Best of Deals Car Reviews Repair Shops Cars A-Z Radio Show

Recurring Sienna steering issue

Our 2000 Toyota Sienna had this problem a few years ago and it’s just returned.

When it’s raining and we turn hard to the left or right, the steering wheel stops before we’ve completed the turn. It can’t be turned any further. We even have to back up sometimes to complete a turn. When it first happened we took it to a mechanic who tried everything. Eventually the rack and pinion and the pump were replaced. That was just over two years ago.

Last summer we were hearing a strange sound when we turned. It turns out we were leaking power steering fluid from the new rack. We went to a different mechanic who replaced the rack again! Needless to say this is not cheap. The original steering problem has returned and we’re not sure what to do now.

Any ideas?

Has anyone checked the tensioner for the belt that runs the PS pump?
Do you have any missing splash guards under the front of the Sienna or in a wheelwell?

The only way I can see rain affecting the PS system when under heavy load is if the pump pulley were to somehow get wet and perhaps the tensioner to also be weak.

By the way, how many miles does the Sienna have on it?

Very interesting. The local mechanics (including dealers) don’t seem to have much of an idea.

It has 94,000 miles but as I said, this first happened a couple of years ago and went away (temporarily it now seems).

I hope it helps.

I’m sorry to hear about the rack and pump having been changed. I’ve seen racks and pumps changed before for steering problems where the tech had no diagnosis. Since the rack and pump seem to be the only things in the system, it seems logical. It’s easy to forget that there’s a pulley, a belt, and a tensioner involved in making it work right too. It’s unfortunate, but you have a lot of company.

You may want to look for TSBs too. I’m not aware of any, but one never knows.

Thanks again! One of the mechanics is going to send us some TSBs I think. My wife talked to a dealership and he just immediately said it was the rack! Sigh…

More info. I talked to the mechanic who replaced the rack in July. He says that the belts and tensioner are in good shape and that the problem as described to him doesn’t fit that scenario. My wife seems to think that the they (the mechanics) think that the steering wheel is locking, like when you turn off the ignition. That’s not it, it’s just stopping at 45 degrees instead of going to 90.

Can you describe the problem to us as you described it to him?

Since the rack and pump have both been changed, and the belt and tensioner checked, my next guesses would be either the joint(s) between the steering shaft and the rack binding up for some reason or something binding up in the chassis itself, like a ball joint or tie rod end.

Actually my wife did the describing. Here’s what she said in her own words:)

I had just done a slow, rolling stop thru the stop sign in the subdivision and began making my left turn onto the cross street, but the steering wheel stopped at about a 45 degree angle, of a 90 degree turn. I couldn’t complete the turn, I had to stop, put it in reverse and straighten the car out so I could complete my turn. Then everything was fine.

Also, Patrick and the mechanic repeatedly asked me if the steering locked or if I could pull it back to the right when I was backing up. I said it did not lock in position, I just couldn’t turn it left, and that I was able to pull to the right when I had to back up, so I could complete the turn.

They asked if I’d pulled the steering wheel to the right before I put the van in reverse, I think still in an effort to establish whether it was stuck in place. That was hard to remember, but I told them that I naturally relaxed my grip on the steering wheel and put it in reverse and it was no problem to move it to the right. I told them I didn’t feel that it was stuck completely before I put it in reverse, I just couldn’t turn it farther left, but I didn’t really try to move it much to the right before putting it in reverse, which was the natural thing to do for me. I also told them it wasn’t that it only got ‘hard’ to turn to the left, it just stopped.

Based on that description I’d suggest that something in the steering mechanical linkage or something like a ball joint must have bound up. Those symptoms would not be indicative of a bad pump or even typical of a bad rack.

A bad pump would either start making a racket or leave the steering requiring extra effort to steer. Power steering does not steer the car, it allows the driver to steer the car with less effort. While it is theoretically possible for a rack to stop dead in one direction, it isn’t typical. I’ve never personally heard of it happening.

I’d be looking at the ball joints and tie rod ends for starters.

I agree with mountainbike on that. I’d also say that a similar type of problem (occasional binding) with the strut mounts should also not be ruled out.

However, I can’t actually come up with a reason that any of that would be correlated with the rain.

Does it ever make any noises when steering - even if occasionally - like popping, clicking, clunking etc.?

Thanks for the ideas. I’ve never heard any noises. It usually works fine but this happens once in a while. Again, it went away the first time when we replaced basically everything: rack, pump, etc.

Wonder if we’re experiencing the same problem. We have a 2005 Sienna AWD (dark blue, “stratosphere mica”) van that started having intermittent steering problems this past winter. It seemed like a power steering issue where if you turned the steering wheel as far as you could in either direction, the power steering would cut out for about 45 degrees and then as you continued turning, it would resume for about 45 more degrees of turning, then cut off for about the same turning distance etc. Made for extremely chopping steering. Had the power steering fluid replaced and the issue seemed to be cured. All of a sudden it has returned, as bad as before. Interestingly, I too, have heard the “clicking” sound that others mention emanating from somewhere around the steering column. This noise had been dormant for a long time and I heard it again the other day. Fairly coincident to the funky steering returning. As for any chance that it is related to rain, well we live in Portland OR where the winters are very rainy, and the van lives outside. The last 10 days we’ve had a tremendous amount of rain, and the steering issue is back. Would have never connected the rain dots, and still don’t know if it’s pertinent, but there you have our weather report just in case. Appreciate anyone’s thoughts.

Ok i am having the exact same issue on my 2000 sienna. It onky happens in the rain. Was this ever resolved?