Power steering elimination

Advantages

Power steering elimination

A comparison between power (top) and manual (bottom) steering racks on a Ford Escort.

  • Weight Reduction: Manual steering racks are typically lighter than their hydraulic counterparts. Power steering systems require cumbersome lines, fluid reservoirs, pumps, mounts, and sometimes coolers to function. Eliminating power steering removes a decent amount of weight from beneath the hood and frees up a lot of space, simplifying the vehicle and making future repairs easier to do. Weight reduction, no matter how small, will help improve acceleration, braking, and handling characteristics of a vehicle.
  • Reliability: Power steering systems are one of the most failure prone areas in most vehicles, the lines will often leak, pumps will fail, fluid will become contaminated, air will get stuck in the lines, and so on. A manual steering rack is extremely simple and has no fluids to leak or parts to wear out.
    • WARNING!! Hydraulic fitting seal failure is extremely frequent in many Ford vehicles from 1990s. Once the hydraulic lines are disturbed either by moving them out of the way or disconnecting them, more likely than not, serious leaks will develop from the swivel fittings. If decisions are reversed and one wishes to reinstall the power steering system, they should be prepared to spend $ 50-200 in new pressure lines.
  • Safety: Quite a few rally teams have been known to sport manual steering racks because it allows for a greater feel of the road and loss of control can be felt much sooner than through a power steering rack, thus allowing the driver to make faster corrections to avoid problems. This is caused by the way the power steering works, using hydraulics to correct and isolate all conditions from the steering wheel itself.
  • Performance: The most sought after improvement and reason behind most power steering elimination because it eliminates the parasidic loss on the crank created from the friction of the belt and the hydraulic pump itself. While the actual amount of hp obtained varies, it is very noticeable on 4 cylinder engines. The hydraulic power steering pump is always spinning and creating pressure, unlike the A/C system which is engaged by a clutch, and therefore always robbing hp from the engine.
  • Gas mileage: It should come as no surprise, when talking about eliminating parasitic losses in the point above, but gas mileage improvement is yet another great reason why some drivers chose to eliminate power steering. By eliminating extra sources of friction from the overall engine system, more of the fuel is utilized in turning wheels rather than assisting the driver with steering.

Disadvantages

  • Effort: More effort is required in turning the wheel. However, after becoming adjusted to the feel, the difference is hardly noticeable. This is due to higher ratio gearing in the manual steering rack to compensate for the lack of power assistance.
  • Wheel jerking: Sometimes when going into a pot hole or over the curb, depending on the weight of the vehicle and gearing ratio of the steering rack, the wheel can be torn from the driver’s hands due to the speed and amount of force involved. This can be really dangerous when going around a corner and hitting a curb as loss of grip on the steering wheel can result in serious accidents. This is usually only the case in heavy vehicles that have the power steering system cut off instead of being replaced with a higher geared manual steering rack.
  • Acquisition of parts: Many vehicles never had the option for manual steering and therefore fitting a manual steering rack by the average individual is not possible, without extreme modifications and fabrication. The only alternative remaining is to leave the power steering rack in but remove the rest of the system. This works fine, however amplifies the two effects above, due to the system not being geared for manual operation.
  • Belts: On vehicles that have a separate belt for the power steering pump, removal is no issue. However on most vehicles, the power steering pump shares the belt with other accessories and thus requires obtaining a shorter belt in order to have the same tension and power the other accessories with the absence of the power steering pulley. Most auto parts stores will not have an issue of allowing an individual to return belts numerous times until the right one is discovered by trial and error, so long as it is done carefully without damaging the product. The best way to save as much hassle as possible is to use a string for measurement.

Methods

Tierod cutaway.

The easiest and cheapest (and sometimes the only available) method of eliminating the power steering system on a vehicle is to simply disconnect (or cut) the lines and remove everything while leaving the power steering rack in place. This procedure requires no extra steps, however it is generally favored to plug the hydraulic openings to prevent from dirt buildup inside the rack itself.

A better approach however, is to obtain a manual steering rack. One of the best places is salvage yards, although manual steering racks are quite rare and may require the purchase of a new/reman one from an auto parts retailer. Replacing the rack itself is usually not too much effort, the hardest part is doing the toe alignment when transferring the tie rod ends to the new rack. The core charge should be taken into consideration of the total price for buying a new/reman manual rack, because one doesn’t have one to begin with. One possible way to avoid this is to pay in cash (credit transactions refunding the core can be revoked) and return the rack later, so that both are not present at once, allowing the cashier to see the differences in two parts. All stores and policies are different, but in general the exact unit is required for the core.

Also, if possible steering rack bushings (if the vehicle uses them) should be purchased prior to doing the work, as they are good to replace at the same time. Old worn out steering bushings can be dangerous by giving away and creating play in the steering wheel! If possible, polyurethane bushings should be used as they are not that much more expensive, yet provide better and stiffened steering response.

The actual removal process is quite easy:

Tierod separotor tool

  1. The nuts securing the tie rod ends to the hub assembly have to be removed.
  2. A tie rod separator tool (available at most auto parts stores or harbor freight) should be used to separate the tie rod from the hub assembly. The mating surface is tapered as can be seen by the picture, which grips it in the hub assembly quite well in most vehicles. Therefore the use of a hammer to try and hammer it out is not recommended! This will warp the metal at the end and ruin the threads, causing hours of trouble trying to restore them to a usable state.
  3. The steering column assembly (varies per vehicle) has to be exposed and disassembled however necessary in order to get to the universal joint that links it to the steering rack. A pin has to be hammered out or a bolt removed, whichever applies, in order to disconnect it.
  4. The steering rack mounts/bolts should be removed and bushings replaced upon reassembly with the new unit.
  5. When reinstalling the tie rod ends on the new rack & pinion, toe alignment has to be performed.

Vehicles & part numbers

  • Any 2-3rd generation Ford Escort. Donor vehicles (or when looking up parts) can only be second generation (i.e. 1995 Ford Escort 1.9), however they can be installed in a 3rd generation Ford Escort. One example of a part is from Advance Auto Parts, a remanufactured unit by Cardone, which comes with lifetime warranty, part #24-2646, sells for $ 268.99 ($75 core charge included).

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