Many motorists have a "love/hate" relationship with their vehicle. They rely on this piece of equipment more than anything else in order to get back and forth to work and earn their living. They also rely on it to keep all the occupants safe and to run reliably to keep within the monthly budget. From time to time, however, your trusty ride is going to play up, and this time, you've noticed a strange whining noise coming from the front of the vehicle. What could this be, and what action should you take?
The Likely Issue
If this whining noise materialises when you are turning a corner, it's likely that it is linked to the power steering system. This component is built into modern cars to make it easy to turn those heavy road wheels at slow speed without any strain. A special type of fluid is needed within the system, and you have to maintain these levels carefully if it's going to work properly. If the fluid level is low, the steering pump will have to work very hard, and as it does so, it'll generate the noise that you're hearing.
What Should You Look For?
It's unusual for power steering fluid to evaporate by itself, so you need to see if it's leaking somewhere. Go round to the front of the car and have a look behind the driving wheel on each side. You'll be able to see where the steering rack is connected to the wheel, and there will be a rubber covering known as a "boot" here. If you can see any dampness on this rubber boot, it could indicate a leak. Look a little bit further back, and you should be able to locate the actual pump itself. Have a look to see if you can see any dampness on that component as well.
What Does This Mean?
Power steering fluid has a different consistency to water or engine oil and is brown or orange in colour. If you see this type of fluid on the rubber boot at the steering rack end, this likely indicates that the rack itself has failed, and you may have to get it replaced. If the leakage is next to the power steering pump, it's likely that the seals have perished, and those parts will need to be swapped out.
Why You Need to Act
Either way, you should never ignore this issue, as, if the pump itself fails completely due to low fluid levels, it could lock up, and in the worst-case scenario, you could lose control when driving at any speed around a corner. A seizure like this could also cause other components to fail, such as the water pump or the alternator, so there's a lot at stake.
Putting Things Right
Have auto mechanics look at the evidence that you've found.