Hard-to-Steer Buick May Require More Than Strong Arms

I bought a new Buick Rendezvous in 2004. It has 226,400 miles on it now. It has been well maintained and driven by me, now a 77-year-old lady.

The power steering became hard to turn. So, my mechanic put in a new power steering pump, new serpentine belt, new high pressure and return hoses and a new rack and pinion. It is still hard to turn at times. Can you tell me what I still need to do? -- Jo Ann

Have you considered joining the YMCA, Jo Ann? Maybe getting into kettlebells? This is unfortunate. I'm guessing you've already spent at least $2,000 to $3,000. And they've replaced pretty much every component in the power steering system: the pump, the hoses, and most expensive of all, the rack and pinion.

I suppose it's possible that they installed a remanufactured pump or rack and pinion that's faulty. But that's not very likely. More likely, the "power" part of your power steering system is working fine, and there's something mechanical -- outside of that system -- that's making it hard to turn the wheels.

For instance, like most cars, your Buick has something called McPherson strut suspension. That's a gizmo with a shock absorber inside a coil spring. You have one on each front wheel. They attach at one end to the car's steering assembly and at the other end to the front fender. Up top, near the fender, there's a ball bearing, so the whole thing can swivel when you turn the steering wheel. Well, if those ball bearings are rusted or worn out -- which would not be shocking on a car with nearly a quarter of a million miles on it -- that would make the car hard to steer. You test that by disconnecting the strut from the steering knuckle and then seeing if it turns freely by hand. If not, there's your problem.

In any case, I think it's fair for you to go back to your mechanic and say, "I know you tried, but I spent a lot of money so far, and my car is still hard to steer. I still need you to figure out what's wrong and fix it, please."

He can then test the strut towers, the ball joints or anything else he can think of. Or if he reaches the limit of his abilities, he should refund the labor portion of your bill (probably about half the cost) and let you take the car to the dealer or someone else who's willing and able to figure it out.

I wish you the best of luck, Jo Ann. Write back and let me know the solution so I can be more helpful to my next '04 Rendezvous sufferer.

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