Older cars don’t have power steering at all, but if your car is fitted with power steering and this has failed for any reason, then you have an issue. The direct answer to ‘can I drive without power steering?’ is ‘Yes’ – the answer to ‘should I drive without power steering?’ is No.
So, ‘Can I drive without power steering?’ – only in an emergency, to get to a safe place to stop and seek help.
The power steering pump in your car is a hydraulic system and relies upon power steering fluid being present to function correctly. If you have a failure or notice a heaviness in the steering of your car then the first check is the presence of sufficient power steering fluid. If you find that you have a low level then this can be topped up easily and may rectify your problem. If you do have to top it up then keep an eye on the fluid levels, like any other fluid issues that you face the fact that it needs topping up may indicate a leak which will need fixing.
As always the advice is to check your owner’s manual before taking on a repair to make sure that you are using the right liquid and approaching it in the right way but if you do want to change the power steering fluid and make sure it is topped up then this is a general guide:
- Locate the power steering reservoir on your car and remove the cap. If you are going for a complete change of fluid then syphon out the existing into a catch-can.
- If you start the car and turn from steering lock to steering lock then this should force out all of the residues of the older fluid.
- Refill using clean power steering fluid – your manual will tell you how the pump will hold on your particular make and model.
- Ensure that the cap is on, restart the car and go lock to lock yet again with the steering – check levels again and top up if necessary.
- Always check the level once again after a journey. There can be air locks in the system which can cause a sudden and unexpected drop in level once you have driven the car.
If you are driving and lose power steering, or suffer a catastrophic failure, then you can continue to drive – although you will certainly notice the difference without the assistance of the hydraulic system! You should though only drive as far as the garage, or to get off of the freeway and call for help.
The biggest problem that you are likely to cause driving with failed power steering would be to damage the pump, that makes a possibly inexpensive fix into a really expensive one. Best to get it checked out before doing any more damage. The bearings in the pump will overheat without sufficient fluid causing the pump to seize. Once the pump seizes the serpentine belt will just crank right off of the engine – and in the process potentially damage the water pump, the A/C, the alternator. You don’t want to do that.
There is also a safety issue when you have to drag that wheel so hard to change the direction your driving is just not as responsive to road conditions and you could easily cause, or become involved in, an accident.
Keep your eye out for the following which may indicate low power steering fluid:
- A leak leaving fluid under the vehicle.
- Difficulty in steering.
- Noise when steering.
- Jerky steering.
How can you drive without power steering? Cautiously and for short distances! Changing the power steering fluid or topping it up is not difficult, and if you keep an eye on it you may be able to top it up and cure the problem. If there is a leak then you will need to top it up repeatedly and if that is the case then it is better to get the leak fixed so that you don’t have a sudden failure.