Older cars had no power assist systems. If you had to navigate, you needed a lot of effort to do it. So, normally, you’d expect driving to be tough.
Today, the power steering has marked its territory on automobiles as they’ve upgraded the driving experience by a great degree.
You’d soon find out how, why, and when they made their way into our modern cars.
Also, can you still find cars without them?
Power Steering is also known as “steering assist”. Understand the “Steering Assist Reduced” warning here.
Here’s the short answer to whether all cars have power steering today:
Practically, any new car you purchase today would likely have a power assist steering. Non-power assist cars aren’t commercially produced anymore. Fortunately for everyone, that’s why it’s tough to find them anywhere today.
What Exactly Is Power Steering?
The power steering system reduces the work required by the driver to navigate the car. It accepts the driver’s input and steps it up. Without steering assist systems, driving any car today would be much more difficult.
It even gets more complicated when you drive at low speeds. That’s why power assist systems make all the difference today. Below are the different systems used.
Hydraulic Power Steering
It uses pressurized hydraulic fluid to make driving easier, so there’s a hydraulic pump that helps create the required pressure. It was the first type of power assist system ever used.
However, it’s used less often today.
One downside is that drivers need to replace the fluid at set periods.
Electric Power Steering
The EPS uses an electric motor instead. So instead of a hydraulically controlled system, steering efforts are made easier by electricity. It also has fewer components, which means less maintenance is needed.
The steering is lighter, quieter, and gives the driver a smoother control of the car. It also guarantees reduced fuel economy.
Hybrid Power Systems
It’s the mid-way option between the two types and few cars use hybrid power systems. However, it eliminates some problems associated with both the hydraulic and the electric power-assist steering.
When Did This Become Standard in Modern Cars?
In 1951, the Chrysler Imperial was first equipped with a power assist steering.
From that time, the power assist system started featuring in more cars and by the 1960s, they’d been widely adopted. In the United States, many cars started arriving with them as standard or as an option.
This widespread adoption continued and today, well, you already know how that turned out. They’re everywhere.
What Are Some Popular Cars Without Power Steering?
These are some of the last cars that were produced without the power steering as a standard feature:
The Lotus Exige, like other Lotus models, had no power steering and relied solely on the driver’s physical input. Granted, since it’s a sports car, sports drivers may prefer it that way.
Also, it’s a pretty light vehicle, so we might let them get away with it. Lighter vehicles are a lot easier to handle.
Alfa Romeo 4C
The 4C gives drivers pure control of their vehicles and it delivers exceptional acceleration and unfiltered handling. It is well-known for not having a power steering.
Despite this peculiarity, it is still famously loved by many sports car enthusiasts. If you fancy it, you may need to go for an older model, as it is no longer in production.
Honda Civic CX Hatchback
The Honda Civic Hatchback from the late 90s and early 2000s was a small portable vehicle. It had two doors and was known for its fuel economy.
The interesting thing about the hatchback was that it was smooth despite the absence of a steering assist system. Many drivers either didn’t care or didn’t even notice.
Sadly, there aren’t a lot of them on highways today and if there are, they have little time left.
How Do I Know if My Car Has Power Steering?
If you’re driving any car, you’d know if there’s a power steering just by how it feels. Driving will feel a lot rougher, and you’d practically have unfiltered control of your car. As you’ve guessed, the feeling could be quite unpleasant.
However, chances are your car would have a power steering unless it’s a classic from 2 to 3 decades ago. It may also not have a power steering if the previous owner had taken the system out.
A more likely scenario would be that the steering assist system is faulty or maintenance is past due. In that case, you’d still find out from the crude feeling you’d get while driving.
Or you may inspect the system beneath the hood. Any car without a power steering would have no power assist system located there. Visible components vary depending on the type of system installed.
So, in a hydraulic system, you’d find a pump and reservoir close to the engine. In an electric-assist system, you’d find the electric power steering module below the steering wheel.
If you observe you have any of these components, then you have power steering. Otherwise, you do not. If components are present but driving remains difficult, your power assist system might be damaged. You would have to call a mechanic.
Such features contribute to why today’s cars have so many problems. Older cars didn’t have to deal with the complexities of power steerings.
Related: Do All Cars Have Power Steering Today? (Basic Info)
How Hard Is It To Drive Without Power Steering?
Cars with no power assist systems make driving tough at low speeds and it’s even more difficult than it sounds. You’ll mostly rely entirely on your strength just to get around.
Even though it gets easier as speed increases, it’s quite challenging and enough physical strength is required. Driving gets even more difficult with heavier cars, as they pose the greatest challenge.
Think of it in literal terms. The extra weight means extra strength required to turn the car around corners. So it implies the weight of the car is also a major factor.
With both factors affecting difficulty, we can say faster and lighter cars are easier to drive without power assistance systems as opposed to heavier and slower cars, like trucks and buses. This explains why sports cars were the last to adopt the steering assist system.
Hence, you can drive without power steering, but that doesn’t mean you should, as it is too strenuous. No one should have to drive without a power steering today with a modern-day vehicle.
Thankfully, you’d never have to go through the experience since you’d get a power steering with just about any car.
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Can You Add Power Steering to an Older Car?
Technically, it is possible to add a power assist system to an older car. However, such a modification could be complex and expensive. It’ll be a lot easier if the vehicle had siblings that came with power assist systems as options.
It’s easier because it means your car was designed, such that a steering assist system could easily be included. Your mechanic would only need to get the parts and fix them for a small fee.
If that’s not the case, they would have to do some heavy lifting.
Many components would have to be included, and the cost of installing them may surpass that of the vehicle.
Also, the costs depend on where you’re located and the type of vehicle you drive. Most people who go for this add-on usually own large trucks with powerful engines.
You should find an authorized mechanic. Auto shops have contacts with car manufacturers, which makes it easier for them to provide compatible parts for your car. Non-authorized auto-shops are a risky option for you and may ruin your car.
If you feel the process is too demanding, you can always explore other options. You could trade your vehicle for one with a power steering. This is a preferable choice, especially when the car is ancient and past its peak years.
There is no need to spend an enormous sum on a car with only a few years left.
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What Does the Power Steering Fluid Do?
It helps in decreasing the amount of effort used to steer the wheel.
It also lubricates the moving parts and prevents corrosion. This keeps the vehicle working at its best.
The fluid color is commonly transparent, red, pink or amber. It may be expired or contaminated if it turns dark brown or foamy.
That said, you find less fluids in electric cars.
How Exactly Does the Power Steering Work?
It uses hydraulic or electric devices and components to reduce the steering effort of drivers. It leverages on the fluids or programming to direct the front wheels.
Cars without power steering used plain rack and pinion steering systems.
How to Check and Add Power Steering Fluid?
In most cars, the reservoir is under the hood and may be mounted on the pump or elsewhere. However, it is usually close to the car engine.
Many cars today use similar types of power steering fluids. Still, some vehicles require specified types.
For example, Honda vehicles use a specific fluid; else, the system may not work properly.
So ensure you check your manual for your fluid specifications. The type of fluid you should use for your power steering is usually written on the cover of the reservoir, and it can even be a type of transmission fluid.
Not using the correct fluid may have repercussions. You should also check your fluid level monthly, and you’d need to top it up if it goes too low.
Ensure your car isn’t parked on a slope when checking your fluid level. Instead, it should be perfectly balanced on the ground. You’d get inaccurate fluid readings if it’s parked on a slope.
It is better to check the fluid level after a drive. So if you haven’t driven your car in a while, let your engine run and flex your steering wheel first.
A reservoir would normally have “minimum” and “maximum” levels indicated on its body. Your only job is to ensure the fluid is between these two levels. If it’s less than the “minimum” mark, fill it until it gets closer to the “maximum” mark.
What Are the Main Types of Power Steering Used Today?
The power steering systems in vehicles today are Hydraulic, Electric and Hybrid. So let’s see what they’re all about.
Hydraulic Power Steering (HPS)
Early steering systems relied on reduction gear ratios to reduce the required steering input from the driver. These systems got improved with hydraulic assistance.
The hydraulic pump creates a flow within the steering system and provides the force needed to operate the steering gear. This pump is usually by the engine crankshaft.
The vane pump is the most common type of hydraulic pump used.
These vanes push the fluid to the outlet side of the pump housing. It then passes through a flow and pressure relief valve before entering the supply hoses.
The Electric Power Steering (EPS)
The EPS has many benefits.
They provide better fuel economy because the car’s weight reduces with them. With an EPS, there’s also no need for a pump, hose or even hydraulic fluid.
It is programmed to direct the wheels on where to turn based on the driver’s steering movement. They also need less maintenance. This might be the most significant advantage to drivers who despise car routine maintenance.
Its efficiency is a unique big idea. However, some experts still insist that the hydraulic power steering provides the best driving experience.
Hybrid Electrohydraulic Power Steering (HEHPS)
The hybrid power steering consists of hydraulic and electric components.
It works like a hydraulic-assist system. However, in this case, an electric motor creates the pressure rather than using an external pump from the engine.
It also eliminates wasted-energy complaints that are consistent with other types.
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These Cars Don’t Have Power Steering
The last cars that didn’t have power steering were sports cars or very light vehicles. However, since they are lighter, turning is generally less strenuous than on heavy-duty trucks and SUVs.
Alfa Romeo 4C
The Italian-made Alfa Romeo 4C has more features from the past. It’s a modern car that gives drivers the old-school feeling you get from driving classics.
Though production only halted in 2020, the Alfa Romeo was not produced with a power steering. Instead, the absence of a power steering gives you raw control of your car.
We also know this has nothing to do with the cost factor since they’re pretty expensive. Cruising the Alfa Romeo 4C can be amusing and thrilling for anyone who can afford it.
You can get one for only $68,000.
The Lotus Elise had no power steering, even up to the 2011 model (as far as we can tell).
Despite that, it has excellent handling and exceptional performance. Speaking about performance, the Elise SC can speed up from 0 to 60 mph in less than 5 seconds.
There’s not much to be said about the “Acura NSX from the 90s”.
Although the 2022 Acura NSX has an electric power steering, older models did not. They sorely relied on raw handling from the driver.
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Do Power Steering Have Any Problems?
Although they’re mostly packed with benefits, power steering systems have their problems. So let’s discuss a couple of them.
- Faulty hose: The hose transports the hydraulic fluid to other parts of the system. If you experience much strain while driving, it’s probably not doing its job right. A damaged hose can’t supply the fluid to the needed components. So you’d have to replace it.
- Fluid leakage: Leakage can be caused by many reasons, including a faulty hose. The other components could also be failing due to wear and tear. When the fluid continues leaking, the steering becomes rigid and stiff. Hence, you should check the system for leakage if you notice such difficulty while driving.
- Failing pump: In hydraulic power steering systems, a faulty pump won’t get the fluid through the system, preventing it from building adequate pressure to make it easy to turn the steering wheel. If the power steering pump is faulty, you can repair or replace it.
If your steering wheel suddenly becomes difficult to turn, there’s probably an issue with the power steering system. Check that the reservoir contains adequate fluid. If not, top it up.
Otherwise, call your mechanic and find out your repair or replacement options.
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How Hard Is It to Drive a Car With No Power Steering?
The car weight matters in this case and heavy cars with no power steering are much more challenging to drive.
Lightweight cars can quickly go in the direction you want them to with little effort.
Try to think of how difficult it’ll be to push a car down a street. Driving without a power steering is almost like tilting car wheels with your bare human effort.
The power steering is like a microphone that amplifies your voice. Without the mic, you’re going to have to shout.
So if there’s no such system to amplify your efforts, every muscle counts. It’d be much more difficult to drive an SUV than a sports car.
You’d feel the effects more at lower speeds.
What Is Power Steering and How Does It Work | Car and Driver
There aren’t many systems in automobiles today that are so effective that they become standard in all cars. The power assist steering is one such system.
So while it has its disadvantages, it can’t be omitted in today’s vehicles.
More Power to Your Steering | Edmunds