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

A steering wheel that’s hard to turn can make driving highly unenjoyable at the least and even quite dangerous. Since most drivers do most of their turning at low speeds, this is when tight or stiff steering wheel will be most noticeable.

But why does this happen? Let’s look at some of the most common reasons your steering wheel is difficult to turn all of a sudden.

steering wheel hard to turn at low speeds

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

Reasons Your Steering Wheel Is 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 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.

See Also: Don’t Clean Your Steering Wheel Unless You Read This

#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.

Mark Stevens

130 Comments

  1. Hello
    I drive a Honda civic 2007 model. Lately I have been seeing leakages and I give it to my mechanic to check it. He replaced some holes and flushed out all the fluids and replaced it. But I have been experiencing stiffness at low speed after he worked on the leakage. How is the problem

    1. I don’t know that the two problems are related. Do you have an exact list of things your mechanic did?

  2. Hallow!
    I’m using Honda Cr-v. It started with hard steering on starting but later soft when car starts moving. The pump got stuck and was replaced. However this time steering is hard throughout.
    A mechanic recommended replacing steering rack which I’m yet to buy. Other causes of hard steering have been checked and perfect.

    1. Could be the steering rack or the power steering pump. Check your power steering fluid to make sure it’s topped off and the system is bled, but I’m guessing your mechanic already did that.

  3. I used toyota matrix 2004 model when the car is hot my steering got hard stiff and when i press brake it got stiff again but in the morning when i initially starts the car it will be soft….

    1. Sounds like a power steering issue. Those cars have hydraulic power steering pumps, right? I would check to make sure there is no air in the lines by turning the wheel from lock to lock (fully from one side to the other) several times and see if conditions improve.

      If you hear any groaning in the power steering while you’re doing this, it might be best to take it to a mechanic to have them take a look.

  4. I have a mitsubishi galant, my mechanic repaired the power steering pump because there was a leakage, after repairing and fixing it back, there were no leakage at all but stiffness and hard to turn I experience when turning at a low speed, and also a sound coming. but at high speed I cannot feel the sound and a hard turns. please advise

    1. There could be residual air in the power steering system. While parked, try turning the steering wheel from side to side, as far as it will go. Do this several times and see if the steering feel improves.

      1. I tried it already several times, there is a little progress, but do you think, it is time to change my steering pump as the mechanic only repaired it, or I will keep on turning the steering wheel from side to side and wait for a while until there is a better improvement?

  5. When you say turn the steering wheel to lock position do you mean just turn the steering wheel all the way to a certain direction until it’s stopped and can’t turn anymore then repeat the other direction?

  6. 2004 Ford Freestar we replace the power steering pump the high pressure line high pressure sensor the rack and pinion blot it out when it’s up jacked up we can turn the wheel when it’s on the ground we cannot

  7. I have a Mazda 6 antenza
    What is troubling me is that when driving the steering wheel becomes stiff and it displays lights on the dash board such as ABS hand brakes….morover the lighting on the board become dim….and when I open the trunk and take out a terminal the engine cuts off. ..the car fails to start
    Please anyone help

    1. Can you describe “when I open the trunk and take out a terminal” in a bit more detail? Are you unplugging something?

      I would check the power steering system to see why the steering is becoming stiff, but the fact that the dash lights are going dim makes me wonder if you have a bad ground or maybe a poor connection to the battery or alternator.

  8. I own a toyota camry 2000. The steering gets stiff and difficult to turn when i hold down d brakes and gets free when on motion. Please kindly advise.

    1. Check your power steering fluid to make sure you have enough fluid. If it’s low, fill the power steering reservoir and then move the steering wheel from lock to lock several times while the car is idling.

  9. I recently had the power steering pump and fluid flushed/replaced due to pump failure. I’ve just started experiencing stiff turning at low RPMs so I had the rack replaced. I’m still expecting that issue intermittently but not as much as before and now am having RPM/shifting/reving issues above 2 RPMs just 1 hour after getting it back. Thoughts? Related?

  10. Hi, i have a 2011 kia cerato koup i just changed a steering coupler and after assembling it back the steering become so hard. please help

    1. Fill the power steering reservoir and turn the steering lock to lock many times. Top off as needed. Don’t hold the wheel fully locked to one side. This is best done with the front wheels off the ground.

  11. I have a 2004 suburban and I was having hard troubles turning the steering wheel whether its going in reverse or trying to turn and I put fluid in the power steering liquid and it worked instantly this morning and turned like it was nothing and now I’m having issues right now with the same problem, my guess is there is a leakage.

  12. 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?

    1. 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.

  13. Hi Sean

    Audi A5 2014 , the steering just became so hard to turn. It happenned while driving. Please help.

    1. 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.

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