Steering without Power !

July 1, 2019

We were returning from Naldehra after spending a few days at the Club Mahindra resort there. We started at about 8.30 am and the temperature was a pleasant 22 deg C. I guess all of us were sad leaving this beautiful place as Delhi was sweltering. Anyway, I took the vehicle out and we drove down about 8 odd kilometres and heard some grating sound coming from the front of the vehicle. The dashboard didn’t show any malfunction, so we tried to drive a little more, but the steering started to get a little tight. I stopped the vehicle in one of the small side patches that was available and we called Rakesh at Kashyap Motors. Rakesh is head of service there and since our car is serviced there, he knows it well. He asked us if we could see the fan belt. We opened the bonnet and tried to locate the fan belt. A helpful Himachali came and helped us locate it. Rakesh asked us to pour water over it as it seemed to be intact. We did that and again started to drive. The sound reduced but the steering started to get tighter and taking every curve got increasingly tough.

We called Rakesh again and he said, try and find a workshop and he would speak to the mechanic to see what else was wrong. He felt it could be that the steering oil was less and needed a top-up. We somehow managed to reach Dhalli, about 8 kms from near Shimla city centre and found a workshop on the main road. Just before reaching Dhalli, I parked the car off the road as there was a wide empty space, only to be told by two traffic policemen that we will be fined ! I tried explaining to them that I was unable to turn the steering and was looking for a workshop. They didn’t care too much for it and asked me to remove the car. I don’t know how I managed to pull the car back onto the road.

Then we saw this workshop and I tried parking on the shoulder of the road leaving as much space for other vehicles to pass by while Krishnan went and found out if some mechanic could look at our vehicle. One of the mechanics agreed but he asked me to backup the vehicle closer to his workshop. The whole manoeuvre that should have taken less than 2 minutes took almost 10 minutes and traffic backed up on both sides as I struggled with the steering. One of the bus drivers tried telling Krishnan that he should be driving instead of me :):), and that did a world of good to my already frayed nerves. Since backing the vehicle was so difficult, and he had good Karma, he got away with that comment and didn’t get a black eye.

Anyway, I managed to reverse the car into a 70% satisfactory position for the mechanic and he went to work. We got him to speak with Rakesh and with Rakesh guiding him on the phone, he managed to remove the cover under the chassis and reach up to the container that holds the steering oil. His first assessment as soon as the cover was removed was that there was a massive leak and that’s why the steering wheel had gotten tight. His initial estimate for fixing the leak was 1 hour. We were very hopeful that it would be fixed soon and we can be on our way. It was already 10 am and we thought we can easily make it back home. We were so wrong ……

Manoeuvring the car into this position took ten minutes !
View of the road in front of the workshop.
God Vishwakarma’s picture inside the workshop.. guarding the tools.
Krishnan sitting on the floor chatting with another mechanic and Amma sitting on a chair
Mechanic Sonu, under the car fixing the leaks !

Slowly the one hour became two hours and Sonu told us that there were several leaks and he was using M-Seal to close them since the parts were not available at the workshop or in Shimla. This was the first time he was working on a Volvo.

At 1.30 pm Sonu asked us to eat some lunch as it would take another hour for the M-Seal to dry up. We had packed Tamarind rice and curd rice – and they came in handy. We ate inside the car and then again got out and sat around in the workshop.

This workshop is owned by a person from UP who came to Shimla to find work. He worked as a mechanic in some workshop and decided to open one on his own. Finally, at 2.30 pm a full 4.5 hours after we reached the workshop, we left from there. Sonu, poured 1.5 litres of steering oil into the car’s oil container and gave us one litre as backup to use if the steering oil leaked again.

The time we finally left from the workshop.
Sonu – The mechanic who saved the day !

We started the drive and initially all seemed to go well but as we got into the main city centre of Shimla, the sound came back for a short while and the steering wheel’s tightness returned. We called Rakesh to enquire if it was safe to continue driving as we had nearly 100 kms of hill roads before we reached Zirakpur. He assured us that the steering will get easier as the oil starts to work and there was no fear of the steering wheel locking.

With that confidence, we continued to drive. My arms, shoulders and palms took the brunt of the tight steering wheel but I didn’t want Krishnan to drive as I was used to the tightness more than he was. We drove slowly but steadily and managed to reach Zirakpur safely in about 3.5 hours. I gave the car to Krishnan as it was a straight highway and we also poured a half litre of steering oil.

My chaffed palm

We stopped at the Neelkanth Star food court in Karnal to eat dinner and we chose this one so that we could park the vehicle straight without having to either reverse or turn it. We let go of Karnal Haveli because the parking was full there and manoeuvring the vehicle into a parking slot was impossible.

Finally we reached home at midnight and had to park the car in an open parking which was straight and didn’t need any turning or reversing. We went to the security control room to inform them of this issue and they were ok with it.

Rakesh sent a driver the next morning and he poured the balance half a litre of steering oil and drove the vehicle to the workshop. It took about two days to replace the pipe which had multiple leaks and the oil container got repaired. Even now there is a slight tightness when I try to turn the wheels and the vehicle is stationary but its nearly 90% back to normal. We may have to replace the oil container for it to be a 100% fine.

As one can imagine, all the fun of the vacation was lost in that long arduous drive back…. and I realised how difficult it is to steer a vehicle without power steering. Guess I could momentarily empathise with the recently deposed accidental CM of Kar-Nataka, the whiner Kumaraswamy – he had to steer with no power ! Its tough … only saving grace was the steering wheel didn’t lock on the hills. We would have been in real deep trouble if that had happened.

A driving experience that we wouldn’t want to repeat :).


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