Most people driving today don’t remember a time when power steering wasn’t the standard. It is such an assumed part of the driving experience that it is easy to forget how much work it is doing. The power steering system helps to make the turning of the steering wheel smooth and easy and provides feedback from the tires on the road so drivers can gauge road conditions. Without it, turning the steering wheel, especially at low speed takes a lot of effort. It truly feels like you have to turn the full weight of the car when you don’t have the assistance of the power steering system.
A hydraulic power steering system uses a fluid that is controlled by a pump and pulley to assist in steering. Turning the steering wheel causes the pulley and pump to open a valve that releases the fluid into the system to turn the wheels. In this type of system, the driver needs to periodically check the power steering fluid, the same way they would check the transmission fluid or the oil levels, to make sure it keeps running correctly. Power steering fluid is also dyed so that you can recognize it easily if you have leaked spots on the ground under your car.
While the early power steering systems were all hydraulic, car manufacturers started to move towards electronic systems and the power steering system changed too. In hybrid systems, the only component that was majorly changed was the pump, and the system works largely the same way. From this point forward, the pump was controlled by an electric motor, rather than the pulley that had been attached to the engine. The biggest benefit of this is that the power steering still worked even when the car was stalled and the engine was off.
The switch to a fully electronic power steering systems was inevitable, and this brings us to what we have now. The electric power-assisted steering systems monitor the conditions of the road and the driver and apply torque to the wheels whenever it senses that the driver needs assistance. These systems also have a manual backup and several fail-safes built into their technology.
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