Steering issues

I have a 94 camry and am having a steering issue that is very subtle, but I think I’m not imagining it. Regardless of the direction I turn the wheel, it seems like the tires don’t turn immediately; they do respond quickly, but I feel like there’s a little “give.” I am bringing it into the shop, but looking for thoughts.

Also, I have another steering issue that may happen when it rains for a while; it hasn’t happened for a couple months, but the steering wheel all of a sudden will get very tight and feel like it’s seizing or something and I have to pull on it to turn it. It does turn, but it’s tough, and it loosens back up again shortly. Thoughts? Thanks!

First, let me emphasize the importance of having your front end checked by a qualified mechanic–NOT by a chain operation.

That being said, let me give you a couple of simpler possibilities that are both related to your tires.

  1. When was the last time that you checked your tire pressure? Low inflation pressure can certainly lead to poor/delayed steering response, as well as increased tire wear, poor gas mileage, and increased probability of a blow-out at high speed. Check the tire pressure in the AM, preferably before the car has been driven more than ~2 miles. If you drive further, the pressure will increase from driving and you will not get an accurate reading of the “cold” pressure, which should be at least equal to the pressures listed on the placard affixed to your driver’s door jamb. In the interest of better handling and better gas mileage, many drivers inflate their tires to 2 or 3 lbs. over the manufacturer’s recommendation. But, in any event, NEVER operate your car with pressures below the mfr’s recommendations.

  2. The “seizing” of the steering during rain could be hydroplaning, which is a condition where the tires ride on the accumulated rain on the road, and don’t actually make contact with the pavement. This usually occurs when driving in deep puddles, particularly at high speed. The ruts in the pavement caused by truck tire wear and tear are particularly likely to put you in this situation. Once you learn to recognize hydroplaning, you would be well advised to SLOW DOWN, as this condition does not usually occur unless you are driving too fast for the weather conditions. Tire tread that is excessively worn will cause your tires to hydroplane more readily than tires in good condition. What is the condition of your tire tread?

So–I would suggest that your tires should be your main focus, but I would also urge you to have the steering rack, the power steering pump, the tie rod ends, and the ball joints checked in case there is a mechanical problem. If there is a mechanical problem with one of these components, it could lead to sudden and total loss of the ability to steer, so I suggest that you have this taken care of a.s.a.p.

With any luck, you will only need to inflate your tires properly or to replace the tires, but the mechanical issues do need to be ruled out, in the interest of safety.

Everything that VDCdriver said - except I have an alternate interpretation of the “seizing.” By your description it sounds like the wheel itself suddenly becomes very hard to turn. If you’re hydroplaning you wouldn’t have trouble turning the steering wheel. That one sounds like your belt is getting wet and slipping so that you are temporarily losing power steering. Once the belt slips enough, the heat dries things out and/or the load decreases and steering goes back to normal. Soft tires would make this worse.

So, do first check your tires. But also have all of that front end stuff checked out. And have your accessory belt checked.

Thanks, I am taking it in to a mechanic tomorrow morning. The seizing is definitely not hydroplaning, I think it’s more likely belt slippage, because it is the steering wheel itself, and it seems to happen shortly after I start driving the car and not at high speeds. It’s usually when I’m about to turn after slowing down or stopping at a light, for instance.

I did recently have a tire pressure issue, and am planning to have my tires checked out by the mechanic. I got reviews of this mechanic on car talk, so hopefully this is a good one! Thanks for the advice.

Let us know what you come up if/when the issues are resolved.