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How does the steering system work and what breaks down most often?

>Each car has a steering system that, together with other systems, creates a coherent mechanism that allows you to move, turn, brake and drive safely. In this article, we will discuss how the steering system works and what it actually is.

What is the steering system?

The steering system in a car is a complex mechanical system that allows the driver to control the vehicle’s direction. It is a set of structural elements whose main task is to transmit movements made on the steering wheel to the vehicle’s wheels, thus enabling turning and performing basic road manoeuvres. Thanks to the steering system, the driver can precisely control the driving path, reacting to changing road conditions, thus avoiding potential dangers.

Construction of the steering system

  • steering column – an element connecting the steering wheel with the rest of the system
  • steering gear – the heart of the steering system, responsible for transforming the rotational movement of the steering wheel into sliding movement, which is then transferred to the wheels
  • steering arm and rods – elements responsible for transferring movement from the steering gear directly to the wheels; they enable the wheel angle to be changed, which results in a change in the vehicle’s direction of travel
  • turning mechanism – composed of levers, bushings and knuckles that are responsible for precise steering of the wheels
  • power steering pump – reduces the force needed to turn the steering wheel, especially in heavy vehicles or when manoeuvring at low speeds
  • power steering fluid – transfers power from the pump to the steering gear, making it easier to control the vehicle

How does the steering system work?

The operation of the steering system begins when the steering wheel is moved. This movement is transmitted through the steering column to the steering gear. Then, depending on the type of transmission, the rotational movement of the steering wheel is converted into sliding movement, which is transferred to the wheels through the steering rods. The force needed to turn the steering wheel is further reduced by the operation of the hydraulic pump or electric motor booster, which makes steering the vehicle lighter and more comfortable.

Modern standards

It is worth noting that modern steering systems are designed to ensure not only smoothness and precision of control, but also safety and comfort of use. Advanced technologies, such as electronic assistance systems or variable-ratio steering systems, adjust the assistance force and system characteristics to current driving conditions, which further increases the level of safety and comfort for the driver and passengers.

The most common steering system faults

The steering system, although designed for durability and long-term operation, may be subject to various types of failures. Being aware of the most common problems will help with quick diagnosis and repair.

1. Noise when turning the wheels – indicates low power steering fluid level or power steering pump failure.

2. Excessive steering vibration – caused by uneven tire wear, unbalanced wheels, and suspension problems.

3. Play in the steering wheel – if the car pulls to the side or the steering wheel has a lot of play, it may indicate wear of steering system components, such as tie rods or their ends; in this case, the parts have to be replaced.

4. Slow return of the steering wheel to the neutral position – indicates problems with the steering gear or insufficient lubrication.

5. High resistance when turning the steering wheel – results from a low power steering fluid level, but may also indicate a failure of the power steering pump or steering gear.

6. Leaks in the power steering system – this is a serious problem that can lead to a complete loss of power steering; locate the leak as soon as possible and seal it or replace damaged parts.

    Looseness in the steering system – symptoms

    • imprecise steering; the vehicle does not immediately respond to steering wheel movements
    • unstable vehicle track, requiring constant correction of the driving direction
    • unexpected changes in the driving direction with slight steering movements
    • noise or play in the steering wheel when turning or driving over bumps

    If any of these symptoms are detected, it is necessary to carefully check the steering system and possibly replace worn out elements or regenerate them.

    Regenerating the steering system

    In some cases, it is possible to regenerate steering system components, such as the steering gear or power steering pump, instead of replacing them with new ones. The regeneration process involves carefully disassembling a given element, replacing worn parts with new ones, and then reassembling and calibrating them. Regenerating can be an economical alternative to purchasing new, often expensive parts, while maintaining the original specifications and functionality of the steering system.

    How to bleed the steering system

    Bleeding the steering system is crucial when power steering problems occur or after servicing has been performed that may have introduced air into the system. Air in the system can cause a number of problems, including loud pump operation, steering wheel jerking, or even complete loss of power steering. The process of bleeding the steering system involves several steps:

    1. Fill up the tank with the power steering fluid to the appropriate level.
    2. Start the engine and turn the steering wheel a couple of times fully from one end of the range to the other, which helps push the air out of the system.
    3. Check the power steering fluid level after turning the steering wheel and fill it up if necessary.
    4. Repeat the process until there is no more air in the system and the steering system operates smoothly and quietly.

    Summary: steering system under control

    Regularly checking and maintaining your steering system is crucial to driving safely. Responding to the first warning signals, such as looseness or unusual knocking noises, will help you avoid more serious problems. The steering system may not be as important to safety as brakes or seat belts. However, it is hard to imagine driving safely without having control over the vehicle’s range of movement.