Electric vs Hydraulic Power Steering (What’s the Difference?)

Almost every car on the road today has power steering. Otherwise, drivers would be forced to use all their strength just to turn the steering wheel in one direction. This would certainly cause accidents because drivers need to make their turns within a second or two.

If they are forced to struggle with the steering wheel, they won’t be able to make their turns fast enough in traffic. Thanks to the technological wonders of power steering, it doesn’t take much strength at all for drivers to turn their steering wheel.

There are two types of power steering systems which are used today: hydraulic power steering and electric power steering. Each one serves the same basic purpose of power steering by allowing you to turn the front wheels (or all wheels in the case of 4-wheel steering) of your vehicle with minimal effort.

The difference between these two types of power steering relates to how they function. We will go over each type now.

How Hydraulic Power Steering Works

clogged power steering fluid reservoir

Hydraulic power steering is one of the earliest forms of power steering technology. This system is comprised of various components and parts, such as a pump, pulley, drive belt, hoses, and power steering fluid.

They all work together to create the hydraulic power which the steering wheel needs to turn so easily. But let’s examine how this pressure is created.

The engine of your car contains a rotary vane pump which produces hydraulic pressure at just the right time. Whenever your turn or rotate the steering wheel, the pump will generate more hydraulic pressure to increase the power of the force as you’re turning the wheel.

This pressure increases because additional hydraulic fluid enters the hydraulic cylinder from the valves. Once that happens, the steering gear receives pressure from the cylinder and causes the wheels to move along with the steering.

See Also: 5 Symptoms of a Bad Steering Column

How Electric Power Steering Works

no power steering

Electric power steering uses fewer components than the hydraulic power steering. Electric power steering mostly depends on the electric motor to create the necessary pressure.

The steering rack of this power steering system will contain the electric motor and precious sensors. These sensors will measure the exact torque of the driver. In other words, when the driver turns the steering wheel, the engine will generate a specific level of electricity to sustain the demand of this torque.

The electricity will only be generated if the steering wheel is turned. This prevents precious power in the vehicle from being wasted. It also means that your engine will last longer, and you won’t need to make repairs so frequently.

Which is Better?

So, which type of power steering is better? Most car experts and manufacturers will tell you that electric power steering is better. How can it not be? The electric power steering system is so simplified with just a few components.

The hydraulic power steering system contains so many components, which means that it is more likely to fail or experience a loss of fluid and turning the steering wheel will be tough, especially at low speeds. Then you will be spending more money on repair costs associated with that system.

Aside from the power steering systems themselves, let’s talk about their overall impact on the vehicle. Hydraulic power steering uses more of the engine’s power and resources than electric power steering. This is going to reduce engine efficiency somewhere in the range of 1-2 miles per gallon.

Despite the name, electric power steering does not require nearly as much power to perform the same function. Electric power steering racks are typically maintenance free. 

If you still prefer the hydraulic power steering because you like the feel of the older steering assist, just be aware of all the extra costs associated with its maintenance and possible future repairs.


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