Akio and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad power steering pump
An impending severe winter storm and a 20 year old Land Rover, what could possibly go wrong?
You'd think by now when starting a wrenching job for which I have no specific directions provided by the FSM, I should default to "remove everything". Hell just pull the engine! In the long run it'll save time and effort.
And yet I never learn this lesson.
Today I set out to replace the low pressure power steering hose on my 2001 Land Rover Discovery. On Tuesday, February 8th, after braving the beginnings of a winter storm in my Volvo C30 to pick up the Land Rover from storage, the power steering decided to unceremoniously break. Googling the symptoms (heavy steering and foam in the reservoir) seemed to indicate a failure in the low pressure/suction hose.
This failure, in truth, was not without warning. For about a year the power steering pump would groan for the first few seconds on startup, and then be fine. I now know this sound was the pump expelling air due to a slow leak, but hindsight is bullshit.
With a modest coating of ice on the roads, 6+ inches of snow looming in the forecast, and the Land Rover being my only functional on-site vehicle, I needed to get it fixed. After scooting under the car and confirming the leak was most likely, as suspected, from the low pressure return hose, I ordered the part next day delivery from O'Reilly Auto and waited.
But, of course, the weather had other ideas and they part was, you guessed it: delayed. Luckily, it was only delayed a day and came in in the early afternoon on Friday, February 12th. However, while the temperature the previous day, when the part was supposed to be delivered, was a balmy 25F (-4C). The high was now 19F (-7C), and I wasn't able to start working on the car until 5PM when it would be much, much colder.
However all I need to do is replace one hose and less than two feet long at that. How hard could it be?
Quickly I identified the end attached to the power steering pump was going to be a pain to remove. It was attached to the pump with the factory snap in hose clamp, or whatever you want to call it, and the hose was so covered in dirt, fluid, and grime that I couldn't actually identify where the snap on the clamp was to release it. Access to the hose and clamp on all sides was thwarted by the exhaust manifold, a splash shield, the fan assembly, the engine, and the intake ducting. I was going to have to take some stuff off. How much? I guess we'll find out.
As removing the intake and air box is fairly straightforward, I started there. While this gave me enough room to touch the hose clamp, I couldn't quite get the reach to remove it, so I proceeded to remove the splash shield underneath. This opened things up dramatically, and I could begin to spray all manner of chemicals on the hose to clean off the dirt and grime.
Eventually I removed enough gunk to discover the clasp was facing the driver's side fender, partially occluded by the high pressure outlet piping, but still somewhat accessible. After trying a multitude of random tools and bits of metal, I eventually got the clasp off. VICTORY!
No amount of tugging, pulling, shouting, crying, or hitting seemed to want to make this motherfu- hose budge off its mooring. For a failed hose, it sure had a strange desire to remain on the car!
After removing the radiator shroud in an attempt to gain better access, I eventually got decent enough purchase with a knife to cut the old hose loose and was treated to a golden shower of old power steering fluid.
I grabbed the new pipe and quickly ran into my first problem: it wouldn't go onto the hose barb. While my leverage wasn't ideal, it was far from terrible and yet I could not get it to fit around the barb. Then I had a brain wave: the current ambient temperature was 13F (-11C) and rubber isn't known for being particularly compliant at 70F (21C), let alone below freezing.
I needed a way to heat up the pipe enough to convince it to mate with the pump.
I guess now is as good of a time as any to talk about warmth. I know there are a lot of gear heads who wrench in the cold regularly, but I am not one of those. Usually I can either put something off, pay someone to do it, or rearrange cars so that I can at least be in the garage for winter wrenching. However, due to circumstances almost entirely my fault, none of these were options. However, knowing it was going to be very, very cold, I came to this party prepared. On my lower half I had: long johns, thermal running pants, scrubs, socks, and sheepskin slippers. On my upper half I had an undershirt, long sleeve shirt, polo, hoodie, two catalytic hand warmers, scarf, hat liner, hat, work gloves, and an old FR jacket. On top of all that I had the dual burner propane heater blasting away between 10,000 and 30,000 BTUs, depending on setting.
Surprisingly, I was not cold! Even when laying on the ground! Only my hands needed occasional attention, but otherwise I was able to zip/unzip the first two layers to effectively manage my temperature depending on activity level.
I should also point out that while the above work took only paragraphs to draw out like a high school English paper, we're talking hours of work here. By the time 8PM rolled around, three hours after I'd started, I'd only managed to seat the tip of the hose.
Eventually a small electric heater got everything mailable enough to effectively seat, and finally I had a hose on.
Next up I needed to tighten the hose clamp. However, given that I barely had enough room to get a small pry bar in to remove the OE clamp, finding the correct angle to tighten the hose clamp proved... challenging.
And by "challenging" I mean "impossible." I'm sure I could have managed to find the right combination of wobbly extensions and u-joints to make it happen, but after accidentally seating the clamp about midway down the pipe, it was pretty clear I needed more access. So, it turns out my hours wasted procrastinating disassembling the vehicle further were, indeed wasted. More was going to have to come off.
Namely, I needed to remove the power steering pully, at a minimum. This meant removing the fan clutch and serpentine belt. I'd already given removing the former a go, but ultimately met with failure and moved on. However, which a renewed sense of inevitability, after further disassembling the air box I found a way to wedge a pry bar in the water pump so I could effectively remove the fan clutch.
After much faffing around with that, I finally was able to remove the serpentine belt, then put it back on, loosen the power steering pump idler and pully, and then re-remove the belt, and finally remove the pullies.
With all that crap out of the way, I was finally able to get adequate access to the new hose clamp to get it fully secured.
Dirty engine bay is dirty!
Well... no, of course not.
After putting the pullies and belt back on, it was time to attach the other end of the hose to the power steering reservoir. Allegedly an easy job, right? Of course not! Remember how it is still crazy cold out?! Yeah... the rubber didn't forget! After applying more heat, I eventually got the hose to an acceptable temperature and it reluctantly seated.
After filling the reservoir to the brim and checking, reseating, re-checking, and re-reseating the serpentine belt, I finally had a functional enough vehicle to check my work. Replacing the fan, fan clutch, and intake could wait. Or at least I suspected it could... I've heard of cars running without a MAF but I've never tried it.
Anyway, I started the car, the battery very unhappy with the current temperature outside and...
It started! And the power steering sounded OK!
For a time...
Then the groaning intensified and the system stopped working.
Air in the system? No, turning the wheel confirmed the power steering was dead again.
Looking at the reservoir, it was beginning to fill will foam again, the symptom I was trying to fix!
But... there was also very little fluid?
I stopped the car, let the fluid settle, and then REALLY filled it up. Could it be that it just sucked all the fluid in, then grabbed a gulp of air, and produced the same symptoms as before. No way I could be that lucky...
And yet. ..
After some initial groaning and carrying on, the sound reduced, the bubbles started falling out, and the steering started to feel... normal?
Now, don't get me wrong, the pump was still the loudest component in the engine, but I seem to recall that is always the case when it is super cold out?
At this point, it was 11PM and well and truly cocktail time. While the engine bay, driveway, and everything else was a total mess, I didn't have enough confidence in the fix or my continued longevity to button the car back up and finish the job properly.
The Next Day, However...
The moment of truth is upon us! I had volunteered for a virtual event that was going to consume all of my time today, Saturday the 13th, so I got up a little early, suited up, and headed out. Initial surveillance showed a full power steering reservoir, though there was a lot of fluid on the ground, or at least more than I remember.
Without further ado, I started it up.
And was immediately treated to a very, very unhappy power steering pump.
And foam from the reservoir.
Crap. Maybe the suction hose was not the problem?
Slithering under the car, I confirmed the pump was very wet even above the suction hose. It actually appeared to be leaking fluid out of the shaft.
As the temperatures plummeted into the negatives (freedom units) and Oklahoma began to become covered in snow and ice, the Discovery sat in my driveway as a testament to my hubris.
Finally my love affair with unreliable cars had created a problem that could not be readily solved with time, money, or both. The extreme weather meant even if I wanted to pay to have the pump replaced, no shop was open and presumably tow services were occupied helping people out of ditches and accidents. With the part unavailable locally I was forced to order it, but the major shippers were, at best, hit of miss in this weather. Understandable, but frustrating. Ultimately I ordered a pump off Amazon, even though the price ($110) was a little too cheap for it to be a quality part (most are $150 + core, OE is ~ $240) of the carriers, I figured Amazon or USPS were the most likely to be able to get me the part.
Now I should say as far as thing to worry about go, this wasn't huge. We still had my partner's Jeep to get around, all of my other cars either being unreliable or in storage, and with the city being hammered with crazy winter weather it isn't like we had anywhere to go anyway. Also complaining about a broken Land Rover when millions are without power, water, gas, heat, and food is... well, I am aware of the optics. That doesn't mean I can't be bummed about it, it was just another thing to add to the pile of dread.
One week later...
Luckily by Friday Tulsa had endured worst of the weather. Our rolling blackouts here were limited and our house never lost utilities, despite threats. Furthermore, the part arrived only one day late, which was both comfortably within tolerance and impressive, considering. With the forecast showing a balmy high of 45F (7C), I made plans to start work the next day.
And so I did.
I was fortunate in that after discovering the suction hose was not the problem, I never reassembled the engine bay. As a result, most of the work to get access to the pump was already done. All that remained was to re-remove the fan, serpentine belt, idler (jockey) pulley, and power steering pulley, then remove the AC compressor and the odd bracket that houses the pump.
This, of course, did not go smoothly.
I started by removing the fan, belt, and then the AC compressor. The latter sounds scary but isn't actually. It is held in by four bolts on on the top and you don't need to break the pressure lines to get it out of the way, so no needing to discharge/charge the system. (Compressor can be seen sitting on the throttle body in the picture below.)
Next I removed the idler pulley, and then got to work on the power steering pulley.
Attentive readers might have noticed that I donked up here. Without the belt in place, there is nothing to encourage the pulley to stay put while I remove the three bolts holding it on. I have made this mistake literally every time I've had this thing off. Ordinarily I'd go and grab a strap wrench and make it work, but mine dry rotted and I haven't bought a replacement yet. Unwilling to go to the hardware store for such a trivial item, and still lacking an actually functioning vehicle, after confirming my electric impact wouldn't fit but my air impact cleared by almost a whole centimeter, I fired up the air compressor and drug 75 feet of air hose through the melting snow. A few zips with the impact and the pulley was off, revealing the treacherous power steering pump.
Sort of. The power steering pump is buried in what Rover calls the "auxiliary housing," a big hunk of aluminum to which the AC compressor, power steering pump, and, if equipped, active anti-roll bar (Active Cornering Enhancement, ACE) pump attach. Either way, after removing the bolts that hold that to the engine block, then I got to see the treasonous power steering pump.
And you know what? That bugger is tiny! I'm really shocked how small it is. Realistically about the size of a medium grapefruit maybe?
Anyway, a few love taps with a dead blow hammer and the pump was free of the housing.
As always seems to be the case with these things, installation is the reverse of removal. As is unusual for these sorts of jobs, everything went back together pretty quickly. I did get the chance to repair something I broke the last time I had this all apart though. The auxiliary housing is speared by this locating rod for reasons I don't fully understand and when reassembling the Disco last time I over-torqued the nut and sheared the shaft. Being a very odd part, replacements were weeks away, so with a deadline looming and not fully understanding the purpose of the part, at the time I reassembled without. But, I did order the part, so this time I had a chance to make amends and install the new one. I also threw a new bleed screw in the steering box, because why not?
Anyway, once I got the pullies and belt back on, I filled the reservoir with fresh power steering fluid, leaving the cap off to aid in burping, and turned the key.
And was treated to a shockingly quiet power steering pump!
Followed by a very loud one.
I shut off the car and resisted the urge to set fire to it. Instead I went and checked the fluid level. It had dropped a little, and there were little bubbles in the fluid as a result, but it was far from frothy as it was before.
After giving the system a second to settle, I tried again.
And it stayed quiet.!
I followed the usual purging procedure (move the wheels left to right a bunch with the cap off) and the pump stayed happy. Without any major evidence to the contrary, after taking measurements for the possible forthcoming eFan conversion, I reassembled the rest of the engine.
Only time will tell if this fix will hold, but I am cautiously optimistic.
Trust and Consequences
To my mind the elephant in the room here is: what would you do if this had happened on the trail?
I'll admit, complete failure of my power steering system is not an eventuality I even thought would happen, not one that would cause problems greater than "the steering is a bit hard to use." However, with this new terrifying failure mode, presumably after frothing all of its fluid out of the reservoir, hopefully not starting a fire as it got sprayed onto hot exhaust, the pump would eventually run dry enough that the system would be stable... until the lack of fluid cooling and lubrication caused the pump seize, at which point the serpentine belt would quickly also break. Without a belt, the water pump and alternator would cease their critical functions.
It would not be ideal.
However, this failure was not without warning. I think I'm right in saying the power steering pump has been groaning on startup for at least a year, but looking into it has always been on the "I'll get to it eventually" list. Until this failure I never considered power steering to be an essential function of the vehicle, but hot damn apparently it can really mess things up with the right failure, depending on how it is set up.
I am fortunate that while I didn't have the Land Rover to drive in the snow and ice, the pump was kind enough to die in the driveway rather than the multitude of horrible places it could have.
Overall I don't see this as affecting our (the Landy and I) trust relationship. It tried to tell me something was about to go bang and I didn't heed the warning. In the future, I'll be more proactive in hunting down unusual noises. Ultimately, this thing will fail me on the trail one day, and I've accepted that. My only hope is it will fail in such a way I can at least, one way or the other, get back to the road.
Either way, I still love it and don't hold this "fun" against it., but I sure hope this is an end to the problem. That said, I'm still not 100% convinced it is fixed. With it giving me false hope once before, it is going to take a few days or weeks for me to feel like this monster is well and truly vanquished. I just hope when I go to start it next, I don't heard the pained groan of a power steering pump...
So this is where I leave you, between hope and despair.
Burn baby burn.