IntroductionThe most conventional steering arrangement is to turn the front wheels using a hand–operated steering wheel which is positioned in front of the driver, via the steering column, which may contain universal joints (which may also be part of the collapsible steering column design), to allow it to deviate somewhat from a straight line. Other arrangements are sometimes found on different types of vehicles, for example, a tiller or rear–wheel steering. Tracked vehicles such as tanks usually employ differential steering — that is, the tracks are made to move at different speeds or even in opposite directions to bring about a change of course or direction.
The basic aim of steering is to ensure that the wheels are pointing in the desired directions. This is typically achieved by a series of linkages, rods, pivots and gears. One of the fundamental concepts is that of caster angle- each wheel is steered with a pivot point ahead of the wheel; this makes the steering tend to be self-centering towards the direction travel.
Ackermann steering geometry
The steering linkages connecting the steering box and the wheels usually conforms to a variation of Ackermann steering geometry, to account for the fact that in a turn, the inner wheel is actually travelling a path of smaller radius than the outer wheel, so that the degree of toe suitable for driving in a straight path is not suitable for turns.
Rack and pinion, recirculating ball, worm and sector
Rack and pinion unit mounted in the cockpit of an Ariel Atom sports car chassis. For most high volume production, this is usually mounted on the other side of this panel
Many modern cars use rack and pinion steering mechanisms, where the steering wheel turns the pinion gear; the pinion moves the rack, which is a linear gear that meshes with the pinion, converting circular motion into linear motion along the transverse axis of the car (side to side motion). This motion applies steering torque to the swivel pin ball joints that replaced previously used kingpins of the stub axle of the steered wheels via tie rods and a short lever arm called the steering arm.
The rack and pinion design has the advantages of a large degree of feedback and direct steering "feel". A disadvantage is that it is not adjustable, so that when it does wear and develop lash, the only cure is replacement.
Older designs often use the recirculating ball mechanism, which is still found on trucks and utility vehicles. This is a variation on the older worm and sector design; the steering column turns a large screw (the "worm gear") which meshes with a sector of a gear, causing it to rotate about its axis as the worm gear is turned; an arm attached to the axis of the sector moves the Pitman arm, which is connected to the steering linkage and thus steers the wheels. The recirculating ball version of this apparatus reduces the considerable friction by placing large ball bearings between the teeth of the worm and those of the screw; at either end of the apparatus the balls exit from between the two pieces into a channel internal to the box which connects them with the other end of the apparatus, thus they are "recirculated".
The recirculating ball mechanism has the advantage of a much greater mechanical advantage, so that it was found on larger, heavier vehicles while the rack and pinion was originally limited to smaller and lighter ones; due to the almost universal adoption of power steering, however, this is no longer an important advantage, leading to the increasing use of rack and pinion on newer cars. The recirculating ball design also has a perceptible lash, or "dead spot" on center, where a minute turn of the steering wheel in either direction does not move the steering apparatus; this is easily adjustable via a screw on the end of the steering box to account for wear, but it cannot be entirely eliminated because it will create excessive internal forces at other positions and the mechanism will wear very rapidly. This design is still in use in trucks and other large vehicles, where rapidity of steering and direct feel are less important than robustness, maintainability, and mechanical advantage. The much smaller degree of feedback with this design can also sometimes be an advantage; drivers of vehicles with rack and pinion steering can have their thumbs broken when a front wheel hits a bump, causing the steering wheel to kick to one side suddenly (leading to driving instructors telling students to keep their thumbs on the front of the steering wheel, rather than wrapping around the inside of the rim). This effect is even stronger with a heavy vehicle like a truck; recirculating ball steering prevents this degree of feedback, just as it prevents desirable feedback under normal circumstances.
The worm and sector was an older design, used for example in Willys and Chrysler vehicles, and the Ford Falcon (1960s).
Other systems for steering exist, but are uncommon on road vehicles. Children's toys and go karts often use a very direct linkage in the form of a bellcrank (also commonly known as a Pitman arm) attached directly between the steering column and the steering arms, and the use of cable-operated steering linkages (e.g. the Capstan and Bowstring mechanism) is also found on some home-built vehicles such as soapbox cars and recumbent tricycles.
Main article: Power steering
Power steering helps the driver of a vehicle to steer by directing some of the it's power to assist in swivelling the steered roadwheels about their steering axes. As vehicles have become heavier and switched to front wheel drive, particularly using negative offset geometry, along with increases in tire width and diameter, the effort needed to turn the wheels about their steering axis has increased, often to the point where major physical exertion would be needed were it not for power assistance. To alleviate this auto makers have developed power steering systems: or more correctly power-assisted steering — on road going vehicles there has to be a mechanical linkage as a fail safe. There are two types of power steering systems; hydraulic and electric/electronic. A hydraulic-electric hybrid system is also possible.
A hydraulic power steering (HPS) uses hydraulic pressure supplied by an engine-driven pump to assist the motion of turning the steering wheel. Electric power steering (EPS) is more efficient than the hydraulic power steering, since the electric power steering motor only needs to provide assistance when the steering wheel is turned, whereas the hydraulic pump must run constantly. In EPS, the amount of assistance is easily tunable to the vehicle type, road speed, and even driver preference. An added benefit is the elimination of environmental hazard posed by leakage and disposal of hydraulic power steering fluid. In addition, electrical assistance is not lost when the engine fails or stalls, whereas hydraulic assistance stops working if the engine stops, making the steering doubly heavy as the driver must now turn not only the very heavy steering - without any help - but also the power-assistance system itself.
Speed Sensitive Steering
An outgrowth of power steering is speed sensitive steering, where the steering is heavily assisted at low speed and lightly assisted at high speed. The auto makers perceive that motorists might need to make large steering inputs while manoeuvering for parking, but not while traveling at high speed. The first vehicle with this feature was the Citroën SM with its Diravi layout, although rather than altering the amount of assistance as in modern power steering systems, it altered the pressure on a centring cam which made the steering wheel try to "spring" back to the straight-ahead position. Modern speed-sensitive power steering systems reduce the mechanical or electrical assistance as the vehicle speed increases, giving a more direct feel. This feature is gradually becoming more common.
Four-wheel steering (or all-wheel steering) is a system employed by some vehicles to improve steering response, increase vehicle stability while maneuvering at high speed, or to decrease turning radius at low speed.
Sierra Denali with Quadrasteer, rear steering angle
In most active four-wheel steering systems, the rear wheels are steered by a computer and actuators. The rear wheels generally cannot turn as far as the front wheels. Some systems, including Delphi's Quadrasteer and the system in Honda's Prelude line, allow the rear wheels to be steered in the opposite direction as the front wheels during low speeds. This allows the vehicle to turn in a significantly smaller radius — sometimes critical for large trucks or tractors and vehicles with trailers.
Many modern vehicles offer a form of passive rear steering to counteract normal vehicle tendencies. For example, Subaru used a passive steering system to correct for the rear wheel's tendency to toe-out. On many vehicles, when cornering, the rear wheels tend to steer slightly to the outside of a turn, which can reduce stability. The passive steering system uses the lateral forces generated in a turn (through suspension geometry) and the bushings to correct this tendency and steer the wheels slightly to the inside of the corner. This improves the stability of the car, through the turn. This effect is called compliance understeer and it, or its opposite, is present on all suspensions. Typical methods of achieving compliance understeer are to use a Watt's Link on a live rear axle, or the use of toe control bushings on a twist beam suspension. On an independent rear suspension it is normally achieved by changing the rates of the rubber bushings in the suspension. Some suspensions will always have compliance oversteer due to geometry, such as Hotchkiss live axles or a semi-trailing arm IRS.
Passive rear wheel steering is not a new concept, as it has been in use for many years, although not always recognised as such. For example, Jaguar independent rear suspension incorporated a small amount of passive rear wheel steering since 1961.
In an active four-wheel steering system, all four wheels turn at the same time when the driver steers. There can be controls to switch off the rear steer and options to steer only the rear wheel independent of the front wheels. At slow speeds (e.g. parking) the rear wheels turn opposite of the front wheels, reducing the turning radius by up to twenty-five percent, while at higher speeds both front and rear wheels turn alike (electronically controlled), so that the vehicle may change position with less yaw, enhancing straight-line stability. The "Snaking effect" experienced during motorway drives while towing a travel trailer is thus largely nullified. Four-wheel steering found its most widespread use in monster trucks, where maneuverability in small arenas is critical, and it is also popular in large farm vehicles and trucks. Some of the modern European Intercity buses also utilize four-wheel steering to assist maneuverability in bus terminals, and also to improve road stability.
General Motors offers Delphi's Quadrasteer in their consumer Silverado/Sierra and Suburban/Yukon. However, only 16,500 vehicles have been sold with this system since its introduction in 2002 through 2004. Due to this low demand, GM discontinued the technology at the end of the 2005 model year.
Previously, Honda had four-wheel steering as an option in their 1987-2000 Prelude and Honda Ascot Innova models (1992-1996). Mazda also offered four-wheel steering on the 626 and MX6 in 1988.
A new "Active Drive" system is introduced on the 2008 version of the Renault Laguna line. It was designed as one of several measures to increase security and stability. The Active Drive should lower the effects of under steer and decrease the chances of spinning by diverting part of the G-forces generated in a turn from the front to the rear tires. At low speeds the turning circle can be tightened so parking and maneuvering is easier.