Power Steering Explained

Watch this brilliant video below for a demo of how power steering works (courtesy of CNET’s Car Tech 101).

Historical Context

  • Early Steering Systems: Initially, steering a car required significant manual effort, emphasizing the need for steering assistance.
  • Introduction of Power Steering: The 1951 Chrysler Imperial introduced mainstream power steering with a system called “Hydra-Guide.”

Hydraulic Power Steering

  • Mechanism: Involves a steering rack and a hydraulic ram that assists in moving the wheels. The system is controlled by a valve connected to the steering column.
  • Power Source: A power steering pump, driven by a belt from the engine, creates pressure for the system.
  • Drawbacks: Constant engine drag (parasitic loss), reducing fuel efficiency.

Electric Power Assisted Steering (EPAS)

  • Introduction: Modern vehicles, like the 2014 Jeep Cherokee, feature electric power steering.
  • Mechanism: An electric motor, either on the steering rack or column, assists steering efforts. It’s more efficient, compact, and accurate.
  • Hybrid Systems: Some systems remain hydraulic but use an electric pump instead of a belt-driven one.

Benefits of Electric Power Steering

  1. Efficiency: Saves significant energy compared to hydraulic systems, improving fuel economy.
  2. Addressability: Easily integrates with vehicle control systems for features like automatic parking and lane departure correction.
  3. Accuracy: Software-driven, allowing easy adjustments and accurate feedback.
  4. Compactness: Eliminates the need for pumps, belts, and valves, freeing up space in the engine bay.

Purist Perspective

  • Some driving enthusiasts initially resisted electric power steering due to early systems’ lack of feel and precision. However, modern systems have largely addressed these issues.

Future Outlook

  • The video predicts a shift towards “steer-by-wire” systems, where the steering wheel has no mechanical connection to the wheels, resembling a game controller. This technology is expected to evolve in the coming years.

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