Whining or squealing noises from your power steering system are common problems in cold weather. What causes this? Is your power steering simply fed up with the bad weather? I know I do a lot of whining and squealing through January and February. Actually, though, these noises can indicate problems with your power steering. Fortunately, these problems are usually pretty easy to fix.
First of all, how do you know if the problem is with your power steering? Well, simply put, you’ll notice the sound gets worse when you’re turning. The sound could be coming either from your belt slipping on the power steering pulley, or from the power steering pump itself.
Your serpentine belt or accessory belt is made of rubber, which becomes less pliable when it’s cold. The stiffer belt has a harder time getting a good grip on the pulleys, and the belt might slip over the pulley a bit. That will cause a squealing noise. Now, that’s somewhat typical in cold weather, and will be worse the colder it is. It may not represent a huge problem, but you might want to check your belt anyway. Belts get stiffer with age anyway, so a newer belt might keep its pliability better in the cold. If your belt looks stiff or cracked, you should probably replace it with a new one.
The cold doesn’t just affect the rubber of your belt. It can also have an effect on you power steering fluid. Power steering fluid is a viscous material. In the cold, it gets thicker. That means that it’s harder for your power steering pump to move. The whining you hear might be your power steering pump struggling to get the power steering fluid going. Power steering fluid tends to get thicker with age anyway, so just like your belt, newer is more cold-resistant than older. A bit of whining, particularly when you’ve just started up, or when it’s very cold, might be normal. Otherwise you might want to check your power steering fluid. If the fluid appears dirty or gummed up, you’ll want to replace it.
In short, a little bit of noise, especially when it’s very cold, is probably to be expected. Persistent noise, though, might be an indicator to check on the condition of your power steering system.
Written by Dan Smolinsky.