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99 Legacy: Power Steering

Hi all,

As I was driving home the other day, I noticed the steering wheel on my 99 Subaru Legacy (130,000+ miles) became considerably stiffer than ever before. I pulled into my driveway (where, incidentally, the wheel loosened up) and checked the power steering fluid. Unsurprisingly, it was low.

I haven’t been on the road since, but I did turn the car around around in the driveway. Aside from the wheel gently stuttering or pausing initially (it’s done this when cold for a while now – I always assumed it was a loose belt or something) the wheel seemed normal.

I made an appointment with a mechanic and described my symptoms. He said he’d have to take a look, but suspected it was a bad power steering pump. Is this the only possibility? Could it be a bad belt or a leak somewhere in the system? If it is the pump, how much should I expect to pay to have it fixed? Your thoughts are most welcome!


If the system was low on power steering fluid, it means there’s a leak somewhere. Most likely at the rack and pinion seals.

Before spending any money on replacement parts, give this a try.

Just follow the instructions on the bottle.


You do have a leak, but it could be a very tiny leak. Did you try to just fill the PS reservoir? Fill it and it maybe many months before it gets low again. If it is a leak that is that slow, the product Tester recommends will help.

It is also quite common for the return hose to develop a leak at the clamp, often at the end where it connects to the reservoir, but it could also leak at the rack end. Look at the hoses to the reservoir and see if it looks wet. If so, this could be a cheap fix, parts anyway. The labor to replace the hose will be probably an hour.

If you’ve never topped off the power steering fluid in the entire life of the car, I’d try that first. You might get lucky. Be sure to use the correct fluid, check with a dealer if you don’t know which kind to use.

Thanks for your comments, everyone. The car is at the mechanic now – here’s hoping it’s an easy fix!

UPDATE, 1/28: Well, the mechanic tells me that the power steering rack, rack bushings, pressure line, and pump are all failing, and the cost to repair them would far exceed the value of the car. He recommends topping off the fluid just long enough to find something new. Looks like this is the end for the Subaru. . . .

Ah, too bad just a minor expense isn’t all that’s needed.

Repair exceeds car’s value? hmm … Do you remember what Car Talk brother Tom used to say ? He’d say if that was true he couldn’t put any gas in his car … lol … seriously, just b/c the repair costs more than the car would bring if you sold it, that by itself wouldn’t imply a repair isn’t a good economic choice. It depends on the other aspects of the car’s conditions and what the alternatives are. Buying a new car has some good points, first of which is it probably won’t need any major repairs for 3-5 years or so. But a new car has some bad points too. Good sized down payment, hefty new car monthly payments, higher insurance premiums, higher registration fees and taxes, and the trip to the dealership and having to go through all that nonsense they dish out in exchange for at the most, some free coffee …