Anyone who’s ever driven a car with manual steering knows that it can be a great workout. To make driving a bit easier, automakers have been using power steering systems for a few decades. Original power steering systems used a hydraulic pump to move fluid to the chambers of your steering system. When you turn the flywheel with the engine running, the pump fills one of the chambers to help you turn the wheels.
Electric power steering systems have started to take over as the technology has become less expensive over the years. Electric power steering systems do not require any fluids and are generally quieter; for this reason, more and more vehicle manufacturers are beginning to use them. A warning light on the dash will let you know when a fault has been detected in the steering system.
What the power steering system warning light means
This warning light tends to be in the shape of a steering wheel, sometimes with an exclamation point. For cars with electric power steering, the light may say EPS, for electric power steering. Either way, the warning light will be yellow or red.
Hydraulic power steering systems: A common reason the warning light comes on is low power steering fluid. You should stop if you see this light come on and check the fluid level immediately. Cover it with the correct type of liquid and the light should go out.
Note that a low fluid level means there is a leak that needs to be remedied as soon as possible. Adding fluid will only be a temporary solution until there are no more leaks. If the fluid level is not the problem, a certified technician will need to further diagnose the problem and repairs will likely be necessary. With the light illuminated, you will not have power assistance to help you drive. You will still be able to drive, but it will be very difficult to turn the wheel, so you will need to be very careful when driving.
Electric power steering systems: The warning light will not come on for liquid levels as no liquid is being used. In fact, simply restarting the engine can sometimes turn the light off. Like your computer at home, small errors can occur that make the computer think there is a real problem. A quick reboot and the computer will see that everything works as intended. If this warning light does not turn off after rebooting, then the problem needs further diagnosis. Like hydraulics, power assist will be disabled for the time being and steering will be difficult when this warning light comes on.
Is it safe to drive with the steering system warning light on?
No. Without power steering, the vehicle will be very difficult to maneuver. You will need to be very careful when driving, so it is best not to use the vehicle at all if you can avoid it. Otherwise, lack of steering assistance could lead to a collision.
Replacing the power steering fluid at regular intervals will help keep your steering system in tip-top shape. If you have a problem with your power steering system, our certified technicians will be able to help you identify any problems.