The Power steering system in your car (also known as power assisted steering (PAS) or steering assist system) helps you steer without a large amount of effort at the steering wheel. Hydraulic or electric actuators add controlled energy to the steering mechanism, so the driver needs to provide only modest effort regardless of conditions. Power steering helps considerably when a vehicle is stopped or moving slowly. Also, power steering provides some feedback of forces acting on the front wheels to give an ongoing sense of how the wheels are interacting with the road; this is typically called “r?ad feel”.
Representative power steering systems for cars augment steering effort via an actuator, a hydraulic cylinder, which is part of a servo system. These systems have a direct mechanical connection between the steering wheel and the linkage that steers the wheels. This means that power-steering system failure (to augment effort) still permits the vehicle to be steered using manual effort alone.
Other power steering systems (such as those in the largest off-road construction vehicles) have no direct mechanical connection to the steering linkage; they require electrical power. Systems of this kind, with no mechanical connection, are sometimes called “drive by wire” or “steer by wire”, by analogy with aviation’s “fly-by-wire”. In this context, “wire” refers to electrical cables that carry power and data, not thin-wire-rope mechanical control cables.
In other power steering systems, electric motors provide the assistance instead of hydraulic systems. As with hydraulic types, power to the actuator (motor, in this case) is controlled by the rest of the power-steering system.
Some construction vehicles have a two-part frame with a rugged hinge in the middle; this hinge allows the front and rear axles to become non-parallel to steer the vehicle. Opposing hydraulic cylinders move the halves of the frame relative to each other to steer.
Most power steering systems work by using a hydraulic system to multiply force applied to the steering wheel inputs to the vehicle’s steered (usually front) road wheels. The hydraulic pressure typically comes from a gerotor or rotary vane pump driven by the vehicle’s engine. A double-acting hydraulic cylinder applies a force to the steering gear, which in turn steers the roadwheels. The steering wheel operates valves to control flow to the cylinder. The more torque the driver applies to the steering wheel and column, the more fluid the valves allow through to the cylinder, and so the more force is applied to steer the wheels.
One design for measuring the torque applied to the steering wheel has a torque sensor – a torsion bar at the lower end of the steering column. As the steering wheel rotates, so does the steering column, as well as the upper end of the torsion bar. Since the torsion bar is relatively thin and flexible, and the bottom end usually resists being rotated, the bar will twist by an amount proportional to the applied torque. The difference in position between the opposite ends of the torsion bar controls a valve. The valve allows fluid to flow to the cylinder which provides steering assistance; the greater the “twist” of the torsion bar, the greater the force.
Since the hydraulic pumps are positive-displacement type, the flow rate they deliver is directly proportional to the speed of the engine. This means that at high engine speeds the steering would naturally operate faster than at low engine speeds. Because this would be undesirable, a restricting orifice and flow-control valve direct some of the pump’s output back to the hydraulic reservoir at high engine speeds. A pressure relief valve prevents a dangerous build-up of pressure when the hydraulic cylinder’s piston reaches the end of its stroke.
The steering booster is arranged so that should the booster fail, the steering will continue to work (although the wheel will feel heavier). Loss of power steering can significantly affect the handling of a vehicle. Each vehicle owner’s manual gives instructions for inspection of fluid levels and regular maintenance of the power steering system.
The working liquid, also called “hydraulic fluid” or “oil”, is the medium by which pressure is transmitted. Common working liquids are based on mineral oil. Some modern systems also include an electronic control valve to reduce the hydraulic supply pressure as the vehicle’s speed increases; this is variable-assist power steering.