Understanding The Steering Linkage On Your Car
Your car would be mighty useless if you couldn’t select the direction you wanted to go. Steering seems like a basic concept, but many car owners are completely baffled when asked how the steering process actually works. The answer is found in the steering linkage.
What is the steering linkage and how does it let you take command of the direction of your car? The steering linkage is a phrase that simply refers to the entire steering system. There are different systems used on cars, but the rack and pinion system is one of the more common so we’ll choose it for the discussion in this article.
The rack and pinion steering linkage is comprised of seven basic parts depending on how you count the components. They are the steering wheel, steering shaft, pinion, rack, tie rod, control arm and wheel. These parts form a mechanical extension from your arm input to the wheel. When you turn to the right, each step of this mechanical system reacts in kind until the front wheels turn the direction you wish to go. Let’s take a closer look.
We’ll start at the top – the steering wheel. When you turn the steering wheel, you are really turning the shaft. The steering shaft runs into the engine compartment. At this point, it connects to the pinion. The pinion is a metal bar with a gear on the end of it. The pinion slots into the rack. The rack runs horizontal between the tires and has grooves matching those on the pinion gear. When the steering wheel is turned by you, the shaft turns and the pinion does as well. As the pinion gear moves, it pushes or pulls the rack to the left or right and that turns the tires in or out.
The rack does not connect directly to the wheels. Instead, it connects to tie rods. Tie rods are adjustable mechanism that can be lengthened and shortened slightly. This is important as this adjustment is a critical part of the alignment process for a car. Tie rods also serve as a stress break point for the system, creating a hardy buffer between the rack and any damage that might occur to the wheel area.
The final step of the steering linkage assembly is the actual connection to the tire. This is done in many different ways these days. All effectively involve the tie rods connecting to some type of control arm that contains a ball joint in it or is connected to such a joint. The designs differ greatly for many cars. Regardless, this is where the turning action meets its end and the wheel actually turns.
The modern steering linkage system is very refined. It is also very reliable and steering problems are pretty rare in modern cars. If they do arise, it is usually with the ball joints or greased connections to the tie rods. Even then, said problems are easily fixed.
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