A classic case of GMPSS: General Motors Power Steering Syndrome

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Dec 01, 1995

Dear Tom and Ray:

I have a 1986 Chevy Cavalier. When the temperature outside gets into the 40s or colder, the power steering will feel like it's not working for about 10 seconds. After that time, it seems to warm up and work normally. This problem seems to be more pronounced when trying to steer to the right. The power steering fluid level checks normal. Is this problem something I can work on myself?

TOM: Sure. Here's how you work on it yourself, Glen. Join a local gym and start a Nautilus program...concentrating on your upper body and particularly, on your right arm. After six months or so, the cold weather steering ought to feel a lot easier.

RAY: Actually, you'd better work on both arms, because eventually, it'll be hard to steer in both directions for longer and longer periods of time.

TOM: This is classic GMPSS: General Motors Power Steering Syndrome. For the last decade and a half, many General Motors front wheel drive cars came with defective power steering racks. And they exhibited exactly the symptoms you describe--difficult steering when cold, especially to the right.

RAY: After many years of giving customers the corporate shrug, GM finally admitted there was a problem, and agreed to fix the defective racks under three conditions.

TOM: Condition one was that the car had to be less than five years old.

RAY: Condition two was that the car had to have less than 50,000 miles on it.

TOM: And condition three was that the owner had to read "Automotive News" or somehow find out about this secret recall.

RAY: So since your car is an '86, I'm sure you're out of luck, Glen. GM has been recommending a reformulated low-viscosity, cold-weather power steering fluid for this problem, so you can ask your dealer about that. But when that doesn't help, the solution is rebuilt power steering rack for somewhere in the neighborhood of 400 bucks. Sorry, Glen.

Get the Car Talk Newsletter