Every vehicle has a steering rack. Its purpose is to translate the rotation of your steering wheel to the position of how your wheels are pivoted to the left or the right. Your steering rack has an electric or hydraulic power steering system, and it can become damaged over time. Here is how you can tell if there is a problem with the steering rack that needs to be repaired by a mechanic.
Did you notice that there is a puddle of fluid underneath your vehicle, and you are not sure what it is? Check to see if it is power steering fluid, which is typically red in color. Keep in mind that your coolant may also be red, so you'll want to verify the color of that fluid as well so that the two are not confused.
If you do see red fluid underneath your vehicle, it is likely due to a leak caused by worn-out seals within the system. Check the power steering fluid levels to confirm that they are low, and then take your vehicle to a mechanic to have them investigate the problem further and find the exact cause of the leaking fluid. Topping your power steering fluid off is not going to fix the cause of the problem.
Your steering rack needs the right amount of fluid pressure to make turning your steering wheel easy. Without that fluid pressure, you are going to have a reduced hydraulic force that makes it difficult to turn the rack from side to side. When you go to turn your steering wheel, you may notice that you have to put a lot more force on it than usual, with it even being difficult to turn it. This is not only a sign that you have a problem with your power steering rack, but it is a safety hazard as well.
The purpose of having power steering fluid is not only to create hydraulic pressure but help lubricate moving parts. If you have a lack of power steering fluid you are going to have more metal rubbing against metal and cause a grinding sound. This will happen when you are turning your steering wheel and causing those metal components to rub.
Loose Steering Wheel
You can also have a loose steering wheel, where you can turn your steering wheel a small amount and the tires do not turn. It's likely due to there being a lot of wear within your steering rack, or something as simple as an adjustment screw needing to be made tighter.
For more information, contact an auto service shop.