We’ve all had some pretty close calls behind the wheel at one point or another. Some may include: neighborhood kids running in front of your vehicle after a rogue ball, a huge pothole in the road that you didn’t see right away, tight parking lot turns, or perhaps an incoming vehicle that slips into your right-of-way. These are all examples where the reaction of a driver and the mechanics of power steering come into play in order to prevent an accident or worse.
In order to understand power steering, we first must understand the steering system. The steering system converts the rotation of the steering wheel into a swiveling movement of the wheels in such a way that the steering wheel rim turns a long way to move the road wheels a short way. For example, the rim of a 15 inch diameter steering wheel moving four turns from left lock to full right lock travels nearly 16 feet while the edge of a road wheel moves a distance of slightly more than 12 inches. Without the steering system in place, which allows a driver to use only light forces to steer the vehicle, he or she would have to push the wheel nearly 16 times as hard. (Source: http://www.howacarworks.com/basics/how-the-steering-system-works)
Power steering assists the driver with easing the effort required to direct the wheel and turn the vehicle towards the desired way. Power steering requires either hydraulic pressure to provide a power steering boost when needed and is powered by the engine using a Serpentine Belt, or can be powered using an electric motor of its own. With modern vehicles more and more of them are using the electric motor option as these use up less fuel than there hydraulic counterparts.
Still, power steering/hydraulic pressure based systems are still in a large percentage of vehicles that have power steering and the fluid does become contaminated over time. This deterioration of the fluid typically comes from debris within the fluid hoses. Hoses also may have leaks or cracks that affect the quality of the fluid as well. It is important to know that power steering fluid needs to be changed periodically to ensure that the steering system of your vehicle remains in proper working condition. Some vehicle owner’s manuals will specify a power steering service interval – so be sure to check it often, others simply call for a power steering inspection at certain mileage intervals. Either way, your service advisor will be able to tell you what is recommended for your vehicle and your service technician will also inspect the mechanical components of the steering system for damage, excessive wear and leaks.
Remember, if you hear any unusual sounds when turning or if your steering feels imprecise, difficult or rough – be sure to asking for a steering system inspection right away.