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.

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.

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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.

 

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

  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

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

      Reply
    • I went in a store and when I came back out The wheel wouldn’t turn after sitting for around 20 minutes it was fine a guy at auto zone told me it a sealed system and probably got a air pocket in it.Is that possible?

      Reply
      • Same problem with my honda civic. In Cold morning I can drive well but when it become night I cant drive as my power steering wheel got stiff when turn.

        Reply
  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.

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
    • Initially, i have a lighter (but still stiff) steering wheel. Once i drive for long period, the steering seems to become stiffer and very difficult to turn. What could be the problem? My car is an Audi A5 B8 Sportback

      Reply
  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?

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
    • I have changed steering pump and rack in my Toyota Camry xle still the steering its too strong especially when you want to turn or reverse.what could be the cause?and what can I do to cushion the effect?

      Reply
  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

    Reply
    • 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.

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

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
    • Is the u-joint (steering knuckle) connecting the steering shaft to the rack is overnighted (especially if the steering rack was replaced) it could bind up during turns and be stiffer through certain angles before loosening up again. Before replacing rack and or pump, check this u-joint as it could be an overlooked item in a steering system diagnosis. Always tighten steering u-joint bolts according to the manufacturer’s torque specs.

      Reply
  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?

    Reply
  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.

    Reply
  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?

    Reply
  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.

    Reply
  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?

    Reply
  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.

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
    • 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?

      Reply
      • 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.

        Reply
  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.

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  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?

    Reply
  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

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  15. I have replaced my steering pump, it become free in turning but when the engine runs for a while the steering becomes too hard. I later serviced my steering rack, but still the steering is still not good. Am tired of this. Any help

    Reply
    • If the steering wheel is completely locked, the lock mechanism behind the wheel has probably failed and needs replacing.

      Reply
  16. My steering get hard when I start the car and am trying turn to any direction it get easier again when am on speed until I want to make use of major turn

    Reply
    • Is your power steering pump working? It would be more noticeable at lower speeds. A quick test is while the car is idling, have someone sit in the driver’s seat and turn the steering wheel while you have the hood open and listen for the power steering pump working. It should be noticeable.

      Reply
  17. Hello guys, My optima 2015 steer got sticky after changing clock spring..
    the Steer now doesn’t return to 12 o’clock when I make a U turn.. I need help

    Reply
  18. My power steering suddenly stopped working when turning left/straightening up from a right hand turn, fluid is good at higher speed I can steer left but only for a quarter of a turn then it gets very hard to turn, when I turn the steering right it’s totally fine, it’s a 2008 Mercedes e320 cdi sport, thanks in advance.

    Reply
  19. Hi. Had car accident at 20mph. Car was damaged to the left passenger side. Took it to garage for new headlight and left wishbone. Also had tracking done. Since then, Steering wheel is very hard to turn left, but lighter turning right. Not sure what it could be. Many thanks

    Reply
  20. I have a 2004 Chevy avalanche and the steering is fine except for when I turn left at slow speed and then it is almost impossible to turn I can turn right easy and I have already replaced the power steering pump what should I check?

    Reply
  21. I am having a similar issue , I have a 2007 gmc envoy I just replaced the serpentine belt , two weeks later when Turing to the left or right at low speeds the car feels like it’s stuck and hard to turn , if I straighten the wheel it get better. Like trying to turn into a parking spot at a mall for example.. the ps fluid is fine , there are no leaks at all , I triple checked the serpentine belt as well, does any one have an idea as to what’s going on or point me into the right direction!?

    Reply
  22. I have a 2000 Ford Focus and I got the power steering fluid completely replaced but unfortunately it is still very stiff to park it or take corners. I suppose it must be the pump or the serpentine belt maybe. Help!!

    Reply
  23. im used to drive elantra with perfect smooth steering turning and very light then i shifted driving altima 2010 and i notice that altima steering is hard especially at idle or making parking. not so hard but hard compare to elantra. when running slowly or faster the steering of altima si soft and smooth. why when i turn the streeting in idle is little hard? please advice

    Reply
    • Every vehicle is a little bit different, and steering feel depends on both the weight of the vehicle and the amount of assist your power steering provides. If you are sitting still, the wheel will be harder to turn because there is more resistance between the tire and the road.

      Have you ever turned the steering wheel in a garage or concrete driveway and noticed the little circular patch you leave behind? This is because the tire is not rotating while you’re parked, and it actually scrubs some of the tire off onto the ground. When your vehicle is in motion, you’re putting less energy into twisting the tire before the wheel starts to turn in the direction you want to go.

      Reply
  24. Please help me. I had a cj5 jeep straight six engine. when i turn on the engine warming up then i heard squeaking noise, i did not mind for 5mins. When i open the hood cover i saw the pulley belt breaks. i hurried turn off the engine, when i pulled out the pulley rubbers it cut 3 parts, and when i replace a nice one, it began to stiff and very hard to turn, even though the pulley belt is in perfectly placed. What should i do?

    Reply
  25. I never knew that thick power steering fluid can cause the steering to be tight and hard to turn. Last night while driving home, I noticed that my steering wheel was hard to turn while I was going slow through the neighborhood. It’s probably smart to take it to the shop today to see what’s causing it to be hard to turn.

    Reply
  26. 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?

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  27. 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?

    Reply
  28. 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

    Reply
    • 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?

      Reply
  29. 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

    Reply
    • 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?

      Reply
  30. 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

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  31. 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.

    Reply
  32. 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

    Reply
    • 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?

      Reply
  33. 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???

    Reply
  34. 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?

    Reply
  35. 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

    Reply
  36. 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

    Reply
    • 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?

      Reply
  37. 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

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  38. 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?

    Reply
    • 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?

      Reply
  39. 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.

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  40. 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.

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  41. 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.

    Reply
  42. 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

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply

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