General Question

Ela's avatar

What is my car trying to tell me?

Asked by Ela (6503points) November 22nd, 2011

While driving, my car recently started to make a groaning type of noise when I turn the wheel. As the car warms up, the sound is less prominent and becomes more like a moan (but is still there). There are no idiot lights popping on, so I am unsure if it just needs power steering fluid or if it is a sign of something major. It’s a 2005 Ford Freestar and was last serviced in July. It is a bit over due, but has gone longer between services with no ill effect.
If it is the power steering fluid, does the car need to be running or the engine warmed before I add it?

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24 Answers

tedd's avatar

Assumption from what you’ve given me…. your serpentine belt is going out. In most cars the power steering is powered by the serpentine belt, and as it goes out you’ll begin to notice steering become increasingly difficult. As the car warms up and the belt expands (from it’s more brittle worn out state cold), this problem goes away.

I would get this fixed asap, as many other things are also attached to your serpentine belt, in particular the alternator, without-which your car will not run.

Other symptoms would be squealing sounds when the car is first starting up, or when you make a hard turn (which would put more power draw on the belt from power steering). The squealing is your belt. There are fluids you can put on your belt that will “help” this problem temporarily.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

Have you checked the steering fluid level?

Ela's avatar

@Adirondackwannabe I haven’t checked the fluid mainly because I’m not sure if it’s best that the engine be idle, running or cold.
It sounds like it’s probably the belt as @tedd said. I can’t afford any major car repairs (especially this time of year) so it would just be my luck that’s what it is.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@EnchantingEla Let me look a little. Check the belt tension to see if it has some slack. Usually the noise is more of a squeal if it’s the belt. How many miles on the car? Have you had anyone look at the wheel bearings?

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@EnchantingEla Ford website says run the engine until warm, turn the wheel to each side, then shut the engine off and check the level.

john65pennington's avatar

If all else fails, take your car to AutoZone and they will check this for you for free.

mowens's avatar

It is telling you goodbye. :)

digitalimpression's avatar

My first thought was power steering fluid. It’s really not that crucial the state your car is in when you fill it. As long as there is fluid in there. If the level is fine it could be something a little worse like a power steering pump. Then again, it could have nothing to do with power steering.. it would take more information to know for sure.

tedd's avatar

@EnchantingEla Serpentine belts aren’t too bad too change, pending the car. In the past I’ve been able to change my own, with some help, in a couple hours in the driveway. If you know anyone handy with cars they can probably help ya out.

Coloma's avatar

Yes, get it checked asap. I had mine go out with the alternator once and lost ALL steering! Scary!
Fortunetley I was still in my neighborhood and not on the freeway.

Ela's avatar

@Adirondackwannabe Thank you so much. I really appreciate you looking that up for me : ) I don’t know what has or hasn’t been checked on it. Jiffy Lube changes the oil and is suppose to top everything off except the brake fluid.
@john65pennington Thanks for the info on AutoZone, I just may have to give them a call.
@mowens That would be fine if I could afford some different wheels! Since I can’t even afford Christmas presents for my kids, I’d rather it not say goodbye right now ; )
@digitalimpression That’s pretty much all the info I have. There are no kabangs, thumps or clunking noises. Just a groaning that turns into moaning, like it’s tired and stiff then loosens up as the car is driven (but not loose enough that the sound goes away).
@tedd I’m on my own here. Family is 5hrs away with brothers being 8 and 12hrs away.
@Coloma My kids and I are going to my niece’s for t-day this weekend… (5hr drive)

Ela's avatar

I’m going to check the power steering fluid and pray it’s low ; )

Coloma's avatar


Girlfriend…do NOT make that drive without a checkup! :-(

jerv's avatar

I can hear a Ford turning a block away. The power steering in them has been atrociously loud for as long as I can remember.

Ela's avatar

I don’t know if it makes a big difference but it’s a 2004 (not ‘05). I could only see 2 belts. Are there more? Both looked to be in excellent condition. The power steering fluid is way down, but I don’t know where it should be since there is no “fill to here” line that I could see. Just a warning on the cap “Do NOT overfill!”
My windshield wiper and overflow from the radiator is also down. Makes me wonder if they topped the fluids off…

I would if it was just me @Coloma. No way will I with my kids in the car, though ; )

tedd's avatar


Sorry for the big link. Your serpentine belt, looks like a serpent (go figure right?) It wraps around several gears/pully’s/what-have-you’s and one of them will be your alternator. Typically it is visible when you lift the hood. On a front wheel drive car it will likely be on the left if you are in front of your car looking forward at it (ie the right side of the car).,r:2,s:0&tx=63&ty=66

I think this is a picture of a freestar with the hood up. On the left, just above the warning sticker on the black plastic, is a cast-aluminum cylindrical piece… I can’t tell from this picture but it probably has copper wiring “inside” of it. That is the alternator, the belt attached to the alternator is your serpentine belt.

tedd's avatar

@EnchantingEla As far as checking if the belt is going bad… If you’re not well versed in belts it’s pretty hard to just tell. As the belt gets old it wears out and stretches, meaning it will have a harder time catching, which could explain why you have issues with the steering when starting the car. It also can wear down. Cracks, bumps, tears, etc… all signs of it going bad. But typically these are difficult to see unless you’re staring at it from point blank range with a flashlight.

As for the power steering.. how do you know it’s low if there’s no line? lol… There should be a line definitely. My familiarity with power steering is just in checking the color. It shouldn’t be dark brown or black. If it’s either of those it could be your problem. It should be clear or red. You could have a power steering fluid leak, but you would notice puddles collecting under your car. If you’re unsure, you could add some power steering fluid (again being sure you don’t overfill it), turn the car on and then check for a leak. In case it’s a slower leak, I would keep an eye on the ground under where you park your car for several days at least.

Ela's avatar

It was just the one belt I saw. It went up and down and all around! Just like you said : )
It looks to be in excellent condition and is nice and snug with little play. I did see a MIN and MAX on the front side of the power steering cup thing and it looked to be below the max so I stuck my finger in it LOL It registered halfway up my fingernail so it looks to be one and a half knuckles down ; )

Is power steering fluid universal or is it make/model specific? What’s the best brand to get?

tedd's avatar

@EnchantingEla As long as you’re above the MIN line, you have enough steering fluid. Ideally you should be right in the middle of the two. If you check the belt again, be careful not to get anything caught in it (if the car is on).. Unless you don’t want to keep whatever that object is.

To my knowledge power steering fluid is universal. But it never hurts to ask the guy at the auto-store to be sure.

Again, be sure to check the color of your fluid. If it’s darkened, then no amount of new clean fluid is going to fix that problem. It would need to be siphoned/flushed, and replaced with all new fluid.

john65pennington's avatar

I forgot to tell you that if you start your engine and turn the steering wheel tight all the way to the left or right, you should hear a loud squeeling noise, if you are low on steering fluid. This is a good way to tell and the guys at AutoZone are waiting for you.

Ela's avatar

I bought some power steering fluid and poured almost the entire 12oz in. The wheel still makes a deep groaning noise when I crank it but other then that the noise is now gone (knock on wood, scratch plastic and rub a red head for good luck). I will keep an eye on my parking place for a leak @tedd
I get the feeling they didn’t top the fluids off on my last oil change. I had bad vibes about them at the time and definitely will not be going back there for my next servicing.
AutoZone or bust @john65pennington!

Thank you all so much for the help and replies!!

Response moderated (Unhelpful)
Ela's avatar

Update: you were correct @tedd ; ) While picking up my son from school, my car started smoking, smelling like burnt rubber and would not turn so…. I called John at Grahame Tire (who is tied with my oral surgeon btw, as my newest bestest friend lol). He sent out a tow truck which took me and my son home and my car to the shop. My power steeping pump had froze up (I think that’s what he said) so that and my serpentine belt needed replaced. He took care of everything for me and had me zoom-zomming the very next day : )

tedd's avatar

Glad to hear it got fixed up.

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