Car Craziness: Heater Core goes, now no power steering.

The heater core on my car went out yesterday and had to be replaced. Things were going fine when my wife was driving it home from the mechanics, but she noticed that she was having trouble turning the wheel and it was making the characteristic “low on power steering fluid” grinding noise. Later on, I went to drive the car to check it out and the wheel will not turn, period - no power steering at all.

Now, car dopers - does anyone have any guesses as to what’s going on here? Obviously I’m going to be on the phone with the mechanic first thing in the morning, but does anyone have a guess as to what could be going on and what I should check out? I’m going to double-check the power steering fluid first thing and fill that up if it’s lacking any, but I’m wondering what else could be going on.

Are all belts still there and tight? That aside, I’m thinking this is just co-incidence.

Off the top of my head, I can not think of any connection between the heater core and the power steering.
Belts are probably good, because if the power steering belt were missing, the pump would not be growling, since it would not be turning.
Check the fluid level, it is probably low.

It’s not impossible that the power steering situation is related to the work done on the heater core, but offhand I can’t think of how it would be related. Knowing the year, make, model, and engine size might be helpful.

If you recognize the noise as being what you hear when the PS system is low on fluid, then it’s likely low on fluid. If you’ve heard it before on this particular vehicle, that suggests that its PS system might have a leak, which by itself might be the cause here.

I’m not sure I know what you mean by “the wheel will not turn, period - no power steering at all.” To me, “the wheel will not turn, period” means the wheel will absolutely not turn no matter what, which would mean something is seized, locked up solid. That, however, is inconsistent with your wife having driven it and is not the same as “no power steering at all,” which means the wheel will not turn easily. Am I correct in assuming that the steering wheel can be turned, though with significant effort?

Lack of PS assist can be due to low fluid, a missing or badly slipping belt, a failed PS pump, or a failed PS rack or gearbox. I wouldn’t expect any of these to be precipitated by a heater core replacement, and for the latter two (pump, rack/gearbox) it strikes me as virtually impossible.

With the info at hand, my best guess is it’s low on fluid, and it’s coincidence.

Oh, the wheel WILL turn, but we’re full-body leaning wtih full weight on it to make it turn - useless for driving.

Probably coincidence, those power steering pumps are pretty cheaply made and it’s not uncommon for them to fail. As Gary T says, it’s possible that the mechanics could have caused it, but it seems unlikely. The pumps usually warn you when they’re low on fluid by making a howling sound, especially when you turn the wheel to either extreme.

Even when you’re driving? Usually when you loose power steering you can still turn the wheel effortlessly when the car’s in motion.
Did you check the fluid yet?
If it’s impossible to turn while the car’s in motion you probably have something wrong with the rack or gearbox.