Power steering is a system for reducing the steering effort on cars by using an external power source to assist in turning the wheels. All modern cars come with power steering. Although they take the “feel” out of driving, for many driving without power steering is a whole new experience. There are three types of power steering:
Most power steering systems work by using a belt driven pump to provide hydraulic pressure to the system. This hydraulic pressure is generated by a rotary-vane pump which is driven by the vehicle’s engine. As the speed of the engine increases, the pressure in the hydraulic fluid also increases, hence a relief valve is incorporated into the system to allow excess pressure to be bled away.
While the power steering is not being used, i.e. driving in a straight line, twin hydraulic lines provide equal pressure to both sides of the steering wheel gear. When torque is applied to the steering wheel, the hydraulic lines provide unequal pressures and hence assist in turning the wheels in the intended direction.
More modern systems, such as those found on the Acura NSX, use completely electric components. Sensors detect the motion and torque of the steering column and a computer applies assistive power via electric motors. This allows varying amounts of assistance to be applied depending on driving conditions.
In contrast to hydraulic systems, with an electric system the “communication” is only one way. The steering wheel transmits forces to the front wheels assisted by the motors, but the forces on the front wheels are not transmitted back through the motors to the steering wheel. Electric-only systems thus do not provide as much feedback to the driver, a criticism commonly expressed as a lack of steering “feel”.
So called “hybrid” systems use the same hydraulic assist technology as standard systems, with the hydraulic pressure being provided by an electric motor instead of a belt driven one.