I'm trying to help a friend diagnose/fix a problem with the steering on his 1996 Taurus wagon. When the vehicle is not moving, turning the steering wheel is extremely difficult, even moreso than if the power steering had completely failed. With even a slight bit of forward or reverse motion (around 5mph is plenty), steering works perfectly well. I tried revving up the engine while stopped in case it was a matter of rpms to the power steering, but that didn't help either. We jacked up the front wheels and took off the tires one at a time to check things out, and getting either wheel off the ground made the steering work properly. Upon visual inspection, the only thing that looked like it might be out of order is the ball joint on the tie rod for the driver's side, whose boot seemed a bit less regular in shape than the passenger-side one. But I didn't get a definite impression something was wrong with it.

Any idea what the source of the problem could be and how to fix it?

Update: Here are some pics of the ball joints and tie rods:

Driver's side Passenger side

  • How long ago did this problem begin? Feb 26 '13 at 0:37
  • It got bad gradually up to when he stopped using the car in November. Feb 26 '13 at 1:21
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    Judging from various forums I saw on the net, the problem is probably a rusted joint somewhere, but it's not clear to me how to determine whether it's in the ball joints or the U-joints in the steering column, or possibly somewhere else. Feb 28 '13 at 2:45
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    Its also possible that it IS failed power steering. Turning a car with broken power steering is harder then a car without power steering at all, because your having to force the fluid through the pump, and back into the rack with every turn of the wheel.
    – Applehat
    Mar 1 '13 at 21:23
  • But then wouldn't it be hard while moving too? Mar 1 '13 at 21:46

Wanted to post as comment, but I do not have enough rep.

Sounds like power steering failure. I had a belt that snapped on my '92-98 Corolla and had to drive through two seasons without power steering. At a still, and on reverse speeds, the steering was pretty hard to turn, however as soon as the car moved forward, turning the wheel was a breeze. High RPMs did obviously nothing to help.

Try up or downshifting while driving at a certain speed to see if at lower RPMs the steering is harder to turn. It could give you a clue in whether it's the power steering or the ball joints (or some other mechanical/greasable part) that are at fault. Another clue: at a stop, upon trying to turn the steering wheel, you should feel the car working harder (the RPM should sag a bit, but it will mostly remain constant). If you do not feel it working at all, it might indicate complete power steering failure.

If you are able to jack the whole front of the car, you should be able to turn the wheels with your bare hands, without much force. If you hear squeaks or feel friction somewhere, it might not be your power steering.

turning the steering wheel is extremely difficult, even moreso than if the power steering had completely failed

You might not be able to compare steering-assisted and non-steering-assisted car that easily, unless you have driven your Taurus without it.

@Applehat: I do not know if most power steerings are similar, but on my car it definitely was not that bad.

  • It's easy to turn the steering wheel with just one side jacked up -- either one. That was with the engine running. I didn't think to try with the engine off. Mar 6 '13 at 2:02
  • If you are able to jack both sides, try turning the wheels by pushing on them, without using the steering. It should give you a better feel for friction or similar issues.
    – sleblanc
    Mar 6 '13 at 2:06
  • Sounds like a good idea. Mar 6 '13 at 2:27
  • This could be construed as an answer, if it was formed more like a general troubleshooting guide. So I would leave it as an answer, if mods would consider it. Also, if properly worded, it could get some votes, and even get accepted if it helps to solve the problem, and no better alternative available. However, thank you for acknowledging it as a comment, many new people just plop useless answers all the time. And welcome to Mechanics.SE.
    – theUg
    Mar 6 '13 at 16:12
  • I don't know what it ended up being - my friend took it to a mechanic and spent nearly $1000 having this and another small issue or two fixed. Anyway this answer was well-written and helpful so I'll go ahead and accept it rather than leaving the question without an accepted answer. Jun 10 '13 at 0:51

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