By Todd Ryden
As street rodders, we’re all guilty of taking components that were made for mass transportation use and expecting them to live up to more power and over-the-top use. OEM parts, and even worse, their replacements, were designed to get people from Point A to point B with as little cost to manufacture as possible.
A case in point would be a stock automatic transmission. You wouldn’t expect to take a trans that was made to handle a light load and 175 hp to carry a muscle car with 400 hp. Another prime example are brake pads and rotors. You wouldn’t expect a set of cheap replacement pads and rotors to last a few laps on a road course, right?
With the influx of pro-touring cars and autocross participants, it’s easy to weed out what parts work and what’s not up to task. One area we’ve been seeing a lot of scuttle about lately is the power steering system and the fluid used.
During an autocross event, it’s not uncommon to see or hear rookies experiencing trouble with their power steering feeling tough or inconsistent. This can be due to the fluid building up heat in a system that just was never expected to be run that hard or required to turn a huge, sticky tire patch.
Driven Racing Oil is no stranger to identifying issues with “normal” fluids and oils. After all, they cut their lubricating teeth on the super speedways and tracks with long-endurance, screaming high-rpm NASCAR racing.
Power steering fluid is a hydraulic fluid that is pumped to high pressure and into the steering mechanism, either a rack or gearbox. It is directed to either side of a piston to push one way or the other to ease the steering effort.
That seriously oversimplifies the operation, but when it comes down to it, power steering fluid, just like trans fluid, has its temperature limits. At too high of a temperature, the fluid breaks down, becoming ineffective. And when that ease of steering effort becomes inconsistent at speed, things can get dangerous.
Driven’s power steering fluid is a unique synthetic formula that operates at a lower temperature compared to conventional fluids. Not only does it maintain a cooler temperature when treated to the same pressure, it offers anti-wear components that keep the mechanical parts of the steering system in better working condition.
The fluid offers exceptional low temperature flow, which helps reduce drag on the pump and any intermittent assist effort at the steering wheel. The synthetic formula also helps maintain a consistent line pressure, producing a more uniform steering feel throughout the range of operating conditions, from parking to zipping around a hairpin.
Rodney Prouty has been running autocross events for a number of years in his LS-equipped ’68 Camaro and understands the demands placed on the power steering system.
“I still run a GM Type II pump, but I’ve added a cooler, magnetic filter, and make sure to run Driven Power Steering Fluid,” he says. “I have run six years of competitive autocross with two motors, four transmissions, and three rear ends, but only one power steering system. Fluids are the lifeblood of your car, why would you trust anything but the best?”
Running an external cooler as Rodney suggested is an important part of keeping your power steering system running smooth. Just like an automatic transmission cooler, routing the PS fluid through a small cooler will help immensely, plus there will be extra volume of fluid available. Flex-a-lite offers a number of sizes and shapes of external coolers.
Keeping the fluid cool and within their operating parameters just touches the surface of power steering performance and longevity. When it comes time to get serious, you may want to look at purpose-built power steering pumps, such as those from Jones Racing Products, KRC, or Flaming River.
However, you need to walk before you run, and in the case of power steering performance, start with a high-quality power steering fluid, such as Driven, to handle the demands of modern day street rodding.
Sources: Driven Racing Oil, drivenracingoil.com; Flex-a-lite, flex-a-lite.com; Flaming River, flamingriver. com Jone Racing Products, jonesracingproducts.com; KRC, krcpower.com