You might be surprised to find that there are some fixes to a car you can do yourself without getting a mechanic involved. Changing a tire and checking the oil are some basic things you can do for your own car maintenance.
However, going a step further with air conditioning filters or a power steering belt is also entirely possible. If your power steering is going out and you want to save time and money by avoiding a mechanic’s shop, changing the power steering belt is actually fairly easy to do.
There are a few things you need to know before getting elbow deep in your engine. The make and model shouldn’t matter as much as the year your car was manufactured. Cars before 1990 will have a V-shaped pulley system typical in six and eight-cylinder engines with the power steering pump near the front of the motor.
Otherwise, you’ll find a serpentine-style belt that snakes through several parts of the engine. Depending on your particular car, you made need to go through the hood (top) or lower engine cover (bottom) to reach the belt. Once you know where the power steering belt and pump are, we can get started.
Purpose of a Power Steering Belt
First off, let’s talk about power steering. Power steering helps the driver steer much easier by taking on a lot of effort off of the steering wheel. Hydraulic or electric actuators add energy so the driver has to provide less effort to turn the wheels while moving.
Without power steering, the wheel will be so difficult to turn that it might even feel locked in place, which can be a fatal flaw when driving at high speeds.
The power steering belt is whatever belt is attached to the power steering pump. This can be the serpentine belt that’s attached to everything or the drive or steering belt that’s almost exclusively just for the power steering pump.
The belt, which is somehow attached to the engine no matter what year model the car is, runs along the pump to provide the hydraulic power. The belt is not present in the electric or electro-hydraulic systems.
When to Change It
The power steering belt doesn’t usually break or slip off without warning, so you’ll hopefully get a heads up first before something bad happens. Even so, checking the belt every few months just to be on the safe side can’t hurt.
For early warning signs, you may first notice there’s something wrong with the power steering belt while driving. The belt will give a noise, usually squealing, grinding, or a sort of chirping from around the engine area.
When you do check on the belt, notice if it was trying to slip off of the grooves. A slipping can be caused by stretching and overuse, meaning it needs to be changed. If it was not slipping, it may still not be good for use. If there is debris in the power steering belt, uneven rib wear, random cracks, oil contamination, pilling, etc. then you’ll want to get a replacement.
Power steering may not sound overly important or integral safety at first glance but it very much is. If you notice anything at all wrong with the power steering belt, you should find a replacement right away. If you wait until the belt becomes too damaged or breaks, you will not be able to drive the vehicle with bringing danger to yourself and others.
The power steering is a very important part to the make-up of a vehicle and its engine, so taking good, responsible care of it can keep everyone safe.
If you’re somehow in a position where a mechanic and replacement isn’t a choice, you can do a couple of things in the attempt to extend the belt’s lifespan. For one, you can retain the belt by adjusting the pulley’s within the engine to ensure the belt doesn’t slip. You can also apply a belt dressing for better grip and friction.
Please keep in mind that these solutions are very temporary and, depending on the severity of your belt, may only last you one final drive to the mechanic or auto parts store. Don’t assume these will fix the problem as much as they will help the symptoms. If something’s wrong with any of the belts, get the problem fixed as soon as possible.
How to Replace the Belt
Your very first order of business is to find the right power steering belt to act as your replacement. The old belt should have a part number on it which you can cross-reference with the make and model of your car. You can always bring the old belt with you to an auto parts store after removing it, but keep in mind that your old one may be stretched far more than a new one would be.
Once you have the new belt and you’re ready to get started, the next step is to disconnect the vehicle’s battery. While purely a safety precaution, disconnecting the battery before you start work so heavily on the car could potentially mean the difference between life and death. If you have to jack the car up, remember to take all safety procedures with this, as well, but the batter is a step that people often miss.
Now, after determining where the steering pump is and going through the hood or lower cover, you’ll have to see if the alternator belt needs to removed first. Sometimes, the alternator belt can be in front of the power steering belt, making the latter impossible to remove with the former still in place. This is common in four-cylinder engines.
If this is the case for you, refer to your vehicle’s manual on how to remove the belt. You want to remove the alternator itself, just the belt from the power steering pump so that you can access the part you need. Once you’re done with your repairs, remember to replace this very integral part.
Finally, you can start on actually replacing the power steering belt. After you’ve found the power steering pump and removed the alternator belt if necessary, you’ll have to unbolt the pump in two places.
Do not remove the power steering pump from the engine completely and don’t remove the bolts themselves. You’ll simply want to loosen the bolt on the upper mount point then the bolt on the lower mount point, in that order.
Loosening these will move the pump just enough to replace the belt without giving up any tension. If the bolts are corroded, spray the bolts with penetrating oil, like WD-40, allow them to soak for a few minutes, then attempt to loosen again.
Taking the Old Belt Off
Now you’re finally at the stage where you can remove the belt. Remember to do this process carefully. You don’t want to break the old belt, which could cause injury to yourself or the vehicle. If the belt is too difficult to remove, you may have to unbolt other pulleys in the pump to provide enough wiggle room. You can also use a drive breaker bar by inserting it into the square opening on the belt tensioner. Rotate counterclockwise until the belt can be removed.
Once the old belt is removed you can now put in the new one. Make sure the beveled or teeth side of the belt fits into the pulley grooves, then weave the belt everywhere it needs to go. Use a screwdriver or a similar tool to put the belt firmly in place as the tension will make it a little difficult to handle, which is exactly what is supposed to happen. Pull the pump away from the mount once the belt is attached to give the right amount of tension.
Now comes the clean up after the repair, which is just as important. For replacing the bolts on the pump, you’ll want to do the lower one first then the upper one. Be sure to tighten all the bolts on the other pulleys that you loosened, too. Now’s also a good time to replace the alternator belt you might have removed earlier to reach the belt you needed, depending on the type of car you’re working on.
Once everything is reconnected to your satisfaction, it’s time to add a liberal dose of belt dressing to the belt itself. Belt dressing is a substance used to increase friction between the belt and the pulleys it works with. The dressing will usually look either black and thick or clear and thin. Whether you apply this with a brush or aerosol can, remember to just apply a lot to the belt so that it can be conditioned for a healthy lifespan.
Finally, you’ll want to reconnect the battery and test out the car. Ideally, you can perform the test by cranking the engine and moving the steering wheel while someone else watches the belt under the hood to make sure everything’s performing as it should.
If you have no one with you or the belt can’t be seen from the hood area, you can take it for a small, ten-mile test drive while around no other vehicles are pedestrians, just in case something goes wrong. When the test is complete, check everything again to make sure nothing loosened, and you’re good to go.
If something is wrong, like the power steering doesn’t work or the belt is making squeaking sounds, you’ll want to take a second look at your handy work. Of course, if you feel that all of this is above your head or paygrade, you can still always take the vehicle to a mechanic to fix it up for you.
This can be a simple fix depending on what kind of car you have. If the belt is like one of the serpentine belts that go through almost all parts of the engine, you may want to go straight to a mechanic as these can be tricky and you may end up doing more harm than good.
Even if you don’t feel totally confident after reading and watching guides like this one, still go to a mechanic. Anything you break while failing to fix the belt will also have to pay for, so the adventure to save money could potentially fail horrendously.
While the fix itself is simple, there are a few details you’ll need to watch for if you’re doing this yourself. For one, the belt can’t be too tense or the steering will be too difficult, but the belt can’t be too loose either or it’ll slip right off. If your car is making strange sounds but the belt seems almost fine, the problem may be elsewhere just waiting for someone to find one way or another.
Still, if you have some experience with working on vehicles, you feel fairly confident in your ability to do this, or you simply don’t have much of a choice, then the fix is entirely possible so long as you have some time to learn and take everything one step at a time.
Don’t forget safety procedures when it comes to the battery or jacking the car up. Also, don’t forget to replace everything you’ve moved, loosened, or took out while working on the car. The power steering won’t work too great if the alternator belt isn’t put back, after all.
Lastly, once the belt is finally replaced and your car is back in business once again, keeping an eye on this integral part of your car can prevent you from having to make another replacement in the near future. All you have to do is check on the belt to ensure it isn’t slipping, collecting debris, getting worn down, or any of the other symptoms of a worn down we mentioned earlier.
Also, reapplying belt dressing for when the belt is first showing signs of age can extend the life of the belt until it finally does need another replacement. Above all, make sure your car is healthy in all its parts to ensure the most money saved and longevity on your vehicle for as long as you can.