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What to Do If You Lose Power Steering

Steering wheel

Have you ever wondered what to do if you lose power steering one day in the middle of traffic? First of all, don’t panic! Power steering provides you with an electronic or hydraulic assist in turning the front wheels, which is especially helpful at low speeds or when turning the wheels while parked. It’s an important feature, and it can be scary to suddenly realize that it’s just your shoulder muscles keeping your car in its lane.

But if it does give up on you during your commute, you still have a lot of good options for getting out of the situation safely and with full control of your automobile. Here are some tips for dealing with the worst case power steering scenario:

Let Others KnowSteering wheel

The first step when you fear you have lost power steering is communication. As with any emergency situation out on the road, it’s vital to let other drivers around you know that something has gone wrong. The easiest way to do this is to activate your hazard lights, or “4-ways,” which will flash your blinkers at everyone around you and help them notice that you are starting to slow down. Most automobile manufactures have taken to mounting the hazard light button in an obvious place in the middle of the dash, but it may also be near the steering wheel. Look for a button with a red triangle and push it.

Slow Down Gradually

As you gradually lower your speed, don’t hit your brakes too hard, especially if it’s slippery out. The lack of power steering will make the wheel feel heavy in your hands, and it will also make the front wheels less responsive to your inputs. So if you hit the brakes hard, it will be difficult to react in time to prevent a spin or a skid. Keep calm and ease into the brakes slowly.

Pull Over

Knowing what to do if you lose power steering eventually comes down to looking for a safe spot on the side of the road where you can pull over without incident. You will still be able to steer the vehicle, even if it’s more difficult, with the power assist malfunctioning. Just keep in mind that turning the wheel will require more and more effort as you slow to a halt. Give yourself as much room to turn as possible. While the turn radius of the vehicle itself hasn’t changed, your ability to make that turn quickly will be reduced. Keep a firm grip on the wheel at all times.

When in Doubt, Tow It Out

If the power steering is completely out, this is the right time to call for a tow truck. You don’t want to risk getting yourself into a situation where you won’t be able to react in time to avoid a collision or accident. It’s also difficult to perform any type of power steering repair on the side of a busy road, especially if a leak has become catastrophic enough to cause system failure or if a drive belt has snapped. Or in the case of some modern electric-assisted steering units, a fuse or motor may have burned out. Regardless,  it’s always better to stay safe than be sorry when dealing with this type of breakdown.

Check out all the steering and suspension parts available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on power steering, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

Photo courtesy of Freeimages.

Benjamin Hunting View All

Having been bitten by the car bug at a young age, I spent my formative years surrounded by Studebakers at car shows across Quebec and the northeastern United States. Over ten years of racing, restoring, and obsessing over automobiles lead me to balance science writing and automotive journalism full time.  I currently contribute as an editor to several online and print automotive publications, and I also write and consult for the pharmaceutical and medical device industry.

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