Many newer vehicles have eliminated their traditional hydraulic power steering in favor of an electric power steering system. Although electric power steering systems still use a conventional steering rack, they have eliminated the hydraulic side of the system in favor of an electric assist motor. This motor serves the same role as a hydraulic system: it reduces the effort required to steer your vehicle.
Despite being more modern, electric power steering systems typically include fewer components than hydraulic-based systems. This simplicity reduces the number of potential failure points, although issues can still crop up. Here are three potential problems that you may face in any vehicle equipped with electric power steering.
1. Steering Angle Sensor Failures
Your steering angle sensor is a crucial part of your car's traction control system and electric steering power steering system. These sensors measure how quickly you are turning the steering wheel left or right, and the car's computer then uses this data to determine the position of the steering wheel. Without this information, the power steering motor will not function correctly.
If your steering angle sensor fails, you may notice unusual behavior from the steering assist motor. For example, the steering may feel lighter in one direction or the other. You may also feel varying amounts of steering boost, such as your steering becoming lighter and heavier at random. Misalignments are more common than failures, so repairing this problem often does not require a sensor replacement.
2. Bad Power Steering Control Unit
Like any sophisticated part of a modern vehicle, your electric power steering system needs a brain. The power steering control unit receives input from the system's various sensors and controls the output of the electric assist motor. Without a control unit, your system would not be able to determine the proper amount of power assist to provide at any given time.
An utterly dead steering control unit will usually prevent your system from functioning at all, and you may find that your wheel requires significantly more effort to turn in. In almost all cases, a failed unit should trigger a warning light on your dash. If your power steering light illuminates, always stop driving your vehicle as soon as possible to prevent further damage to the system.
3. Power Issues
Your electric power steering system relies on consistent voltage from your car's charging system, so a battery or alternator issue may cause erratic behavior. Generally, charging system problems that progress this far will also produce other symptoms. If you've noticed lights dimming, random warning lights that appear and disappear, or other mysterious indicators that something is wrong, then you may have a charging problem.
Modern electric power steering systems are complex and often challenging to diagnose. Anytime you experience a noticeable change in steering behavior, it's always a good idea to have your vehicle diagnosed by a technician with experience in these sophisticated components. For more information about automotive repair, contact a local repair shop.