The Basics of Power Steering

 
Photo by  Malte Lu  from  Pexels

Photo by Malte Lu from Pexels

One of the most important abilities in a car is its ability to turn safely at all speeds. Did you know that there are many complex mechanisms that take place as you turn your steering wheel? These mechanisms ensure that the tires turn the right amount and at just the right angles to go in the direction you want it to without causing the car to skid out of control. The most important of these many mechanisms is the power steering system.

Power steering is one of those automobile features that we rarely hear or talk about these days, but not because nobody uses it anymore. We rarely hear about it because it has become such a common feature in modern automobiles that we expect our vehicles to already have them. Power steering makes our driving experience so smooth and enjoyable that we couldn’t possibly imagine life without them.

But how much do we really know about power steering?

The challenge of steering a car

The modern car is a heavy vehicle weighing anywhere upwards of a thousand kilograms. Combine that with the low speeds we drive those cars when we turn around corners or at junctions, and it becomes obvious that manipulating the steering wheel to turn the car is a physically challenging task. Having to apply a lot of force just to turn the steering wheel wouldn’t just be tiring to do every single time we drive, it may also be really dangerous it makes us tired! To help with this, we need something that will amplify the force that we apply to turn that steering wheel.

The History of Power Steering

A quick search online will show you that the history of power steering is one that is quite long. With different people making different advancements to the technology, it can be quite difficult to say who is responsible for its widespread use today. However, what’s clear is that by the 1960s, American car manufacturers had made power steering either a standard or optional feature in all the cars they were producing.

Dig a little deeper and you’ll find that the first patent for a system to make steering easier was actually created somewhere in the late 1800s. Despite having improved on the invention, the man behind it was not able to convince automotive manufacturers to adopt the technology as it was just too expensive for them to do so at the time.

The technology of power steering started to gain more use during the Second World War. This was because power steering was being applied to help pilots and drivers operate the many heavy vehicles necessary to fight the war. After the war was over, American car manufacturers eventually adopted the technology, understanding that it was necessary if they wanted to sell more cars to the American public.

Unlike military pilots and drivers, regular civilian drivers would find it too difficult to steer a car without power steering which is why manufacturers eventually made it a standard feature in all the cars they produced.

How power steering helps

To make it easier for drivers to operate cars and other automobiles, modern vehicles now feature a mechanism attached to the steering column that helps to increase the amount of force being applied to turn those wheels. This system works by reacting to how much you’re turning the steering wheel and then multiplying that force to cause your wheels to turn easily. Thanks to power steering, steering your car left and right as needed becomes so easy, you won’t be exercising your arms so much every time you drive!

From a technical standpoint, power steering exists in the form of hydraulic or electrical systems, or hybrid systems that combine both. Hydraulic power steering systems can be found in much older cars. This type features a hydraulic pump that’s typically belt-driven by the engine’s crankshaft, which also means that whenever the engine is running, the hydraulic flow of power steering fluid is maintained, helping the driver turn the wheel without much force being needed on the steering wheel. Unfortunately, this also means that the system draws power from the engine even when it’s not being used, such as when you’re driving down a straight road.

Modern systems are electrical and they provide cars with a lot of great benefits compared to the older hydraulic version, and they’re so much more efficient! Unlike the older versions, electrical power steering systems are much more accurate in the force they produce, and they’re not connected directly to the engine. This makes it much more efficient firstly because it’s only powered when you actually turn the steering wheel, and its actions are much more precise. This increase in efficiency saves on a lot of energy which means that overall, your vehicle achieves more fuel efficiency and saves you money in the long-run. Furthermore, these systems are compact and take up a lot less space in your engine bay!

Thanks to power steering systems, driving is made much easier for drivers of all ages. If you’d like to feel for yourself just how much difference your car’s power steering system makes, try and turn your steering wheel while the car is off and do the same when you’ve started the engine. You’ll find that with the car engine off, trying to turn the wheel is tough enough to be a full workout for both your arms!

So the next time you take your car for maintenance, be sure that they check the power steering system and make sure you’re not running low on power steering fluid as well. Without it, your driving experience simply wouldn’t be the same!