squealing or bearing sounds coming from the unit. If the fluid is low or the belt is bad you may also encounter a squealing sound, so be sure these items have been checked first.

*Inspect the front end parts such as the ball joints and tie rod ends for lubrication and wear. Either of these situations can cause hard steering and too much wear on these parts can be dangerous as well.

Check to be sure that you have proper front end alignment. A tell-tale sign would be uneven front tyre wear and pulling to one side while driving. If the wheels are not aligned properly, you can also encounter hard and stiff steering, especially while making turns.