Steering noise, safe to drive? Please help

My steering is making noise, like rubber rubbing on rubber or “something.” This only happens when going slow in parking lots etc. When I rev the engine to around 2000 rpm or I’m driving normally, the steering is fine and makes no noise.

This started in the winter and used to do it only when the car was extremely cold, but now it does it all the time in parking lots.

The steering “feels” fine though in every way. It’s not hard to steer (no harder than it ever was anyways) it doesn’t pull one way or the other, there’s no play etc. The steering feels solid and proper, it just makes this nasty “rubbing” or “whining” noise when turning at very slow speeds.

My question is: what could it be and is it safe to drive?

My mechanic (who has not looked at it yet, just talked to him on the phone) says I’m looking at 2 things worst case scenario:

1- a new pump. Which would cost me around $400.00 with tax and labor.

2- a new rack. Which would cost me around a 1000 bucks with tax and labor.

I can’t afford either right now and will have to save up so that’s why I’m asking is it safe to drive and any guesses on how long I could possibly drive it?

I asked if it could just be the belt needing to be tightened on it by the way and he said “not likely.”

I did do the turning to the right and left all the way test 3 times each, then turn the car off and check the steering fluid thing. I did this 3 times. Each time, the fluid did not move at all. It’s topped up and doesn’t ever get low. I don’t think i’ve ever had to top it up since i bought the car (when it was new).

I’d appreciate any thoughts, comments, advice and suggestions.

Oh ya, my car is a 1999 Plymouth Breeze by the way, the 2.5 Litre engine model. I love my car, it’s been a fantastic car for me and I’d like to keep it for another 5 years at least if i can. It’s in pretty darn great shape except for this noise. : )

Well, an easy test would be to have someone sit in the car and saw the steering wheel left and right to recreate the sound while you have your head under the hood, listening to the source of the sound.

Seeing as though I have as much information as your mechanic, I’m going to say that I suspect the power steering pump. If so, it’s safe to drive. But all I have to go off of is that there is some kind of whining sound that occurs when your steering wheel is turned while the car is stopped or moving slowly.

I’m guessing that a mechanic would have this diagnosed in about 5 minutes if you brought it to them and let them have a listen.

Thanks for the reply mr josh. Ok, let’s just say for argument’s sake it was the rack. What kind of noise would a rack make if it were failing? What symptoms would show up?

Does the fact that my steering feels fine in every way except for the noise it makes say anything as well?

Just trying to get as much input as possible as right now I’m sort of in the unfortunate position of not having a mechanic I KNOW i can really trust. I’m not saying the mechanic i go to is a crook or anything, but I just don’t know him “that” well either. They’ve done a few repairs on the car and so far I think they’ve been more than fair. But, without getting into a long story and why, I just want to get as much education and opinions as i can. : )

If it was the steering rack, you would likely experience binding when turning the steering wheel, especially when the temperature is low. If the steering feels totally normal, with no binding at any point in the steering wheel’s travel, then I doubt that the problem is the steering rack.

What do you mean by “binding” exactly? If it was the pump, and it started to go, wouldn’t the steering the “harder” to turn? And if so, if that’s what you mean by binding, if it does eventually start to do that, how would i know if it was the pump or the rack itself again?

Sorry for sounding confused here but i’m just trying to figure out some ways to determine the difference between “pump” and “rack” symptoms/problems.

And am i right, it seems by now it’s starting to sound like if it’s a pump problem, then the car would be difficult to steer but safe to drive, but if it’s the rack, then the car would not be safe to drive?

Having had a pump go out no the steering did not start to go bad, it made noise but worked normally. It really depends on the car weather it is safe to drive without a pump. I had a 72 f150 with a bad high pressure hose that was very expensive and being in college was told it was safe to drive without the power steering assist. One thing to consider is power steering usually has different gear ratios than manual steering so going without the assist makes steering much more of a workout.

Well, I don’t mind a workout for steering, that would not bother me one bit; my arms are in good shape and have good stamina. LOL. : ) My only real concern is safety at this point.

So now it really just comes down to me being able to figure out if it’s a pump problem or a rack problem. IF the steering starts doing anything wonky, (like pulling left or right, going out of alignment or anything weird etc.) I’ll definitely take it in. As long as the steering feels solid and normal, I can definitely put up with the noise. I just don’t wanna be dumb and drive a car that is unsafe to drive.

I still wouldn’t mind some advice on tell tale signs that would help one know the diff between a rack problem and a pump problem though, if anyone can help with that.

hi lonehawk this is soring eagle; My van is doing the same exact thing as you explained in the chat thread; I understand your concern about the safety because that was my question also; but everything works fine; just that like rubbing sound; anyways did you find out what it is that caused it? or are you just still driving as is in that condition? thanks lonehawk. Frank :slight_smile:

Hi Frank. Yes I am still driving it as is. Like I said before, it feels fine in every possible way except the noise. What I have been doing actually, as I’ve noticed a bit of a difference: is when I first get in the car, I wait about a minute for the engine to get oiled up, then I rev her to about 2000 rpm’s a couple of times, then I start driving away. No noise.

When I get to my destination and have to park the thing, if I’m rolling down hill into the parking spot, I slip her in neutral and rev her gently while parking (turning into the parking spot) and, no noise. If it’s even or up hill into the parking spot ( I obviously can’t slip it into neutral and coast into the spot, LOL) I just put up with the noise.

Just yesterday, someone on a cell phone just, “la dee da” and pulled out of a driveway without paying attention to oncoming traffic (Me) and almost T-boned me. I had to really yank the car left, then right back into my proper lane (was only 2 lane road and I had to partially veer into oncoming traffic lane, thank God there were no oncoming cars at that moment) the speed i was going was about 60 Km/h.

Anyways, during this maneuver, I’m happy to report the car felt solid and responsive and performed like a sports car. :).

So, ya, I’m just driving as is and putting up with the noise. If anything starts to feel even remotely “awry” with the steering I’ll take it in to get looked at, but right now I can’t afford 400 to 1000 dollars when I’m sure a mechanic will “advise” me to get “something” replaced. lol. (hope i don’t come off sounding “too” pessimistic about mechanics there.) :slight_smile:

You asked for tell-tale signs.

When a pump is going it generally becomes noisy. And often leaks.
When a rack is going it generally affects the feel. And often leaks.

The pump is only a pump and generally wears out first at its front bearing and/or seal. The front has lateral load as well as spinning, so it’s the weak spot.

The rack is a “spool valve”, a proportional valve, that feeds the pressurized fluid to one side or other of a piston in a cylinder. That assists in moving the tie rods back and forth. The piston is sealed within its cylinder with an O-ring type seal. The shaft being pushed by the piston is sealed within the housing in which it slides in and out by an O-ring type seal. Generally if a rack is failing it’ll either leak through a seal to the outside world, which also affacts the amount of pressure that can be retained within and the amount of assist you thus get. Occasionally a rack will fail internally via its internal seal failing, or a spool valve will fail, but these failure modes are pretty rare. Both affect feel.

Bottm line rule-of-thumb: noise = pump, feel = rack.

Hope this helps.

hi lonehawk;well good to hear your car handled that close call with nice maneuverbility; so your steering is reliable; I was reading this chilton book; said something about a belt that is tied into the pump; I’m going to check on the van. My steering fluid is full; so I’m hoping when i find the belt it is loose and if I tighten it; it will take the noise away; iritating noice that just came out of the blue; It actually happened after my oil change at midas; not sure of the correlation if the mechanic did something. frank

Thanks for the indepth description Mountainbike. It helps me at least.

Well, as you can see, it’s about a month later and I can report that not only is my steering still fine, but the noise has actually gone away. LOL. (go figure, maybe i have a poltergiest in my engine bay, or “had” one anyways. LOL).

I’m starting to think that maybe it had something to do with the cold. I noticed the noise started towards the end of the winter. When spring came, the noise started to fade a bit. Now the noise is completely gone.

This is just an educated guess, but maybe the cold weather was affecting the pump? Now that it’s warm, it’s working fine and no noise.

I hope this doesn’t mean that I’ll have to get a new pump before the next winter is over, but if that’s the case, at least I have some time to save up for that repair and just to be safe, that’s exactly what I plan to do. Worst case scenario, I have to get a new pump which I will have saved for. Best case scenario, I won’t have to get a new pump and will have an extra $1000 bucks in the savings. Here’s hoping it’s the later. LOL.

Hi Lonehawk. how is your steering doing now. It is starting to get cooler in Boston. how about where you are. The noice went away for me; but once in a while it comes back at low speeds; Steering fluid is full. this Van has it’s own personality. lol Frank

Well, so far so good, no noise. It’s been gettin cold here too at night (last night was only 2 degrees Celsius, that’s 35.6 F). I recently (well, almost 2 months ago now) go laid off from work so I’m really hoping that noise does not come back. My savings that I had planned to use for that repair if needed is gone now. : (

We’ll see what happens when the really cold weather hits. I’m not “too” worried about it as like I said in previous posts, it only makes the noise when parking the car one way or the other. While driving, the car was fine, solid and stable as far as everything including the steering goes.

hope you got back to work ; I’m heading to florida with the rest of the birds; good to hear the noice has not come back; me once in while still at when parking the car; I think we have the same challange; maybe just it is so tight in there that it is a rubber on something noise; guesssing take care lonehawk; soaring eagle now that I left Boston

Well, here’s the update. First of all, a belated Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all of you. : )

The steering noise has come back, but only intermittently. It’s weird, it will make the squeeking noise when it’s cold, but if it gets REALLY cold, it seems to go away again. LOL. I’m really scratching my head on this one.

I can definitely tell now that it’s the belt (rubber) slipping on the pulley, and when it first got to below zero celcius, it started squeeking again when first driving the car and making a turn to get out of my spot or “sometimes” when parking the car even when it was warm. So I figured, ok, it’s the belt being cold, it shrinks a bit, and is a bit too tight until it warms up a bit and gets a bit more maliable. (is that spelt right? lol. “soft” I mean).

But, on some really cold days when it was around -15 Celcius (5 F) or colder, I absolutely expected the noise and …nothing. Not a sound. LOL. Figure that one out! lol.

So, since the steering has not been affected in any way performance wise, I’m just putting up with it. When it “does” squeek, the steering does get tighter just at the moment of the squeeks, so this tells me that it is the belt slipping. “Why” the belt slips at seemingly only certain degrees of “coldness” is beyond me. lol.

My guess is, is that there is a “sweet spot” of a temperature range that makes the belt slip a bit. Whether it’s loose, and that sweet spot makes it too loose to grab properly, or it’s tight and that sweet spot makes it too tight causing it to slip, I can not tell.

I’ve checked the belt and I’ve had the belt checked by my machanic, and apparently, it’s “just right” as far as it’s tension is concerned. Maybe I’m going about this the wrong way. Maybe, I don’t need a mechanic to diagnose this problem, but rather the guys from Fringe or Supernatural. : P