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Discussion Starter #1
2003 Subaru Impreza Outback Sport.

What causes the wheels to straighten out "automatically" after a turn? What would be wrong with the car if that isn't happening?

My car has just developed a steering problem, where the wheel is slow to spin back fully to the straight position after a turn. Unless I manually bring the wheel back all the way, the car moves in an arc in the direction of the turn. If it is a left turn at an intersection, it moves in a wide arc into the oncoming traffic lane. If a right turn, then towards the curb.''

The car isn't pulling to the left or right when driving straight, and there's no shimmy or noise. The steering wheel feels as if its binding up. There's some sort of "resistance". This wasn't a gradual problem. It happened all of a sudden.
 

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05 Xt beatin' to an inch of its life
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Put the front end in the air and check operation-full left and full right lock a few times. Still happening?-check fluid and ps belt and pump for issues. Not happening?-check tires, alignment, suspension/steering components.
 

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2005 OBXT Limited, VF37, STI intake, 5MT
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I would bring the front end up off the ground, and with the engine off, give the steering wheel a few lock-to-lock cycles.

If the wheel feels "notchy" or binds in certain places, I would look at the steering intermediate shaft (the double u-joint shaft that connects the steering column and steering rack) and the rack itself. Sometimes the u-joints in the intermed shaft bind up and don't allow for smooth rotation of the wheel. The rack could also have a gummed-up or damaged orbital valve and not allowing power steering pressure to bypass.

If all is smooth, I would double check the alignment and condition of the power steering hoses/pump. A clogged/pinched return line or stuck pressure valve in the power steering pump can cause similar issues.
 

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03 H6 OBW & 06 WRX Sportwagon
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strut bearings might be bad.

does the car have a lift or any suspension mods?

are there ANY other problems: new drips, new knocking noises, recent work done or recent wrecks or 'curb taps' ?
 

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2010 2.5 CVT Limited
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What causes the wheels to straighten out "automatically" after a turn?
Steering caster geometry provides the self-centering or return action of the steering wheel.

Since you stated this has recently happened and was not a gradual problem it is not likely to be an alignment problem. Also, most cars these days do not have adjustable caster without adding camber plates or eccentric bolts/bushings. So unless you have hit something to put the steering out-of-whack; the suggestions to look into the steering linkages and strut bearing plates are where I'd look.
 

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Discussion Starter #6
Thank you guys for the advice. I was searching for the symptom on the internet and think I may have found the reason. I think I may have broken the power steering pump myself out of my own ignorance :(

I didn't put this fact in the question: right before this started happening, I had come around a blind corner on a back road, to find a delivery truck parked on the street and blocking the lane. I had to stop fairly abruptly, so that there wasn't much room between the front of my car and the back of the truck, and I didn't want to back up towards the blind corner. I turned the wheel very sharply to the left to clear the left rear corner of the truck and started to pull out into the oncoming lane to go around it when I saw a couple of cars coming from the opposite direction. I waited for them to pass, which took about 20 seconds. I had my head out the window a little to see.

I just read that keeping the steering wheel turned fully for more than 10 seconds can damage the pump. What is the nature of the damage when that happens? Does it cause the pressure valve to stick? If so, is there a simple way to release a stuck valve?
 

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Discussion Starter #7
The wheel does feel "notchy", RoughDiamond. Would that symptom also be consistent with the situation I appended, where I had the wheel turned fully to the left for 20 seconds? Did I weaken the pump so that the steering linkage seems to be binding?
 

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06 OBW 2.5, 05 Forester, had 03 H6 OBW
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strut bearings might be bad.

does the car have a lift or any suspension mods?

are there ANY other problems: new drips, new knocking noises, recent work done or recent wrecks or 'curb taps' ?
Ball joints can do it too. Usually they wind up and 'pop' though!
 

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03 H6 OBW & 06 WRX Sportwagon
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listen fo a new whining sound and, while idling (maybe have a helper turn the steering wheel...)" look inside the PS fluid reservoir for bubbles. If no bubbles, then the linkage mentioned by RD above could be making repetitive 'notch' feelings at the same spot in wheel rotation. If it get better after a squirt of PB blaster or other lube, def. the issue.

If you DO see bubbles/foam in the PS tank, that is well documented and is often fixed by an o-ring, or hose and hose clamps.

On occasion, the best fix is replacing the pump with a used one from a wreck.

check car-part.com for instance or local pick&pulls

if anyone disconnects the steering - DO NOT spin the steering wheel - tie it down with some twine or something.
 

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2001 VDC/SC One of a Kind
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To answer your questions:

Pressure creates heat. The steering system works with pressure to assist in easy operation of the steering. That's so we don't have to have giant steering wheels that allow for human torque to steer a manual box. Prolonged pressure increases heat beyond normal operating ranges. It is possible that the prolonged heat on the system may have created and issue with a relief valve or allowed for bits of the hose's interior to come loose and move around lodging in a valve.

As to "notchy": Strut mount bearings will create "nothcy", ball joints, intermediate shaft, worn worm gear in the steering rack assembly, as well as hydraulic fluid passage blockage.

The easiest thing to do is to first check the suspension/steering parts. Those listed above. Then if you don't find binding in a bearing or joint, flush the power steering system and see if it improves. You can check for the vibration of the notchy steering by putting you hand on the part while someone turns the steering wheel. Palm on top of the strut mounts, hand on the lower control arm, etc. But in order for it to be effective, it has to have weight on the wheels. So maybe visit a suspension shop that can put it on the lift.
 

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2005 OBXT Limited, VF37, STI intake, 5MT
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The wheel does feel "notchy", RoughDiamond. Would that symptom also be consistent with the situation I appended, where I had the wheel turned fully to the left for 20 seconds? Did I weaken the pump so that the steering linkage seems to be binding?
A tired pump wouldn't come across as a notchy feeling, per se, but usually a heavy steering or pulsating feeling when holding the wheel off center while the engine is running.

I'd make sure all the moving parts are free and go from there.
 
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