How a Steering System Works

Every vehicle must incorporate a steering mechanism which can direct the front wheels in both right, and left directions. This is achieved using a series of ball joints, tie rods, a steering box or rack, a steering wheel and column which are attached. These steering components and fluid level should be inspected at regular service intervals. In this guide we should show you how the steering system works, a steering system is divided into two separate parts, the power assist portion and its mechanical parts.
car steering

What Goes Wrong?

As you can imagine there is a fair amount of force involved when steering a car. This can cause parts to wear which can produce abnormal sounds when driving especially at high speeds. Anytime steering components are replaced a wheel alignment is required. Use caution when moving a vehicle without the engine running or the power steering system not working, this can cause you to lose control of the vehicle because of the additional force it takes to turn the steering wheel.

Let's Jump In!

The steering wheel is used by the driver to control the vehicle which can either be connected directly to a steering box or rack and pinion. On some EV's the steering wheel is simply connected to a position sensor which, in turn, tells a computer which way to direct the front wheels and how far to move them via the electronic steering rack.
car steering wheel

Designs include electronic steering controls which enable the computer to manage the control of the vehicle to help avoid accidents by using proximity sensors. This advanced steering system can also limit sudden movements by the driver at high speeds with the help of an YAW sensor to further avoid crashes.
electronic power steering

Rubber bellows are used to keep dust and dirt from affecting the steering operation, these items are typically for rack and pinion style of steering units.
steering rack bellow

Tie rods are used to connect the spindles (where the tires are mounted) to the steering assembly, this rod end is filled with lubricant which helps the pivot points stay in good working order. A tie rod end is also fitted with a dust cap to keep dirt from getting into the joint.
tie rod end

To control the front spindles on heavy duty applications a steering box is used with a series of idler and pitman arms, center links and tie rod ends. A worm gear box style of steering system is constructed of two main parts, worm and selector shaft gears which are attached to a pitman arm. An idler arm is located on the opposite side of the frame from the steering box.
steering box

Power steering systems assist the driver's effort by using a hydraulic pressure pump mounted to the engine which is driven by a serpentine belt. The image below shows what a typical power steering pump looks like. The fluid in the system is held under pressure until the wheel is turned which releases the pressure assisting in the steering action. This pump only provides steering assistance when the engine is running.
steering pump

These hydraulic systems must maintain proper fluid levels to operate correctly, if fluid levels fall below minimum requirements the system will howl and moan while air mixes with the fluid, this condition can also lead to hard steering and pump failure. Levels should be checked at each service interval, fluid leaks are common in these systems such as a pressure hose rupture.
steering fluid level


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