• Staying on track


    Today’s everyday sedan doesn’t look that intimidating. With all its luxury features, you wouldn’t think it can be wrestled around the corners of a hillside road. But bring it to a track and get the basics for high-speed driving and your average sedan begins to show a different side. If you are used to driving a particular brand of car, you would easily grasp the thoughts of the engineers while they were developing the car.

    Rack and pinion steering with hydraulic power steering is the norm these days for almost every car. Decades ago, only a handful of cars would offer this kind of steering set up. A gear box, pitman arm, idler arm, inner and outer tie rods – that was the usual thing. You are lucky if power steering was optional back then.

    The steering, for me, is an important part of the driving experience, besides using the gas pedal to go faster and the brakes to slow down. The steering should give you a feel of the road. As you turn the wheel, there should be a little feedback felt. Not too light, not too heavy. With some cars now, steering feedback is almost eliminated – steering is now super light. Add to that an interior where you can’t hear the outside world. Spooky!

    But then again, as you get older, you tell yourself that you could do away with the racer blood inside. There’s an old saying, “when you were younger, the profile of your tires were as low as you could get… but as you get older the profile of the tires gets higher.”

    A car’s steering system, sad to say, is often neglected. I see a lot of cars, even if it’s just a few years old, with steering problems. The dead giveaway is tire wear. Uneven tire wear is a sign of problems with the steering or the suspension. New cars are not immune to bad roads and bad driving habits, even with the high-end, expensive ones. A pothole is still a pothole…

    Changing the tire size and the type of tire can affect the steering. The same is true with tire pressure. A high tire pressure can make the steering lighter but can also make the side walls stiff. The stiffness can transmit excess vibration to the steering components. The tires are supposed to absorb the initial road bumps first before the suspension and the steering components. Even low tire pressure can do damage. Driving through floods could also shorten the life of the steering components. The dirty floodwater can cause other components to corrode.

    Keeping the steering system in tip-top shape is more of a safety issue. I would hear stories of cars getting into an accident because the driver apparently lost control of the vehicle. Sometimes, the looseness that you feel on the steering can give you a very vague feedback. Definitely, this is not good during high-speed runs or going through mountainside turns.

    Next time, we will look at how the suspension affects the steering of a car. And if we have space, a peek at the tires. Till next time…

    Remember, always keep your eyes on the road.


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