hydraulic power steering

Difference between Electric and Hydraulic Power Steering


More and more automakers today are starting to make the switch from hydraulic power steering to its electric counterpart. However, what is really the difference between these two, and what caused the switch?

In the past, steering your vehicle required you to get a mini workout of your upper body. The good news is that today, you no longer need to muscle your car every time you need to make a turn. There are now numerous power steering systems that help ensure a painless ride. 

The only problem here is that it can be difficult to determine the best and right system for you. To help you get started, first, it is time to know the difference between hydraulic and electric power steering. 

Hydraulic vs. Electric Power Steering at a Glance 

With hydraulic power steering, the power used comes from the engine. On the other hand, electric steering uses up the power coming from the alternator-charged battery which is considered more fuel-efficient. Efficiency is the main advantage of electric power over its hydraulic power counterpart, which results in lower consumption of fuel. 

But there is still more to it than this fast answer. Read on below to learn more. 

Electric vs. Hydraulic Power Steering explained

Hydraulic Power Steering Defined

Hydraulic power steering is among the first forms of steering that were introduced. This consists of a power steering pump, pulley, drive belt, several belts and hoses, and power steering fluid. The system operates with the help of pressure. 

The vehicle motor has a rotary pump responsible for controlling the hydraulic pressure. Every time the steering wheel is turned, the pump will push out more hydraulic pressure, thus increasing the force. 

The pressure increases because of the additional hydraulic fluid that enters the cylinder. When this happens, the steering gear will receive the pressure, forcing the wheels and the steering to move in harmony. 

Hydraulic power steering system
The hydraulic power steering system operates with the help of pressure. 

Pros 

Here are some of the notable benefits of hydraulic power steering:

  • More Authentic Feel 

There is a more authentic feel with hydraulic power steering systems. While it might not be an issue for SUV owners, it is for sportscar owners. 

Today, some high-end sports cars are still equipped with hydraulic systems mainly due to the excellent road feedback. But average daily drivers won’t notice a major difference between these two systems. 

  • Affordable

It is cheaper to produce hydraulic steering. Only a few electric parts are required, allowing carmakers to save money during the system installation. 

Maintaining the system is also cheaper, letting you save more money on repairs. A lot of people discover that it is also easier to work on hydraulic power steering, which helps you save time when you need to fix something. 

  • Reliable

The hydraulic systems are older compared to electric variations. For all those years these systems have been around, they have already been perfected and polished for outstanding reliability. 

Since the system transfers force with the help of hydraulic power steering oil, oil covers all the different components that rub for improved lubrication. There is less wear and friction with this particular setup. But even when the system fails while driving, you can still steer the vehicle. 


Cons

Despite the benefits associated with hydraulic power steering, it also has a few downsides you should know:

  • Heavier

Unlike electrical systems, hydraulic power steering has several large parts. There is also a fluid content for better operation. 

All the additional equipment results in a heavier vehicle. Aside from using more energy, the extra weight will also affect fuel economy. 

hydraulic power steering systems are older than electric variations.
The hydraulic power steering systems are older compared to electric variations.
  • High Consumption of Power

The pump runs all the time in hydraulic systems, which causes higher power consumption compared to electric power steering. The system can even overload the engine fast, thus reducing its efficiency. 

If the engine needs to supply the steering system with more power, it decreases fuel efficiency. Although you might not notice it in significant amounts, expect a higher expense every time you load up. 

  • More Maintenance

Hydraulic steering systems are more complex compared to electric configurations. Hydraulic fluid is necessary with this system that requires monitoring for proper levels now and then. 

You also need to make some changes to the power steering fluid to guarantee proper lubrication. In addition, the temperature can also affect the properties of the fluid. It is a must that you allot some time for system maintenance for it to continue with its run. 

Electric Power Steering Defined 

Electric power steering consists of fewer parts compared to hydraulic configuration. An electric motor produces the necessary pressure for turning the wheels. The motor can be found on the steering rack together with sensors for constant assessment. 

These sensors keep a tab on the amount of force used for turning the steering wheel. The engine determines the amount of power required for turning the wheels properly through this measurement. 

Electric power steering systems have several different types. The most common ones either feature an electric pump that works with a normal hydraulic system rather than a hydraulic pump or an electric motor attached to a steering rack. 

hydraulic power steering configuration
Electric power steering consists of fewer parts compared to hydraulic power steering configuration.

Pros

Below are the main advantages of electric power steering:

  • Improved Fuel Economy

The electric power steering system produces electricity only when you turn the steering wheel. No power runs to the system when it is not in use. It cuts back power waste to help your engine last longer. Fuel economy also improves since the power steering doesn’t create a consistent draw on the motor. 

  • Less Maintenance

This steering system is simple, and you can find it on the steering rod. The gearbox doesn’t require maintenance, too. You also don’t need to change any fluid, unlike in hydraulic systems where you have to worry about powering steering oil for lubrication. 

Cons

  • Expensive

As expected, electronic systems are more expensive than hydraulic ones. Carmakers will pass on the additional costs to you when you buy the car. If a specific part malfunctions, you should also be ready for a hefty repair bill. The parts are not only pricier. The steering road also needs to be dismantled to be replaced which can further add to labor costs. 

  • Lack of Reliability

Unlike hydraulic systems, electric power steering is a newcomer and may even fail easier. The steering wheel might lock up when the system malfunctions while you are out driving. It might result in a dangerous situation, particularly when driving at high speeds.