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

Last Updated on October 26, 2021

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.

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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

steering rack leak

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.

Related: 4 Symptoms of a Leaking Rack and Pinion

#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

old 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.


106 thoughts on “5 Causes of a Steering Wheel That’s Hard to Turn”

  1. Hi im driving a Toyota Corrolla 1.4 with 4zz engine, 1.5 years ago i replaced the pump seals when it was leaking.it work perfect but 2 days ago it start making sqeaking noise again but this time the is no leaks i found that the transmission oil was on low even when its hot a decided to add some oil. the noise has not stopped and the oil level shows that it is high. and to make whose is that the oil has changed to a black colour and the steering is becoming hard to turn. does it mean i need a new power steering pump?

    • It might need a new pump, or it could be an issue with the steering rack which is a little more serious. It’s hard to say without someone looking at it. I’d take it to a shop to have it checked out.

  2. I have a Audi A4 2010 2.0tdi Quattro. The steering wheel is stiff and does not turn but when I accelerate it loosens up. I have had the belt and pump replaced and has been bled. Any ideas what it could be?

  3. I have a BMW E90 320d 2009. My crankshaft pulley broke the car went into limp mode and I had no power steering I then replaced the crank pulley but I still don’t have power steering. I never had any power steering concerns before the crank pulley

    • Perhaps the power steering pump was damaged when the crankshaft pulley broke. Have you tried bleeding the power steering pump to make sure there is no air in the system?

  4. I have Toyota Noah Azr 60 steering wheel is hard and stiff when I start the car but when it start to accelerate it loosen, I changed the fluid but still the same case, what is the priblem

    • Sounds like a power steering issue. There may be air in the power steering system. Have you tried bleeding the system after changing the fluid?

  5. Truck has power steering but when setting still it takes 2 hands to turn the wheel I good fluid level and no noise also seems to be a rattle in the steering column that is new the truck has been setting more than usual and no hard hits or pot holes all problems started after it sat for 2 weeks

    • What is the year, make and model? Some vehicles offer less assist with their power steering.

      It wouldn’t hurt to inspect the steering rack to make sure there aren’t any problems. Also make sure the power steering system doesn’t have any air in it.

  6. Steering hard to turn at a complete stop after heats up a little. It’s RDX 2008. I have changed the pump but still having the same problem especially when I want to reverse and probably turn at almost a stop.

  7. I have a Ford f150 and had power steering issues. I replaced the rac and the hoses and I still don’t have power steering any suggestions

    • There may be one or more electrical connectors that attach to the power steering system, such as the power steering pressure switch. Check to make sure these are all plugged in. What year is your F150, and what engine does it have?

  8. My 2002 Toyota Camry is hard to steer after parking for several hours (or overnight). The problem disappears once the car starts moving. Steering rack issues???

  9. My Mitsubishi challenger’s steering be came stiff. It was hard to steer without effort . I replaced the rack with a wrecker supplied one .. it was slightly better so I thought I should have gotten a new one . This ‘new’ one fro the wrecker blew some seals but it was on warranty so I got yet another one . It too is stiff. I’m thinking it probably wasn’t the rack to begin with but either the power steering pump or steering bearings or the uni jointed part that goes from the steering wheel to the rack . I’m going to put the car into the mechanics .. any thoughts?

  10. I have a 2020 Kia Forte, I just got back from vacation and it felt stiff, I assumed it was because I hadn’t driven the car for a week but once I took a left turn it was considerably more stiff than turning right. There’s been no problems with the car so I’m not sure what it could be

  11. I have Lexus RX 330, the steering and the brake suddenly hard on slow moving after a while drive. After a while on stop; I started it and it work fine again. Any urgent fix solution.
    Thank you

    • Try bleeding the power steering pump by turning the steering wheel from lock to lock several times. Does it get easier to steer?

      The brake pedal is also hard to depress?

  12. Hi Sean!

    Great article – thank you so much!

    For someone on a budget, what would you recommend they do first? Probably #5 – change your power steering fluid – correct?

    Appreciate it – will pay it forward

    • Yes, make sure your power steering fluid is fresh and that the system is bled.

      Sometimes you need to work the steering wheel back and forth from lock to lock to make sure there is no air in the system. Do this a few times once the fluid level is topped up and see if it improves. Check the fluid level while you do this to make sure you don’t run the reservoir dry.

  13. Hi Sean,

    On Saturday my Mazda 3 Sports 2014 was driving perfectly. No issues or leaks whatsoever. I parked it overnight. The next morning when I went to my car to drive it out of the spot, the steering wheel was suddenly super stiff, impossible to turn. I was stuck on the road and had to get it towed to auto repair. The tow guy told me something with power steering fluid but auto repair said that the power steering module needs to be replaced and it’ll cost around $2k. What are your thoughts?

    • That’s strange, I’m not sure what the problem is. Does the vehicle still have power steering fluid, or did it leak out overnight? Were there any lights on the dash? Did the power steering work intermittently, or was it consistently broken since the next morning?

  14. Hi Sean!

    My name is Vusi. I’m driving 1982 TOYOTA Ke70. The steering is hard to turn, its need more power when its not moving and when moving by idling. May up please find what’s wrong with it.

    • I’m not familiar with that model. Does your car have hydraulic power steering? If so, check the power steering fluid level. You may need a new power steering pump depending on what the problem is, but get the issue diagnosed at a local mechanic so you don’t waste money replacing parts that were working fine.

  15. Hi! I have a 2008 Honda Crv & my steering wheel is very hard to turn, I’ve unlocked it but still hard to turn. I have power steering fluid in it too. I would appreciate your advice. Thank you.

    • Do a visual inspection of the engine bay to make sure the accessory belt is still turning the power steering pump pulley. Next you can try bleeding the power steering system of air by turning the steering wheel from lock to lock several times. Does it get any easier to turn the wheel as you do this?

      If you don’t uncover anything from those tests, you may have to bring the vehicle into the shop so a technician can figure out what’s wrong with the power steering system.

  16. I have a 2008 Buick LaCrosse. I stopped driving it a couple days ago when I noticed on my way home getting off the interstate I could barely turn left as if power steering failed. However going forward and turning right it works just fine. Only left. Fluid is at the right amount. It is worth noting that just recently my front end was aligned and the driver side tire rod was replaced but Dobbs said it has nothing to do with it. Any ideas? Besides this article but specifically turning in one direction.

  17. I m driving audi A3 2005 the steering is stiff and the car doesn’t use steering fluid.. When I turn it on the the furn starts running, when I diagnose it, it says it a steering torque sensor, so I don’t know if it’s wiring falt or what

    • I am not very familiar with Audi power steering systems, but that sounds like a sensor used to ensure the correct operation of the electric power steering system. I would have the vehicle inspected by an Audi mechanic. Make sure to tell them which code you found.

    • Sounds like you may be having power steering issues. You’ll probably have to bring it by an Audi shop to have it looked at to learn what caused the problem.

  18. Hi Sean!
    I’m using a Toyota Highlander. I noticed a Consistent leaking of the steering fluid. So I took it to the mechanic and had the hose changed. Since then the leakage has stopped significantly, but the steering wheel gets a bit hard to turn on a spot when the engine is hot. Any ideas on what to do pls?

    • Wild guess, but perhaps the power steering pump was starved of fluid due to the leak and this damaged the pump. Sounds like your mechanic knows what he is doing, I would take the car back to the shop and tell him about the heavy steering feel.


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