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What is the steering system/what does it do?
A vehicle’s steering system is used in a vehicle to move it in the desired direction.
Getting into the details of the steering system
The system generally comprises of a steering wheel, which is attached to a steering column. This column has a gear wheel, known as a pinion at the bottom of it which is encased in a housing. These is a universal joint located on the column which stops the steering column being moved at odd angles. The teeth of the gear wheel mesh with the teeth of a rack which is located horizontally below it. This rack is attached to the wheels at either end using track rods. When the steering wheel is turned left or right, the pinion is moved in the same direction.
Some vehicles use power steering. This is operated by a pump that is controlled by the engine. This pump pumps oil to the rack at very high pressure. When the driver turns the steering wheel, this oil is moved to the steering cylinder and operates a piston to move the vehicle in the correct direction. The flow of the oil is controlled by valves which open when the steering wheel is moved. The valves close when the driver stops turning the steering wheel.
Should the power steering fail, the driver will still be able to steer the vehicle, however it will be evident that the power steering has failed as steering will be much heavier and the driver will need to exert more effort to direct the vehicle.
Some vehicles use two-wheel drive and some use four-wheel drive, with most people seeing an improved vehicle response with the four-wheel drive system. This is particularly useful for improving vehicle stability when driving at fast speeds.
Four-wheel drive vehicles are generally controlled partly by the driver and partly automatic. The rear wheels are controlled by actuators and a computer. These rear wheels move in the opposite direction as the front wheels when parking. This is particularly useful for larger vehicles such as trucks or vehicles towing trailers as it can decrease the turning radius required, thus making it easier to park.
What if something goes wrong with the steering system?
Damage to a vehicle’s steering can result in catastrophic failure. The steering takes a lot of wear as it’s in constant use when driving. One of the most noticeable incidences when driving with faulty steering components is the pull of your vehicle to one side. This is often caused by wear and tear of the key components of your steering system and could indicate an issue with the strut bearing, damaged ball joints or link rods. It could also be caused by a suspension issue, so it’s worth further investigation to ensure that you correctly determine the problem.
You may also notice a ‘slipping’ of the steering wheel when you’re driving. This could be caused by low steering fluid. In this case, it’s possible that you may also see a leak.
If you hear a loud screeching or whining noise this could indicate damage to the steering pump or its belt. This is an essential part of the power steering mechanism, so you may also notice difficulty in steering the vehicle.
The steering system is a very complex series of parts in your vehicle. If you have any issues with the steering system, it’s essential that you address them as soon as possible. Depending on the issue this could be a major piece of work and if you aren’t confident in completing the repairs you should contact a reputable qualified mechanic to complete the repairs for you.