Today’s everyday sedan doesn’t look that intimidating. With all the 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 begin to show a different side. If you’re used to driving a particular brand of car, you would easily grasp the thoughts of the engineers as they were developing the car.
For almost every car, rack and pinion with hydraulic powersteering is the norm these days. Decades ago, only a handful of cars would offer this kind of steering setup. A gearbox, pitman-arm, idler arm, inner and outer tie rods… those were the usual components. Lucky you if power steering was optional.
For me, the steering system is an important part of the driving experience, aside from using the gas pedal to go faster and the brakes to slow down. The steering system 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. Now, with some cars, steering feedback is almost eliminated. Super-light steering… plus an interior where you cant 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. What’s that 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.”
The steering system, sad to say, is often neglected. I see a lot of cars that are only a few years old with steering problems. The giveaway sign is tire wear. Uneven tire wear is sign of problems with the steering and or the suspension system. New cars are not immune to bad roads and bad driving habits, even high-end expensive ones. A pot hole is still a pot hole…
Even changing tire size, the type of tire, and even the tire pressure, can affect the steering sytem. A high tire pressure can make the steering lighter, but can also make the side walls too 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 to under-chassis components. Driving through floods could also shorten the life of the steering components. The dirty floodwater can cause corrosion to start on the components.
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 lost control. Sometimes the looseness that you feel in the steering can give you vague feedback. Not good during high speed runs or going through the turns through the mountainside.
Next time, we will look at how the suspension affects the steering of a car. And if we have space, a peek at tires. Until the next time…
Remember, keep your eyes on the road.