How To Deal With Failed Steering When Driving

Last Updated: 10/05/2022

If there is one mechanical issue on a car that you’re really never expecting to happen, then it’s probably a total steering failure.

As scary as the prospect of not being able to steer at all sounds, thankfully, it’s incredibly rare that this happens.

One much more likely scenario is a power steering failure.

Power steering is now common on cars and essentially uses a power source to assist the driver in turning the steering wheel.

It makes steering much lighter and easier and as such makes vehicles a lot more comfortable to drive.

A loss of power steering can be caused by several things, from a simple leak through to something more complex (and expensive), however, while losing power steering may make handling the car a bit tougher and steering a little more exhaustive, it does not necessarily mean that you’re going to have an accident or not get the car home.

A couple of decades ago, it was very rare for any cars to have power steering.

It was instead limited to heavy duty vehicles, such as buses and lorries, which were much heavier and harder to steer.

Cars were fine without and heavier less-nimble vehicles than today were driven every single day without power steering.

You will notice a failure almost instantly because steering will become much tougher.

It’s not just turning corners when this will become obvious, but simple tasks like changing lanes on a motorway will have you feeling a considerable difference when turning the steering wheel even slightly.

What You Will Learn

There are obviously varying degrees of power steering failure, so our guide is going to aim to give you a general, all-round piece of advice for how to deal with a situation like this when it arises.

Much of the time, with certain considerations, it may be possible to continue driving a short distance with a power steering failure, so you should consider your own circumstances in that sense.

This guide will look to give you general advice for how to act in the immediate aftermath of a power steering failure.

To make sure we stay consistent with our other guides, we have split this up in to the following sections:

  • Step-By-Step Guide
  • Video Demonstration
  • Hints & Tips
  • Useful Information
  • Final Thoughts
  • Further Resources

Step-By-Step Guide

A power steering failure can often be avoided by taking some simple steps toward maintaining it.

Knowing what to look and listen out for is key.

Therefore, this step-by-step guide is going to take you through from the early stages of recognising signs of an imminent power steering failure through to what to do in the event of it occurring while driving.

Maintenance & Spotting Signs Of Impending Failure

  • First thing’s first, and that’s knowing the signs that your power steering could be about to fail. If you hear odd noises when steering, then this is a tell-tale sign that something could be up. It could be a light whirring, whining, moaning or shrieking noise when turning. This is likely to indicate a really simple problem that is actually based on car maintenance – your power steering fluid is low. It may have leaked, or just be naturally low. So, check that under the bonnet – your vehicle handbook will tell you where to look.
  • If you need to top it up, then the manual or handbook will also advise what fluid to use.
  • Secondly, you may notice that your power steering is becoming less efficient. The steering may become slightly heavier over time, for example. This could be a warning that it will fail altogether soon, so get it checked out for peace of mind.

Dealing With A Power Steering Failure While Driving:

  • If your power steering fails while you’re driving, then the steering will become very heavy and the car may feel uneven, hard to steer or just weird to control. In this instance, you need to begin slowing down. Check what vehicles are around and begin to decrease your speed.
  • If you’re travelling on a motorway or at high speed, then you need to move to a slow lane and possibly even the hard shoulder if it’s really bad.
  • Turn on your hazard lights to warn other drivers that you have an issue.
  • Gradually steer the car toward the side of the road. This may be incredibly hard to do, so don’t try and wrestle the car over suddenly. Try to move it over gradually and in-line with your speed and road conditions.
  • Once stopped, turn off the engine when you have applied the handbrake and put the car in neutral.
  • It may be worth turning the engine back on again and seeing if the steering has righted itself. If so, it may be safe to drive home or to the nearest garage or safe place.
  • If all else fails, call your breakdown service.

Video Demonstration

Please Note: Unfortunately there aren’t any failed steering tutorial videos available for UK audiences so we used this American video as the tips provided are still relevant. If you know of a failed steering training video which is suitable for a UK audience, please let us know. Alternatively, stay tuned as we will be creating our own in the foreseeable future.

Hints & Tips

While a power steering issue is most likely to be the cause of any steering failure you may suffer, a jammed steering lock may also occur.

This is most common when a car has been parked up – you look to turn the ignition on again but the steering wheel is locked in place.

This is usually caused by ‘dry steering’ – that is moving the steering wheel while the car is stationary.

If the load on the steering is too much, then the steering will lock.

A quick wiggle of the steering wheel while turning the ignition should free it up and have your steering working again instantly.

Useful Information

More often than not, a car will still be drivable with a power steering failure but you should definitely analyse the safety of the situation you find yourself in to consider whether it’s safe to continue.

Don’t forget, driving is about being in control of the vehicle – if you feel like you’re not in control, then the police may have the same view if they were to pull you over.

This leaves you susceptible for being prosecuted under one of several different laws of the road.

Final Thoughts

Power steering failures are thankfully fairly uncommon.

Again, if you’re prepared for them and driving in the correct manner (i.e. within speed limits, both hands on the steering wheel, etc), then it’s also pretty safe and controllable, even if it is tougher.

Give yourself every chance of avoiding it altogether by carrying out simple maintenance.

Further Resources