Electric vs. Hydraulic Power Steering – Differences, Pros & Cons

Many carmakers are switching from hydraulic to electric power steering, but what are the differences, and why are they switching? Let's find out!

Hydraulic Vs Electric Power Steering Differences

Back in the day, steering a car meant getting a mini upper body workout. Thankfully, we no longer have to muscle our cars when we want to turn. Today, we have various power steering systems that ensure the ride is painless. However, it can be tricky to know which system is the best, which is why we are going to look closer at the electric vs. hydraulic power steering.

In this review, we outline the main differences between the two. We also look at the benefits and disadvantages of both systems, so you know which one is ideal for your needs. So why are carmakers switching to electric power steering instead of hydraulic? What are the benefits of electric power steering?

What Are The Differences Between Hydraulic Power Steering And Electric Steering?

Hydraulic power steering uses power from the engine, while electric steering consumes power from the battery, charged by the alternator, which is more fuel-efficient. The benefit of electric over hydraulic power steering is the efficiency, resulting in lower fuel consumption.

While this is just the fast answer, there is much more to it. Keep reading to find out a more detailed answer to this!

What is Hydraulic Power Steering?

Power Steering Pump Location

Hydraulic power steering is one of the first that was introduced. It contains a power steering pump, drive belt, pulley, along with several hoses and belts, plus power steering fluid. This system works off of pressure to operate.

The car motor contains a rotary pump that controls the hydraulic pressure. As you turn the steering wheel, the pump pushes out more hydraulic pressure so the force is increased. This pressure increases due to the extra hydraulic fluid that is entering the cylinder. As this occurs, the steering gear receives the pressure where it forces the wheels to move in harmony with the steering. 

Hydraulic Power Steering Pros

1. Better Handling

The hydraulic power steering system offers a more authentic feel. SUV owners might not care about this level of performance, but the sports car owner does. 

Even today, you will find hydraulic systems installed on some of the top sports cars, mainly because of the superior road feedback. However, the common everyday driver isn’t going to be able to tell the difference between the two systems. 

2. Cheaper

Hydraulic steering is cheaper to produce. There aren’t as many electric parts required, so automakers can save money installing the system.

Additionally, the system is cheaper to maintain, allowing you to save money on repairs. Many people find that the hydraulic power steering is also easier to work on, saving you time if something needs to be fixed. 

3. Reliable

Hydraulic power steering is older than electric variations. Over the numerous decades it has been around, the systems have been perfected for superior reliability.

Because the system relies on hydraulic oil to transfer force, all of the components that rub are covered with oil for better lubrication. With this setup, there is less friction and wear. However, even if the system does fail while driving, it’s still possible to steer the car. 

Hydraulic Power Steering Cons

1. High Power Consumption

The pump is always running in the hydraulic system, causing the power consumption to be higher than with electric power steering. In fact, this system can quickly overload the engine, causing it to be less efficient.

When the engine has to supply more power to the steering system, fuel efficiency is decreased. While you might not see it in significant amounts, you can expect to pay more at the pump. 

2. Heavier

The hydraulic power steering contains more large parts than the electrical system. It also contains fluid for proper operation.

All of this added equipment creates a heavier vehicle. In conjunction with using more energy, this added weight is going to impact fuel economy as well. 

3. More Maintenance

The hydraulic steering system is more complicated than the electric configuration. With this system, hydraulic fluid is required, which must also be monitored for proper levels occasionally.

You will need to perform power steering fluid changes to ensure proper lubrication. Additionally, the temperature can influence the fluid’s properties. It’s important that you make time to maintain the system if you want it to continue running. 

What is Electric Power Steering?

Electric Power Steering

Electric power steering is made up of fewer parts than the hydraulic configuration. An electric motor creates the pressure required to turn the wheels. This motor is located on the steering rack, along with sensors for constant evaluation.

The sensors monitor how much force is used to turn the steering wheel. With this measurement, the engine knows how much power is needed to turn the wheels appropriately. 

There are several types of electric power steering systems. The most common types are either with an electric motor attached to the steering rack, or an electric pump working with a normal hydraulic system, instead of the hydraulic pump.

Electric Power Steering Pros

1. Better Fuel Economy

The power steering system only generates electricity when the steering wheel is turned. When it’s not in use, there is no power running to the system. 

With this setup, there’s no power wasted, ensuring your engine lasts longer. You also gain better fuel economy because the power steering isn’t creating a constant draw on the motor. 

2. Less Maintenance

The electric power steering system isn’t complicated. You can find the system on the steering rod and the gearbox is completely maintenance-free.

Plus, there are no fluids to change. Unlike the hydraulic steering system, there’s no lubrication to worry about. 

Electric Power Steering Cons

1. Less Responsive

In comparison to the hydraulic power steering system, you won’t get the same response from this electronic system. In some cases, feedback can be sub-par.

Some drivers also complain about the steering wheel feeling heavier than with hydraulic steering. However, if it’s the only system you’ve ever used, you might not notice the difference. 

2. Lack of Reliability

Electric power steering hasn’t been around as long as hydraulic systems. Plus, the electronic system can fail much easier than the hydraulic counterparts.

If the system fails while you are driving, the steering wheel could lock up. This might create a dangerous situation, especially if you are traveling at high speeds. 

3. Expensive

Electronic systems cost more than hydraulic systems. Therefore, you can expect the automaker to pass on these costs to you when you purchase the vehicle.

On top of that, when a part gets damaged, you are looking at a hefty repair bill. Not only are the parts pricier, but the steering rod must be dismantled for replacement, adding to the labor cost. 

Which is Better: Electric or Hydraulic Power Steering?

Power Steering Function

1. Fuel Efficiency

The EPS system doesn’t include any hydraulic pumps and pistons. The simple motor design only pulls power when it is needed. 

Because of this method and the lighter weight, the electric system is more fuel-efficient. However, the differences aren’t mind-blowing, so most people wouldn’t notice a difference. 

2. Handling

Many car enthusiasts swear by the handling offered by the hydraulic power steering system. That’s why it’s been a popular option in sports cars. 

While this seems to be the general consensus, there are also drivers who feel the electric power steering is more responsive. The only way to know which one you prefer is to try them both. 

3. Maintenance

The hydraulic system needs fluid to operate correctly. You will need to replace and top off this fluid when necessary. You will also need to watch for leaks in the system.

However, the electric power steering system doesn’t use any fluid. You won’t need to perform any maintenance, saving you both time and money. 

4. Cost

The cost to produce the hydraulic system is cheaper. These savings can translate into a lower-cost vehicle when you purchase it new.

Additionally, fixing and maintaining the hydraulic system doesn’t cost a lot. In comparison, when a part breaks with the EPS, you are going to spend substantially more to have it repaired. Plus, these cars cost more from the factory.

Magnus Sellén
Written by:

Magnus is the owner and main author of Mechanicbase. He has been working as a car mechanic for over 10 years, and the majority of them specialized in advanced car diagnostics and troubleshooting. Certified Automotive Diagnostic Technician.

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