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2002 Ford Escape steering is stiff

So, it’s my wife’s 4WD car that she’s had for a couple years, used. The steering has gotten incredibly stiff with loud groans (not unlike myself in the morning) to the point that it barely turns out of a parking space after being there overnight or at work all day. It happens during all weather conditions. She’s tried letting the engine idle for a few minutes before pulling out, with no improvement. We’ve tried selecting 4wd and regular 2wd with no different result. She does have to top off the steering reservoir once a month or so, but there’s never any real evidence of a leak at our parking spots. The car is only driven a couple miles to work and back, or to change parking sides. We don’t have contacts with a good Ford guy or gal, so we haven’t taken it in because they’re just gonna write a short novel of things that “need to be done to it.”

Take it to a well recommended independent mechanic to take a look at. If she’s topping off the PS once a month, it’s got to be leaking out somewhere (high pressure line maybe?)…and an independent is way cheaper than the dealer would be

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I’ve been told to check the idle-up switch, and then see a mechanic, if that’s not it. :blush:

Thank you!

Ford does not make their own steering racks. So you don’t need a ford person or dealer for this16 year old vehicle . If it leaking the idle speed has nothing to do with that.
As for the long list, that would be good because there might be things that are needed and you have to agree to the work so there is no problem with them making suggestions.