5 Causes of a Steering Wheel That’s Hard to Turn

Every vehicle has a steering system which gives the driver control over the direction in which they are driving. If you don’t have a functional steering system, then it will create all kinds of problems for you. More importantly, it will make your vehicle unsafe for yourself and the other people on the road around you.

Just imagine having to make a turn or trying to change lanes and then having the steering wheel hard to turn all of a sudden or even locking up. This can cause an accident to the point where someone could be injured or even killed.

Related:  9 Causes of a Steering Wheel That Makes Noise When Turning

The most common problem with the steering wheel is that it can become difficult to turn. Since most drivers do most of their turning at low speeds, this is when tight or stiff steering wheel will be most noticeable. It is a clear indicator that you have some type of problem somewhere in your power steering system.

There are many components which make up the power steering system. Aside from the serpentine belt and the pump, the system contains hydraulic power steering fluid which works alongside the piston so that you can easily turn the wheel with little resistance.

If there were to be an issue with any one of these areas of the system, then you wouldn’t get the assistance of the power steering to make turning the wheel easier.

See Also:  Top 5 Causes of Steering Wheel Shakes 

Common Causes of a Steering Wheel That’s Hard to Turn at Low Speeds

It’s important to understand the main causes of a hard to turn steering wheel. Below are the top 5 reasons that your steering wheel is getting more difficult to turn. You’ll want to go through this list and troubleshoot the issue as soon as possible.

#1 – Low Power Steering Fluid

low power steering fluid

Perhaps the most common cause of a stiff steering wheel when turning is when you don’t have enough power steering fluid in the system. Usually, this occurs if the fluid is leaking from the pressurized hose area. Sometimes the hose will get cracked or simply become loose, causing the fluid to leak out.

Since this fluid is needed to pressurize the system and lubricate the pump, you will have a steering wheel that gets harder to turn the less power steering fluid you have in the system. The car may be drive-able but if you don’t fix the leak, it will eventually cause your power steering pump to fail which can be an expensive replacement.

If a quick check shows that your power steering fluid is full, keep reading.

#2 – Bad Steering Rack

The steering rack is made up of the pinion and rack. A series of U-joints and shafts keep the steering rack attached to the steering wheel. The steering rack will eventually become worn out and damaged from simply driving your vehicle over the years.

You will know when this happens if your steering wheel is only stiff or tight after you’ve started your vehicle. As the engine continues to run and warms up, the steering rack will get hotter which causes the lubricant to work itself around a bit better. Therefore, the steering wheel may become less stiff as the car continues to run. But still, you’ll need to get the steering rack replaced before the problem escalates.

#3 – Broken Serpentine Belt

broken serpentine belt

One of the most common causes of steering wheel stiffness is when the serpentine belt is damaged or cracked. This belt is constantly being used when you drive the vehicle so over time, it gets worn down pretty quickly.

This in turn will cause it to become loose which is when the stiffness in the steering wheel will begin. If you don’t replace the belt soon, it will break altogether and then you won’t be able to drive your car at all. It’s better to replace the belt before this happens.

#4 – Power Steering Pump Failure

power steering pump failure

The pump of the power steering system is what produces the amount of pressure needed to allow you to smoothly turn the steering wheel. If this pump were to stop working, then it will become much more difficult to turn the steering wheel, especially at low speeds.

Normally, in these situations, the pump won’t prevent the steering wheel from moving completely. You will still be able to turn it, but it will require a lot more force on your end. The heavier the vehicle, the harder it will be to turn the wheels. Before a costly power steering pump replacement, make sure the connector to the pump simply didn’t wiggle itself loose or get damaged.

#5 – Old Thick Power Steering Fluid

Like other fluids in your car, power steering fluid can become thick over time. If you don’t change your power steering fluid according to what your car manufacturer recommends, then it will eventually become too thick to lubricate the system.

This will cause your steering to be tight and more difficult to turn at low speeds. If a quick check of your fluid shows it’s dark and thick, you’ll need to flush and change your power steering fluid as soon as possible.



  1. Good article and very helpful. I believe my steering falls on the steering pump failure. This can be fixed, but what is your professional advice on fixing this? And is it possible to come in to my country to establish a business, since we don’t have competent technicians. Thank you

    • Appreciate it! Replacing a power steering pump isn’t too difficult. I’d recommend checking Youtube for something like this.

  2. My power steering is ok when I start driving, then gets tight then it’s ok this keeps happening the whole time I’m driving. I have changed fluid. Any ideas.

    • Unfortunately could be various things including a failing PS pump. Also, some cars have a valve that adjusts the feel of power steering so it’s really light at idle and low speeds and then gets heavier at higher speeds to allow for better tracking. Monitor your PS fluid level.

  3. I replaced my old steering rack with a reconditioned steering rack a few days ago. I replaced both the lower arms too. After my mechanic got it fixed I took I drive down the road. I find the steering rack stiff. Why is that so?

    • This is common with steering rack replacements (even more so with reconditioned racks). Often, it’s because the steering system was not properly bled. This should improve over time as it gets broken in.

  4. I had my steering pump and rack replaced, steering hard/hang up both directions. have bleed a couple times, but still hard. It will be easy to start but as soon as you rotate wheel it comes hard. drove car around town for a couple days..no change

    • Make sure there is a good connection at the power steering pump. Twice now I’ve seen a dealership tell the car owner they have a faulty power steering pump when in fact it ended up that one of the metal prongs in the connector was too loose. Simply bending the prong a tiny bit with needle nose pliers fixed the issue.

  5. When turning slightly or a hard turn it feels like it getting hung upthen it releases and steers normal until next turn

    • This is often a sign of a power steering pump on the way out. But it could also be the steering rack. I’d recommend getting a mechanic to check it out.

    • I’d recommend getting an alignment done (or at least get the alignment checked). This is a common fix after replacing control arms.

  6. My son Jered has a 1984 Chevrolet C15 Truck I think. He had replaced the power steering pump and replaced a broken line to the back. The truck had run normally for quite a while. Jered was with trailer and backing out of a tight space. All of the sudden while holding tight on a hard turn, he lost power steering and steering from there on was tight. Of course when speed built up steering got a bit better just like driving with no power steering. The truck had always given that noise that normally sounds like you’re low on fluid but fluid was normal and after removing a line there was also pressure. Could I assume that there’s a problem with the rack?

  7. Plenty of fluid, but the wheel is hard to turn. But it’s much more harder to turn one direction than the other direction.

  8. Had power steering pump replaced in my 95 Toyota Corolla. Steering was very tight when parking the car. The powering steering was still too tight after mechanic replaced the pump. Why is that? The first pump installed was “no good” so a second one was ordered and installed. Parking was still tight – Why?

  9. I had my wife’s serpentine belt and pulley replaced and head gasket as well. Before doing all of this I did notice that the power steering fluid was running low and even noticed a leak under car. I think my power steering pump is going out or is done entirely. Literally just got her van back from mechanic shop yesterday and today she drove her van to work and called me to let me know that the car was hard to steer as she pulled into the parking Lot. Belt is still on and fluid level is good. I’ll be meeting her at work when she gets off so I can drive her van home and she can drive the truck so I can get a better feel for it myself.

  10. I replaced a steering rack and pump on hyundai santafe 2,4 CM .and bled the systerm but still hard when turning .i checked the hoses for leaks no leaks .what could be the problem?

  11. My power steering fluid is completely full but the only time it works is when it’s over full (almost to the brim) and that works for about 30 min then it goes back to where it was even though it’s full. Do you have any idea what the cause of this could be? I was thinking PS pump failure but I could be very wrong.

    • Possible power steering pump failure but it could be as simple as a bad contact in the wiring harness. Years ago I had a issue with my power steering going out intermittently. Scanner said power steering pump failure. I even took it to the dealership since I was desperate and they too said the power steering pump was bad. After a new pump didn’t fix it, I found that one of the metal prongs in the connector was not making contact. Simply bending it a hair with needle nose pliers was enough to fix the issue.

    • When driving for certain distances,my steering will feel like stuck and i need to use little force to turn break the stiff then it will be normal again.why n what is the caused?

      • What is the condition of your power steering fluid? It could be a lubrication issue with the steering gear or possibly your PS steering pump has a poor connection or is on its way of going out.

  12. I have an 06 hummer h3, just changed the p-steering pump, rack, and hoses.. ALL NEW, all new fluid.. bled the system lock to lock 40x with engine off, 20x with it started.. kept checking fluid in resevoir. not once did it work like it had hydraulic assist from the system.. only thing that happens is i go lock to lock and it throws its fluid out of the top of the resevoir.. i never seen no bubbles, no circulation.. nothing.. i pulled the return line off in a last ditch check, it pumped out plenty at idle.

    • It’s almost always low power steering fluid or bad pump (or pump connection). Lack of power steering is more noticeable the slower you go.

  13. When I first start my car it is difficult to turn left, but after a few seconds it gets better. i have replaced the steering rack, but still got exactly the same issue. any advise?

  14. I changed my Steering pump and my belt and which my steering is very strong and hard to turn when I’m in low speed and this is really strong that I can’t help it. What will I do because my power steering oil is full. Help me

    • Make sure your power steering pump has a good connection. While the engine is running, have someone turn the steering wheel while you listen to the pump in the engine bay. You should be able to hear it working. It’s possible you have a bad connection if it was a new pump. There’s always the chance the new pump is bad as well as I’ve had that happen with a refurbished unit.

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