Driver steering the wheel of a car


4 mins

What the power steering warning light means for your vehicle

December 12, 2023

Driving a car with manual steering can be physically demanding. That's why, for several decades, car manufacturers have been utilising power steering systems to ease the driving experience. A car’s power steering warning light will turn on when there is a problem with this steering system.

In this blog, we’ll dive deeper into what power steering is, what can cause the power steering warning light to turn on and what you should do if this light illuminates on your car’s dashboard.

What is power steering

To start with the basics, power steering is a feature that makes it easier for drivers to steer their vehicle, particularly when it's moving slowly or stopped. Instead of exerting physical force to turn the wheels, drivers can rely on the power steering system, which leverages hydraulic or electric power to reduce the effort needed.

Traditional power steering systems use a hydraulic pump that moves power steering fluid into specific areas in the steering system. When the steering wheel is turned while the engine is on, the pump assists by filling one of these areas, making it easier to steer the vehicle.

In contrast, Electric Power Steering (EPS) is a newer technology that uses an electric motor to assist in steering. When you turn the steering wheel, the EPS control unit senses the input and provides the appropriate amount of assist. One of the primary benefits of EPS is its efficiency: it only uses power when the steering wheel is turned, and it doesn't require power steering fluid, unlike its hydraulic counterpart.

What causes the power steering warning light

The power steering warning light, often symbolised by a steering wheel icon and an exclamation mark, is a car warning light designed to alert the driver to issues within the power steering system. There are several reasons the power steering warning light could turn on. These are:

Hydraulic power steering systems

  • Low power steering fluid: power steering fluid is essential for smooth operation of the steering system. If the power steering fluid is low, the warning light will turn on
  • Power steering pump failure: if the pump that pushes the fluid through the steering system fails, the power steering light will turn on
  • Leak in the power steering system: a leak in the hydraulic system can cause the fluid to drip out, triggering the warning light
  • Faulty power steering belt: if the belt that drives the power steering pump is broken or slipping, the system won't function properly and may trigger the warning light

Electric power steering systems

  • Electrical faults: problems with the wiring within the power steering system or power steering motor will cause the warning light to illuminate
  • Software issues: modern electric power steering systems are controlled by software. Any software glitches or failures could potentially turn on the power steering warning light

Is it safe to drive with the power steering warning light on

Determining whether it’s safe to drive with the power steering warning light on largely depends on the severity of the issue.

In many cases, an illuminated power steering light indicates a significant problem, making the vehicle harder to steer. This can pose a safety risk, particularly at higher speeds or during sharp turns. Therefore, if the power steering warning light illuminates, it is advisable to get it checked by a professional as soon as possible.

Find out what’s causing your power steering warning light to turn on by booking a repair in Caura.

What to do when the power steering warning light turns on

Don’t panic if the power steering warning light turns on.

If you’re driving a vehicle with a hydraulic power steering system, pull over when it’s safe to do so and check if the power steering fluid is low by following these steps:

  1. Switch the car off and wait for 5 minutes to let the engine cool down
  2. Open the bonnet of the car and locate the power steering fluid container – the cap of the container will have ‘power steering fluid’ written on it
  3. Check if the power steering fluid is filled to the minimum level. If it’s below the minimum level you’ll need to top it up. You can do this yourself if you have the power steering liquid or at garage
  4. Place the lid back on the container and secure tightly
  5. Turn the car on and check if the power steering warning light illuminates

If the light turns back on, or if you’re driving a vehicle with an electric power steering system, you will need to get your vehicle checked by a professional mechanic. Book a garage near you in Caura.

Will a power steering warning light cause an MOT failure

Yes. If your car's power steering light is illuminated during an MOT test, and the power steering system is indeed malfunctioning, your vehicle will fail the MOT test.

The MOT tester will conduct a comprehensive assessment, including a road test, to detect any potential issues that may affect your power steering's performance.

One such issue is a power steering fluid leak, which is often due to faulty seals, joints, or other components. If your car's reservoir lacks power steering fluid or if there's evidence of fluid leakage, it will result in an MOT failure.

Another common defect that leads to MOT failure involves defective power steering that's apparent during driving. For instance, you might experience uneven steering stiffness (harder to turn in one direction compared to the other) or your vehicle may pull to one side while in motion.

Worried about the power steering warning light? Download Caura and get it checked by vetted mechanics near you, at exclusive pricing!

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