Looking for a straight answer about repairing power steering.

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | May 01, 2004

Dear Tom and Ray:

My son has an '87 Ford Escort wagon with about 80,000 miles on it. His recent visits to two different mechanics read like an episode of "Curb Your Enthusiasm." One said, "You went to that guy??" And the other said: "You went to that guy?? His dad sneaks over here to have me work on his car." Anyway, the problem is the power steering, which went out. My son had it disconnected a couple of weeks ago. One mechanic says he can probably drive it without the power steering for a couple of years, and it's not worth hooking it back up to diagnose it. The other mechanic predicts dire consequences if he doesn't hook it back up and get it fixed. Any ideas? He just finished being unemployed for nine months, and would like to hang on to the car until he gets a leg up on life. Thanks. -- Cindy

RAY: Well, I'd have to side with the guy who predicts dire consequences, Cindy.

TOM: A lot of people say: "Well, we all used to drive cars without power steering ... so what's so bad about having the power steering disconnected? It's just a little harder to steer, right?" Wrong, actually.

RAY: Driving a car with a broken power-steering system is harder than driving a car that never had power steering in the first place. That's because the two systems use very different steering racks.

TOM: The steering rack on a car without power steering has just two pieces: the rack and the pinion gear. You turn one and the other one moves. But a power-steering rack has all kinds of valves and seals inside it that add resistance and make the rack harder to move. So, dire consequence No. 1 is that the car is a lot more difficult to steer.

RAY: If your son has to swerve to avoid a little kid or a guy gabbing on the phone and driving an SUV, he might not be able to do it, especially at low speed, where steering effort is increased. And you know as well as I do that if he hits a kid, he might never get a leg up on life.

TOM: The second potential dire consequence is that the power-steering fluid that WAS running through his steering rack -- until it got disconnected -- is what lubricates the steering components. So right now, they're not getting any lubrication. And if he keeps driving it like this, eventually something could bind up and he could lose all ability to steer the car.

RAY: So, he really should fix this, Cindy. As his mom, you might have to loan him the money to make the car safe enough to drive.

TOM: Oh, and as a parent of three, I can also offer you this advice: Before you loan it to him, spend a private moment with it so you can kiss it goodbye!

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