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Hearing a power steering whine coming from your car can be a cause for alarm, but to tell the truth it’s unlikely that this annoying sound is an indication of a serious problem. If left unchecked, the source of these noise can lead to damage or parts replacement over time, but often there are a series of steps you can take to head off any potential problems before they get to that point.

Identify the Sound Source

On some older vehicles, slight power steering whine is a normal aspect of operation, often heard when turning the wheel at low speeds or when the automobile is parked. When that sound escalates to a higher-pitched squeal, however, it’s time to figure out exactly where it’s coming from. Sometimes the whine is generated by one of your vehicle’s belts slipping as it tries to turn the pulley associated with the power steering pump that drives the steering motor, while other times it emanates from the pump itself.

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Deal With the Pump

Steering arm

If the problem is the belt slipping or being noisy for another reason, you can try to apply belt dressing or inspect the belt for cracks or tears, which indicate it might need replacement. If the power steering whine comes from the steering pump, however, you’ll need to consider different options.

Most of the time, this type of noise is associated with a problem with the pump’s power steering fluid. In some cases, it may not have enough fluid to operate noiselessly. Check the fluid reservoir (usually located near the top of the pump) to make sure it’s filled to the indicator line. If it’s not, you may have a leak somewhere in the system and should visit your mechanic for a diagnosis.

Check the Fluid’s Condition

If the pump reservoir is full, it’s time to evaluate the fluid’s condition. As with any other automotive fluid, power steering fluid additives wear out over time and can’t provide the lubrication that the pump requires. If the fluid is a dark or murky color, then it’s time to replace it. On occasion, this fluid can also acquire air pockets that interfere with the pump’s operation and cause that irritating power steering whine. You’ll need to bleed the system or have it bled in order to remove the air and get rid of the noise.

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You can certainly change your power steering fluid yourself — you’ll need a drain pan and a turkey baster — and if you’re comfortable bleeding your brakes, you can also bleed your steering.

If none of these solutions helps with the noise, however, it might be time to get a professional to assess whether you need a new power steering pump.