Improvements in automotive power steering system design are increasing driver and passenger safety with better vehicle maneuverability and control on the road. These new power steering systems are constantly trying to strike a balance between vehicle handling and road feel, so you know how much effort to apply to the steering wheel when turning a corner, bumping into a rock on the road or fighting a strong wind to maintain vehicle stability.
About Power Steering
Most vehicles use one of three power steering systems: integral-piston linkage, external cylinder power steering and rack-and-pinion systems. Many of these systems are power driven by the engine through a pulley and drive belt mounted in front of the crankshaft, but a few models have the pulley at the back. This configuration reduces the number of components that attach to the front of the crankshaft.
A power steering system may use a hydraulic pump or an electric motor to help you steer the vehicle without much effort. An oil pump, driven by the engine crankshaft through a drive belt, provides pressure to a cylinder-piston assembly linked to the steering wheel; an oil valve within the steering assembly directs oil to the left or right of the steering cylinder, depending on steering wheel movement. An electric motor can also be used to act on a series of gears in the steering system to accomplish the same goal.
Whatever steering power system you use, regular checkups and maintenance are necessary. When adding oil to a steering pump operated system, do not overfill the reservoir tank or oil could spray out of the system. Also, if you need to replace a drive belt, do not pry on the pump body to tighten the belt; the pump body is made of thin material and may brake easily.
Some automakers are increasing the use of electronic steering systems. An electric motor installed inside or outside the main power steering shaft mechanism acts on a gear assembly to assist in vehicle maneuverability. This eliminates the need for hoses, pump, drive belt and pulleys. Others manufacturers are installing four-wheel steering on some of their high-performance vehicles, making all four wheels turn to provide better stability, handling and movement control at low and high speeds.
As a driver, the most common problem you will encounter with the power steering system in your vehicle is steering wheel play. A quick and easy test can tell you the condition of the system’s mechanism. Just turn the ignition switch on but do not start the engine and move the steering wheel back and forth. As a general rule, you should not be able to turn the steering wheel more then 1 1/2 inches or 33 mm without wheel movement; otherwise, have your power steering system checked.