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Topic - power steering problems

pec on 06 Jan 2013
The power steering on my car (Peugeot 406, 2.0 deisel) has started playing up. It seems to have a variable level of assistance as the steering wheel is rotated so it goes through stiff patches and feels almost notchy. It feels a bit like driving a car with power steering which is totally broken but not as heavy or stiff if that's ever happened to you.

The fluid reservoir is full and I can't see any leaks. The drivebelt is in good condition, seated on the pulleys and tensioned correctly.

I took the belt off this morning and the pulley on the pump rotates smoothly. There is no side to side play in the pulley but there is slight movement along the shaft, i.e. the pulley moves in and out of the pump body but only by a fraction, 1 or 2mm at most.

Could such a small amount of wear indicate a problem in the pump or can pumps fail internally with no outward signs?
I don't want to replace it speculatively as a new one costs about 170.

Could the problem be on the rack and if so what should I look for? I've never had to deal with steering rack problems before. The rack itself isn't worn i.e. there's no free play between the steering wheel and road wheels but presumably there's some sort of hydraulics down there that could be at fault?

Thanks in advance for any advice.
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