Power steering pump on a Chevy Tahoe.

Steering problem, hard brake pedal on a Chevy

In Automotive Diagnostics by HomeTowne Auto Repair & Tire

Multiple car problems can stem from the same issue.

A Chevy Tahoe was towed to our auto repair shop because it suddenly became very hard to steer and brake.

The steering problem and hard brake pedal were the results of a bad power steering pump.

Through diagnostic testing, our technician determined that – even though the pump was somewhat new – it wasn’t pushing power steering fluid out. 

The pulley is missing from the power steering pump on a Chevy Tahoe.

To function properly, the power steering system needs a power steering pump to supply pressure to the rack and pinion. This makes it easy to turn the wheel.

On some systems, the vacuum booster provides a vehicle with power brakes. This Tahoe, however, uses a hydroboost system. The power steering pump supplies pressure to the hydroboost system, which acts like a brake booster. 

Because the intermediate steering shaft was broken, the power steering pump wasn’t working and the brake pedal was difficult to push.

A pulley from a Chevy Tahoe with the broken steering shaft.
A pulley from a Chevy Tahoe with the broken steering shaft

A malfunctioning brake booster and a bad power steering pump aren’t the only causes behind a hard brake pedal. The problem can also occur if there is a crack in the vacuum hose or electronic problems with the electro hydraulic brake booster.

Other steering problem symptoms

The steering shaft connects the steering column with the rack and pinion or steering gear box. Sometimes it can become rusted and get stuck.

Another steering problem you might experience is a stiff steering wheel, which may be a sign that power steering fluid is leaking from the rack and pinion.

A steering wheel could feel loose, as well. Damaged pitman arms and a bad wheel alignment are some potential culprits behind a loose steering wheel. 

There are some electric power steering units that will bind up if you turn them too fast. We have found that the power steering pumps on certain vehicles – like Dodge Durangos and Dodge Chargers – have a small amount of fluid. They don’t have a labyrinth of lines, like most power steering systems, and will bind up for a split second when they are under a lot of stress.

You should also be watchful of your vehicle pulling to one side. This could be an indicator of a bad wheel alignment or mean that parts, such as lower control arms, need to be replaced.

It’s a good idea to have a tire alignment conducted each year, after you get new tires, and following any suspension work.

Taking care of your power steering system

To help your car’s power steering system last as long as possible, we recommend power steering fluid exchanges.

The mileage-based service takes care of several parts, such as the rack and pinion and power steering pump. Depending on the type of vehicle you drive and the manufacturer’s recommendation, power steering flushes should be performed every 30,000 miles.

Your car may need a power steering fluid exchange if the fluid is dark and you notice choppy steering. Whining or grinding noises are other possible indicators. 

Aside from changing out the power steering fluid on a regular basis, you should make sure that steering components are replaced when needed. These parts wear out or break from daily use and impacts. Putting off steering system repairs for too long can impact your safety.

It also doesn’t hurt to give your car a chance to warm up during the winter. Fluid tends to move through the system more easily when the fluid is warmer.

HomeTowne Auto Repair & Tire is an authorized Michelin and BFGoodrich tire dealer located near Dale City, Virginia. Automotive repair services are performed on all makes and models, including oil changes, brakes, alignments, inspections, and computer engine diagnostics.