Power assisted steering is like McDonald’s. So ubiquitous that you hardly notice it. Until it stops working that is. Have you ever tried to steer an auto with no power steering? Perhaps you remember your grandpa’s old pickup on the ranch? If not, you can always simulate it. Try turning the steering wheel with the key out. It will be almost impossible to turn. Yep, from Tesla to Toyota power steering is a pretty important part of the modern auto.
Did you know there are actually two types of power steering? We’re going to take a look at each type of system. Discuss how it works, what can go wrong with it and how to fix it.
1. Hydraulic Power Steering
This is the classic type of steering which was common on most pre-2000s autos. The kind of vehicles that are increasingly being referred to as ‘modern classics.’ As the name says it uses hydraulic fluid to multiply the force applied to the steering rack by opening and closing valves. The greater the torque applied to the steering the further the valves open, and the more power is applied to the wheels. The three main components of this system are the rack itself, the pump, and the fluid reservoir:
Usually driven from the engine using a belt, this is responsible for creating the fluid pressure in the system. Unless run without fluid, pumps seldom give trouble although they can start to leak. To check this, follow your vehicle’s accessory belt until you come to the pump. It will usually have two pipes going out of it that lead to the underside of the vehicle. Any visible oil patches on the pump may mean that it’s time you got your power steering system serviced.
The rack translates the fluid pressure into the force to move the wheels. Most are based on a sliding rod type design that moves inside a seal. Since this is singularly the component exposed to the most road grime and vibration it is usually where the system starts to leak. The best way to confirm this is to put the vehicle on a lift and eyeball the underside.
This holds the extra hydraulic fluid in the system and provides a good way to check for leaks and fluid quality. A power steering system is closed; meaning that the fluid level should not drop. Any decrease in the level is usually indicative of a leak.
Before we finish this section, let’s just have a quick word on maintenance. It is usually good practice to change the hydraulic fluid in the system at least once every five years if the manufacturer doesn’t specify an interval. You can do it yourself with a turkey baster, but it can be messy and difficult to change all the fluid unless you have access to a lift. We recommend leaving this one to the experts.
2. Electrical Power Steering
Most modern cars have switched from fluid based to electrical power steering for two reasons. No more annoying fluid leaks and no need to run a pump continuously off the engine even if it is not required. An electrical sensor sends a signal from the steering wheel to a motor that moves the wheels. Electrical power steering requires very little maintenance, but if something does go wrong, usually the whole component needs to be replaced which can be expensive.
One thing that is a common car maintenance point on both systems are the joints at the end of the rack to the wheels. Commonly referred to as tie-rod ends or rack ends, these function on the same ball and socket principle as your shoulder. Of course, with time and vibration or hard knocks they wear out and need to be replaced. This is usually felt as vibration or excessive play in the steering.
Power Steering Issues with Your Luxury Auto?
Here’s some advice from your favorite auto mechanic. If you haven’t thought about your power steering system, it might be worth your while giving it the old eyeball. Else Garfield may just make off with your Big Mac. So much is riding on your tires! Call Foreign Affairs Motorwerks today at 1-954-746-0488 to schedule an appointment with an ASE certified mechanic.