Should I Add Power Steering to a Car That Doesn't Have It?


#1

My elderly mother has a 2001 Chevy Geo (new, these models were only manufactured for rental outlets). She is the proverbial little old lady who drives only to the store and puts on fewer than 1000 miles per year (she only buys gas 3 X per year!). The car has low milage and few problems. At 88, she doesn’t want to invest in a different vehicle. The problem is that turning the steering wheel on this car is a bear. I’ve driven this car, as has my husband, and her grandkids – maneuvering this car for parking is awful. This model came without power steering. She wants to have a mechanic install power steering. Is this possible? Advisable? Besides anticipated high cost, are there problems that could result from adding power steering to a car? Thanks much.


#2

I guess this is possible, but not as easy as it sounds. Putting the pump on isn’t too hard, but you’d also need a whole new steering rack and other parts to complete the job. Was the car made with power steering? If yes, can you get the parts used from a salvage yard?

My advice would be to have grandma sell the car to one of the kids, or grandkids, and buy another small car with power steering for her.


#3

I agree, get a different car that has power steering.


#4

The short answer is, NO, it’s not practical or advisable to add power steering. There are too many components that would have to be replaced, and the cost would exceed that of the vehicle. Depending on which Geo you’re talking about there may not even be a power steering system available.

Your only options are to live with it or trade this car for something with power steering.


#5

There is at least one hot rod parts manufacturer that is selling a steering column with built in electric power steering for use in classic/antique autos. You might want to check to see if one would fit in the Geo.


#6

This could be feasible if the parts were rounded up from a salvage yard as most power steering setups like this simply involved a steering rack, pump/hose/bracket change.
Economically speaking, it may not be worth it unless you got a deal on parts/labor.

However, the first step should be checking the tire pressure if that has not been done. If one front tire gets 10 pounds low it can be a bear to turn.


#7

I like that tire pressure idea. My manual-steering GTI would become much harder to turn when the tires were a little low. The OP should check the tires first thing in the morning, (no driving) and put them at the max pressure specified in the manual or sticker.


#8

Daisy Lu, You And Granny Probably Already Know The Secret To Driving With Manual Steering.

When the car is moving forward or backwards, even very slightly (almost imperceptably), the steering becomes easier. Conversely, When one tries cranking on the steering wheel with the car stopped (and especially with the brake firlmly applied) steering becomes a “bear”. Could Granny learn to every so slightly, ease up on the brake while turning the wheels? This is an automatic, right?

I realize this is sometimes not the most desirable for parallel parking situations on a crowded street, but there must be many times that Granny could make it work. You don’t indicate how ambulatory or active Granny is. I don’t know if she can walk a little or if she requires “handicap parking” spaces, but maybe she could choose more spots that weren’t parallel spots.

Practice this technique yourself if you are not used to driving with “Armstrong” steering and then take Granny for a “driving tips” session in a deserted parking lot. Explain what you are going to demonstrate. Whenever Granny finds that steering wheel extremely hard to turn then she needs to let the car barely begin to roll (foot lightly on the brake pedal).

That’s all I’ve got. The tire pressure idea is a good one. The only other fix involves just a screw-driver, but you said you don’t want to go that route. The screw-driver removes the license plate from the Geode and puts it on a different car.

Trust me, I have experience with “Armstrong” steering, having owned 2 “Old Beetles” and presently two Pontiac Fieros.

Good Luck,
CSA


#9

After Thought Corollary, True Story:

This involves the school bus (has power steering, but that isn’t the point) that picks my daughter up every morning and turns around in our tight cul-de-sac.

The driver doesn’t often utilize the technique I’ve outlined, probably because he has power steering (not hard to turn the wheel). When he sits still and cranks the wheels, he grinds a spot into the asphalt pavement that is visible for days. Rolling the bus a tiny bit and turning leaves no mark. The mark is caused by all the excess friction created when more force is needed to turn the non-rolling tires.
I hate it when he does that.

CSA


#10

I am going to give a contrary opinion.

Yes, it will be expensive to add power steering to this 8 year old car.
And, it is undeniable that the car’s book value makes this type of investment unwise from a purely economical stance.

However, since elderly people do not adapt well to changes, the idea of buying an 88 year old woman a new car is not necessarily a wise suggestion. It is likely that the differences in controls, gauges, and other parts of a new car would be confusing to this woman. And, confusion can lead to problems (i.e. of a mechanical nature or…God forbid…an accident resulting from confusion over controls, etc.).

However, it would be a very good idea to check the tire pressure before investing any money in this mechanical work!

Even if it does not necessarily make good economic sense to spend this much money on Granny’s car, it will probably make her feel happier and more secure than if she was forced to familiarize herself with the intricacies of a new car.


#11

Thanks everyone for your thoughtfulness. VDC Driver, you have obviously been around older folks because YES I worry about the confusion that will result when she drives a different auto. I’m going to check the tire pressure first – thanks to everyone who thought of that. I’m not going to teach her how to roll the car (she already has scraped paint on her bumpers from getting in and out of her garage parking space – I can only imagine worse bangups) and, since being economical is #1 with her, I’ve talked her into looking for a different small car. Let’s just hope I don’t have to come back here real soon with new problems/questions about the new vehicle!


#12

Perhaps you could find a similarly equipped car just like hers, but with power steering already in it. Hop on edmunds or cars.com and start searching, you may just luck out and find one exactly like hers.


#13

Daisy Lu, When You Said Granny’s Problem Was Turning The Wheel, You Forgot To Mention Something More Important.

Some older citizens drive wihtout doing property damage. Some can’t. " (she already has scraped paint on her bumpers from getting in and out of her garage parking space – I can only imagine worse bangups)".

When old folks begin to drive using the “Braille Method”, it’s up to those who look after them to consider it’s time to hang it up and consider plan “B”.

I had an elderly aunt who caused a major crash at an intersection with totalled cars, injuries, glass everywhere, air bag deployment, spinning hub caps, ambulances, fire trucks, jaws of life, lawyers, etcetera. Just before I decided my Mom shouldn’t drive, she almost ripped the door off her car backing up at the mailbox with her door patially open. A couple of years before that, my Dad had the good judgement and wisdom to take himself out of the driver’s seat. We take my Mom shopping in her car now. By the way, my parents weren’t as old as 88 when it was time to stop driving.

Please consider this advice before Mom or some innocent person is hurt or killed. Driving is not necessarily a life long priviledge. Be responsible and do her a favor. I know it will be inconvenient, but getting older doesn’t make life easier.

Thank You.

CSA

P.S. If Granny can drive a “new” car at 88, at what point will she be too old to drive? Here’s a link to an article:
http://www.roadandtravel.com/safetyandsecurity/seniordriving.htm


#14

I’m with CSA. Sad as it may be, there comes a time when the keys to the car must be taken away. It sounds like you should seriously consider this.


#15

Daisy Lu, bless you for being concerned about your mother’s ability to handle her car now that she is elderly and, as a result, having trouble handling manual steering.

I’m NOT a mechanic. But in recent years I dealt with both my parents becoming physically challenged with driving. I can assure you that once anyone blessedly senior in age develops physical strength issues with handling a car’s steering, even manual, there are additional physical and mental issues that truly should be evaluated for safety.

Your mother may still be active, spunky, alert, and young for her age. For her sake, I hope so. However, if she has lost arm, hand, and upper body strength for using manual steering without undue difficulty, she likely is also having trouble with both fast reaction time and with leg and back strength to adequately brake and even have a subtle touch with the gas pedal.

Harsh as it sounds and difficult as it will be, please consider that it may be time to coax her into surrendering her keys. If nothing else, it is time for a professional to examine her current driving skills. Years of experience eventually give way to years of decreased physical abilities.

If you are the child who most interacts with your mother, be aware that she is least likely to surrender car keys to you! It may be time to consult with her doctor and with other family members whom she will feel less “bossed” by when asked to stop driving.

As another poster suggested, why not find a way for you and/or other family members to drive her to her needs in HER car. That way she stays safe but retains a sense of some control and therefore her dignity.

Sadly, the real issue here isn’t power steering versus manual steering, it is your dear mother’s ability to handle a car anymore well enough to keep herself and others on the road around her safe.

God bless.


#16

First of all, don’t pay too much attention to these guys who want to take mom’s keys away. I assume that you ride with her occasionally. If her driving doesn’t scare you, she’s very likely a safer driver than they or I. And yes, I get impatient with older drivers also. But that is because I’ve never really outgrown being a jerk, not because they are driving unsafely. If anything they are driving too safely. You want to see unsafe, keep an eye on the non-elderly buffoons driving SUVs with cell phones plastered to their skulls.

A trip to your favorite internet search engine (e.g. Google) will show you that there are lots of aftermarket power steering kits available for various vehicles. But I doubt you or your husband could pick the proper device and install it properly unless you wanted to spend an awful lot of time doing research.

I’d suggest two approaches. Try them both:

  1. Go talk to a good independent mechanic. He very likely won’t want to do the job himself because it is awfully open ended and he won’t be able to give you an rational estimate. But he may well know someone who specializes in steering issues or someone competent who does jobs like that evenings and weekends.

  2. There is probably a local company that specializes in wheelchairs and other mechanical assistance devices for the elderly and disabled. They may well have something in their repetoire that will solve your mom’s problem … or know what local companies do vehicle conversions for the disabled.


#17

Vermont Codger II, I Don’t Care For SUVs, Personally, But It’s Fine With Me If Some People Do. I Don’t Use A cell Phone While Driving And I Don’t Recommend It.

However, I ignored everything you said after reading the bit about Buffoons, SUVs, and Cell Phones.

Being elderly does not improve one’s driving and neither does talking on a cell phone or driving while being distracted in any vehicle. They’re all detriments. End of story.

Sincerely, CSA

P.S. Insurance companies know this and increase premiums substantially for elderly drivers. Check with you insurer.


#18

I didn’t realize I would start such a concerned thread with my original question. It does open up though onto all sorts of issues regarding elderly drivers more than on questions about mechanics. The issue with my mother and driving has to do with independence and maintaining a sense of control over her own life. I heed the advice and warnings about taking her car keys away – something I’ve wanted to do for some time. I actually hoped her physician would recommend she not drive; instead he did the opposite! Since she’s of a generation where he’s the ultimate authority, she is never going to listen to me saying she shouldn’t drive – and NO, I refuse to get in a car with her driving. Soo…I’m trying to stall on any car buying expeditions, and I’ve been driving her for errands. I am already working on subtly, slowly suggesting that maybe she should take cabs. Once we sell the manual steering car, the sale should pay for a lot of cab rides – this is a small town, and she doesn’t go very far! Wish me luck!


#19

Good Luck, Daisy Lu.

I did start out with mechanics until I realized what the real problem was.

You do realize that this would have been easier had you given this information originally (laughing). However, I had an adventure trying to get to where you are now. It was a mystery to solve. Besides that, you were probably hoping somebody would suggest “Mom’s not driving any more” on their own, to reinforce what you’re thinking.

Also, this whole anchilada could help others going through this.

Come on back. I’d like to try and answer other car questions you might offer.

CSA


#20

Daily Lu, this is a tiny car. If she can’t get in and out of her garage without damaging this car, she should not be driving. Please do her a favor and urge her to give up the keys before something tragic happens.