What is power steering?

What is power steering?

What is power steering

There are many aspects of driving that are made so much easier thanks to the technology developed over the years, with power steering certainly an example of one we’re most thankful for.

With cars the size they are today, it’s possible that, without power steering, we’d either need to become amateur bodybuilders or just take the bus.

Throughout the years, the idea of how power steering works has evolved – for better or worse – but for the average driver, it’s just something we’d never want to do without.

The advent of power steering

It was in the 1950s where power steering was first seen on a production car – the Chrysler Imperial – but before this time, the only ‘power’ put through the wheel of a car was via a driver’s physical interaction.

As such, drivers with cars on the bigger side would probably feel the need to warm up before going for a drive – one can only imagine (and many may still remember) just how strenuous manoeuvring such a vehicle might have been.

What power steering brought to the table was not just removing the physical stress of driving a car, but also introducing faster steering, as engineers were now able to quicken the ratio in regards to how many turns were required to angle the front wheels in the desired direction.

How does power steering work – hydraulic

As the first existence of power steering that lasted for quite some time, albeit with slight improvements over the years, hydraulic power steering is the mechanical implementation of the driver aid.

One of the main components to hydraulic power steering is, you guessed it, hydraulic fluid.

This fluid is pressurised by a pump driven by the engine, and is what adds the ‘power’ element, as the power steering fluid will help push the steering rack in the direction intended, with the rack connected to the vehicle’s wheels.

While this works in practice and is mostly reliable, hydraulic power steering does have its drawbacks.

Firstly, the pump is running continuously, even if the car is headed straight, and so wastes energy in this event.

Secondly, the hydraulic fluid will periodically need replacing, and becomes an even bigger issue if it begins to leak and the benefits of power steering quickly disappear.

How power steering works – electric (EPS)

Since the early 2000s, electric power steering (EPS) has become more and more prevalent on our cars, with most modern vehicles now implementing this latest iteration of the driver aid.

Basically, instead of hydraulic fluid playing its part in offering assistance, this is replaced by an electric motor, which draws its energy from the vehicle’s electrical systems, to do the same job.

This in turn allows for a high-tech approach in how power steering is implemented, with sensors able to detect torque levels – or even the effort being made by the driver – to know how much assistance is required.

Electric power steering can also make the steering light when at low speed for actions such as parking, but stiffen things up when at speed to offer more feeling in the wheel.

Additional benefits of electric power steering include its ability to improve your vehicle’s fuel economy to a degree thanks to its overall efficiency compared to that of hydraulic power steering.

Electric power steering’s connections to other electrical aids, such as lane keeping assist or other functions with connectivity to the front wheels, is also a key advantage to their effectiveness.

The only real drawback of electric power steering will be felt by those who love to engage with their car and have a true connection to the road. With electric power steering, some of that ‘feel’ is lacking, and some believe is too sterile.

Power steering FAQs

When was power steering invented?

Power steering, in some form or another, has actually been around for well over a century.

The first patent for power steering was seen in 1876, but it wasn’t until 1926 that Francis Davis became the first person to implement power steering to a vehicle – installing it to his 1921 Pierce-Arrow before achieving a 12-day journey between New York and Los Angeles.

It wasn’t initially added to cars, however; those fighting in the Second World War took advantage of the technology instead, with power steering being adopted to enable the better use of heavy machinery.

Can you drive without power steering?

Yes, you can – if the power steering fails on your vehicle, then you’ll still be free to drive it on the road, it will just become much harder to do and it would be advised to drive at lower speeds than normal in case you are caught out by it.

How often should you change your power steering fluid?

It really depends on this one, but the broad answer would be to change your power steering fluid every 80,000-100,000 miles or every two years.

Is power steering fluid the same as transmission fluid?

While some power steering systems can use both power steering fluid and transmission fluid (or more specifically automatic transmission fluid (ATF)), the majority of hydraulic power steering systems use synthetic power steering fluid.

Both are hydraulic fluids, but ATF features various modifiers and detergents that are implemented to remove dirt and grease from a transmission system.

What does it mean if my power steering warning light comes on?

Typically, if your power steering light is flashing, it means you have or are about to lose your power steering ability.

This might mean that you have been leaking hydraulic fluid in the case of hydraulic power steering, or that there is an electric fault if using an EPS system.

In this instance, you’ll likely notice the steering become gradually heavier and may eventually become very hard to drive in general, and you’ll need your local garage to take a look when possible.