Q: What is Power Steering?

December 17, 2013 12:53 PM

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The steering system is one of the most vital systems in an automobile, but normal steering capability is not always enough. A sports car, for example, is meant for speed, and higher speed makes precise, well-weighted steering even more important. But even in less thrill-a-minute situations, a power steering system is a welcome feature in a new car. It adds more energy to assist steering a vehicle, allowing the driver to use less muscle to turn the steering wheel, especially when traveling at lower speeds. Understanding the components and function of this system can help you if you need to make repairs.

Power steering, at least in older vehicles, consists primarily of a hydraulic pump assembly that allows power steering fluid to exert force on the steering assembly of the vehicle and turn the tires. The hydraulic pump draws power from the engine to do its work. The most common steering assembly is a rack-and-pinion system, which is the standard in most new cars. The recirculating ball assembly, which uses a worm gear, appears frequently in older cars. Its power-assisted steering works in essentially the same manner.

With the increasing focus on fuel economy, electric power steering (EPS) has become more popular in vehicles. Instead of using a hydraulic pump to send fluid to the steering gear, the gear is connected to an electric motor and a control module. The control module determines how much current the motor will use by calculating vehicle speed, turning speed, and the position of the steering wheel. The amount of current used by the motor on the steering gear will affect the assistance from the power steering system. These electrical systems allow for lighter, quieter, and more effective vehicles. However, one disadvantage of EPS is the lack of tactile feedback when steering -- it's hard to get a good sense of the movement of the steering assembly when you turn the wheel or if road conditions alter it.

Power steering is integral to safe and efficient driving. Without it, you would have to work a lot harder to keep the vehicle straight or to turn it. Both hydraulic systems and electric systems for power steering have their advantages and disadvantages, but you can expect to see an upsurge in EPS as new cars are developed. Keeping your power steering system well maintained by checking fluid regularly and watching for leaks can ensure that your car functions as smoothly as possible.

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