Power steering noisy and having brief, intermittent failures

(Douglas) #1

Hi all! Finally finding a bit of time to post on here again after several weeks of work travel…

Drove my '89 XJS to work today and noticed that the power steering was whining something awful (it had made a little noise now and again during extra tight turns before but today was substantially different–loud squeal at the slightest turn). It was cold this morning (about 25F) but I’ve driven the car in such temps before without having this issue. The noise on its own makes me think to check the power steering fluid level–I know where/how but didn’t this morning as I understand it’s best checked when the engine is cold? By the way there was no change in the symptoms below between a cold and a warmed up engine.

Despite the noise, I still have the whole range of steering with powered assistance but at a few random points along the range the wheel would become very stiff very very briefly almost like it was locking (not just hard to turn as is no power assist but actually locked in place) but then it would free up and the noise would continue but the wheel was easy to turn as usual again.

So what’s going on? Presumably I’m low on fluid and will discover that shortly? Is it normal for low fluid to allow generally easy turning save for at a few random spots along the rack?

And here’s the real puzzler to me–there’s positively no fluid leaking to the ground beneath the car. If it’s losing fluid (which I suspect it is and will be confirming soon) then where is said fluid going?

Hoping this isn’t a whole steering rack job but fully aware it might be! If I’m lucky and it’s just lines/hoses in the system, which ones (and where) are best to check and rule out first?

Thanks very much!

(Robin O'Connor) #2

Have you discounted a loose belt? With the cold temps every thing is working harder.

(Greg) #3

I’d check easy things first. Definitely loose or bad belt or low fluid. When is the last time it’s been changed? Dirty fluid?

Also, if you turn wheels full right, hold a few seconds, then full left, hold a few seconds, and do that a few times, that should get any air out of system, if there is any.

(Carl Hutchins, Jr. ) #4

I’ll bet on a bad belt!!!


(Douglas) #5

Update: Belt in decent shape and proper tension. BUT, PS Fluid level was very low, below the entire dipstick, when I checked it. Topped it up to max fill level with Lucas (no not that one…the American one) PS fluid. Turned the car on and purged any air with hard right then hard left as Greg mentioned.

The noise, the brief locking up of the steering, and everything is ENTIRELY gone!

I did not put any kind of leak stop in with the PS fluid. I am going to monitor the fluid level closely and see what happens. This was the first time in my ownership of the car that I checked/dealt with the PS fluid. So maybe it was just a little low ever since I had it and then eventually that became an issue. I suspect there’s a leak somewhere though since the problem came on rather suddenly.

Question remains: where’s the leak and, assuming there is one, where is the leaking fluid going/getting contained seeing as it’s not coming out under the car at all!

Thanks for your all’s help!


I have a 1987 XJS that’s my daily driver. Had to add power steering fluid for several weeks to stop the moaning when turning. Like you I didn’t see fluid on garage floor (other than what I spilled). Since I’m not mechanically inclined I managed to get it to my mechanic. Pump & hoses are fine, but both bellows had come to end of their life- grossly engorged and not doing their job. I got new rack and bellows- driving and turning wheel a joy once more. Maybe your bellows need replacing? Good luck.

(Kirbert - author of the Book, former owner of an '83 XJ-S H.E.) #7

Bellows don’t retain fluid, they just keep dust out. If your bellows were full, the seals inside the rack had expired.


Mentioned I’m not mechanically inclined! Thank heaven my mechanic only services Jags and knew real the problem quickly. Just know replacing rack cured my steering issue and no more screaming from power steering pump and no more need to add fluid.

(Greg) #9

I recommend using 1/2 Maxlife ATF synthetic, and 1/2 Maxlife ATF stop leak. I’ve done this on all my old cars, and have yet to have a P/S leak (touch wood)

(Douglas) #10

Thanks for the suggestion! If this PS fluid leaks out that will be my next go to attempt!

(Douglas) #11

Yeah a new rack may well be in order but I will be very happy if that’s a down the road fix. Was promising that the new fluid is still all there after about 10 miles driving!

Thanks again all!