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To understand what a power steering return line is, you first need to understand power steering. So, let’s start there. And it begins with some bad news: You’re not as strong as you think you are. I know that hurts to hear, so feel free to take a second. Your car’s power steering is a system that gives you extra power to help steer your car, so you don’t have to do all the work yourself. I’ll spare you the ins and the outs of the system, but here’s the basic part: Your power steering system is a hydraulic system, which means it relies on fluid to provide extra pressure, and therefore power. When you turn the steering wheel, fluid is used to provide the extra power necessary to turn the wheels, making your life a whole lot easier. The power steering fluid is transported through rubber or metal hoses called the power steering hoses. Creative, I know. The power steering pump sends the fluid to the power steering rack through one hose (a high pressure hose), and it returns to the power steering fluid reservoir through a second hose (a low pressure hose). That hose that sends the fluid back to the reservoir and pump is called the power steering return line. Your car has a lot of hoses, and it’s not uncommon for them to wear out. They can become brittle with time, which often leads to cracking or snapping. If this happens to the power steering return line, it will need to be replaced.
First rule of cars: Leaks are bad. Did you really need me to tell you that? If the power steering return line goes out, then your car will start to leak power steering fluid. You may notice a pool of liquid under your car, so before you blame your dog, consider that there might be something wrong with your car. Your car has a lot of fluids, so a leak can represent any number of issues. A busted power steering return line isn’t the most common thing to cause a leak, but it’s not unheard of. If you’re familiar with your car liquids, and you notice that the leak is power steering fluid, then it may be the return line.
Well, hopefully you can put two and two together here, and figure this one out. If your car is leaking power steering fluid, you may end up with low power steering fluid levels. Who knew? It’s a good idea to get in the habit of checking your car’s fluid levels. You only need to do so every few weeks, it only takes five minutes, and you’ll feel like a little bit of a badass when you do so. If you notice that your car is low on power steering fluid, then you’ve likely got a leak. And it might be coming from the power steering return line.
Ever driven an old car, one that doesn’t have power steering? If so, you’ve noticed how heavy the steering feels. It’s not great. If your car has inadequate pressure in the power steering system, the power steering won’t work very well, and the burden of providing the power to your steering wheel will fall on you. And you’ll feel it. The power steering return line isn’t responsible for providing pressure to the system. The other hose does that. However, if the return line is broken, your car will leak power steering fluid. As the fluid level drops, the power steering system won’t be able to provide as much pressure, and the effect of the system will be diminished.
The power steering system exists for a reason. It makes steering easier, which isn’t just a luxury. Easier steering makes your car safer, because you can steer better, and your car is more responsive.
It’s still safe to drive your car if it has a broken power steering return line. But it won’t be as easy or effective to drive, so you want to get a replacement sooner rather than later.
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