If you are meticulous about maintaining your car to make it a reliable commuter, you check under the hood and under the chassis, and do a 360-degree visual inspection with a flashlight at regular intervals. If you do these things every day, then you’re obsessive, not meticulous. Chances are, your car is always in tip-top shape.
As the vehicle ages, however, parts wear out and break down even with conscientious care. Catching the early signs of a failing part may save you from a frustrating mechanical malfunction and costly repairs.
For instance, when you hear whining or groaning noises as you turn the steering wheel, this could mean the power-steering fluid levels are low or the system is not pressurized adequately. Checking the power-steering reservoir might reveal low fluid levels, and under the car, you might notice a red to brownish oily puddle. A thorough inspection of the steering-rack assembly, the power-steering pump, and the related hoses will likely reveal moist or oily residue around them. All this means only one thing: There’s a leak, and you have to isolate the source since the leak could be coming from multiple locations.
The power-steering system of most vehicles relies on a hydraulic setup that exerts very high pressures. At idle, the average pressure is 80-125psi, and when you turn the steering wheel, the resistance from the rack and pinion can build up that pressure to as high as 1,000-1,500psi.
The high-pressure hose used by the system is designed to withstand seven to eight times the highest average pressure, but heat exposure, vibration, or movement will cause it to deteriorate them over time. The hose typically leaks where it’s weakest and most stressed: at the crimped junctions. On occasion, it may be rubbing against sharp edges on the engine bay, causing it to fray.
Replacing a leaking hose could still be a challenging chore, even if you’re up to the task of doing it yourself. It may be easier if you have a lift or a set of jack stands. Before diving into the engine bay, make sure you have all the tools you need, including safety equipment like goggles and gloves. When loosening and tightening critical nuts and bolts where a box wrench won’t do, I always rely on flare nut wrenches. They provide five points of contact with the nut instead of just two points for the common open wrench.
Here’s how to replace your car’s power-steering hose:
1) Raise the car and rest it on jack stands.
If you can, put jack stands on all four corners. If you’re hiking up just the front of the car, put wheel chocks on both sides of a rear tire.
2) Remove the wheel near the side where the hose joins the steering-rack assembly.
Doing so will give you extra space as you carry out the repair. Your back will thank you for it, too, and so will your knuckles, which won’t get bruised or scratched.
3) Drain the power-steering fluid reservoir.
Disconnect the supply and return hoses. Note that plastic reservoir tanks can have fragile nipples. After loosening the hose clamps, pull the hose out with a gentle twisting motion. Never force it out—you can break a hose with minimal effort. If it doesn’t budge, use a right-angled pick to pry it out.
A wide basin under the area should catch all the fluid that drips from the tank and the hoses. Collect the fluid in a sealed container and dispose of it properly. I leave jugs of discarded fluids at a local fuel station. Don’t mix them with other fluids; instead, label the container properly, so its contents can be recycled. When poured down the sewer, the fluids will eventually seep into our drinking water.
4) Work loose the joint fitting nuts on both ends of the hose.
They could be very tight, but the extra room you now have after removing a tire and elevating the car on jack stands will permit extra leverage. Flare nut wrenches allow you an unyielding grip. No rounded nuts, no unnecessary cursing.
Longer hoses will have a clamp in the middle bolted to an anchor point to keep it in place. Other hoses will have support clamps near the fitting angle to reinforce or prop up the coupling. Unscrew them prior to the removal of the hose. Note how the hose is routed and bolted on.
5) Compare the new hose to the old one.
They should match exactly, including the type and size of the hydraulic threads and the angle of the fittings. When they are angled, the orientation is critical to ensure proper fit. The new hose may come with new O-rings that you need to lubricate lightly with power-steering fluid.
6) Position the hose, recalling how the old hose was laid out.
The fittings should align properly without excessive torsion or changes in angle. Don’t over-tighten the threaded connectors; the o-rings will provide enough seal. The higher the pressure, the tighter the seal.
7) Install the new hose, reinstall the components you’ve removed, and do a test-start.
Reinstall the reservoir tank and fill it up with the recommended type of power-steering fluid or automatic transmission fluid (ATF). Make sure to recap the tank.
After tightening every threaded fitting, hose clamp, bolt, and screw, then removing all the tools in the engine compartment, start the car. Let it idle, and if everything sounds shipshape, turn the steering wheel lock to lock several times. You may hear rhythmic groaning or wailing noises, but they will gradually decrease and disappear. Turning the wheel pressurizes and circulates fluids and burps up air in the system.
8) Turn off the engine and check the reservoir tank.
It will need to be topped up to max level. Restart and turn the wheel repeatedly until the noises disappear and the reservoir doesn’t need refilling. Don’t overfill, and do a final check for leaks.
9) Remount the tire and tighten the lug nuts to torque specifications.
Drop the car from the jack stands and go for a test drive.