Ask anyone if they know where the steering wheel is in their car, and they’ll give you a funny look. Of course they do—even a child knows where it is and what it does. But do you know how turning a wheel inside the car turns the wheels outside? There is a connected series of rods and joints that come together to transfer that power and turn the wheels. No wireless signals or electrical pulses, just old-fashioned engineering, the same as that of the first cars. We will explain how a car steering system works and add to your mental library.
Components of the Steering System
The basic parts of the steering system are the same for all cars and trucks: steering wheel, steering column, universal joint, rack housing, axel, and tie rods. The wheel connects to the steering column, which runs through the engine block, past the engine, and connects with the universal joint. The joint connects with the steering shaft and the shaft to the rest of the system on the axle. All steering systems in any vehicle function the same way, but there are variations on the technology.
Hydraulic Power Steering
This type of steering uses a hydraulic pump powered by a belt connected to the car’s engine. The pump pressurizes hydraulic fluid in the lines that run from the pump to the rotary valve at the base of the steering shaft. The steering shaft runs directly into a rotary valve that opens and closes as it’s rotated to allow the fluid to assist the shaft in turning the pinion gear. Most passenger vehicles have this kind of steering, and it is preferred by consumers. If you’ve ever had to add power steering fluid to your car, that’s you adding fluid to the hydraulics.
Electric Power Steering
Electric power steering uses an electric motor to assist with turning either the shaft or the pinion gear directly. A sensor along the shaft senses how much the steering wheel is being turned and how forcefully. The car’s computer takes the data and applies the right amount of force with the electric motor to turn the front wheels instantly. This is a cleaner system over hydraulic, but the complaint is that it feels too disconnected from the road and isn’t responsive enough.
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