This is the hydraulic fluid (or power-steering fluid) reservoir that stores the fluid necessary for the system. Think of it as an oil pan. Most power-steering pumps have a reservoir attached right to the pump body. The one shown here is a PSC part. At a minimum, the reservoir must be large enough to hold reserve oil for both extended and collapsed cylinder lengths. To figure out what you need, consider the oil volume-to-duty cycle ratio. In heavy equipment, this ratio is roughly 3:1, meaning your reservoir should hold three times the volume of the system. This is probably overkill for our purposes because this ratio was designed for 100 percent duty-cycle applications such as a bucket loader working at a strip mine that runs 24/7 all year long. A Jeep or buggy will typically see use on the weekends for recreational purposes only, so you really wouldn't need a 3-gallon power-steering reservoir. Keep in mind how often you use your rig and how much time the system will actually run once installed. In most cases, the supplier will have two or three different sizes of reservoirs to choose from.
Steering Control Unit or Metering Valve
Similar in function to the automotive "steering box," this part translates driver input at the steering wheel to actual movement of the cylinder. Many people call them "orbital valves." This is incorrect. "Orbital" refers to a specific type of hydraulic motor that has nothing to do with hydraulic steering. The hydraulic industry refers to these as steering control units (SCU) or, more commonly, metering valves. Metering valves have a specific displacement volume, which equates into how many cubic inches of fluid can pass through the valve in one 360-degree revolution. The rule on metering valves is: The higher-volume (in cubic inches) valve you get, the faster the wheels will cycle through the range of movement.
Hydraulic pumps convert mechanical energy into hydraulic (pressure) energy. They operate on the displacement principle. Fluid is taken in and displaced to another point. Many different types of pumps exist, and most companies set up power-steering pumps to produce between 3 and 5 gallons per minute (gpm) of flow. The key to finding the right pump is to know the desired effort first. Do you want to turn your steering wheel two or three turns lock to lock? First, calculate the total volume of the system, then figure out how much oil you will need to pass through the metering valve to get the ram to move through its entire range of motion. Once this is figured out, you can calculate how much volume your pump needs to displace.
Here's the formula: Volume of cylinder (ci) volume of metering valve (ci) = turns lock to lock
For example: a Howe 2.5-inch bore x 8-inch-long double-ended cylinder like the one we installed on our project Mega Titan has a cylinder volume of 25.82 cubic inches. The Mega Titan's metering valve has a volume of 7.6 cubic inches, if we do the math: 25.82 7.6 = 3.39 turns lock to lock, which is about all you want on a rockcrawler.
It's simply a pressure relief pop-off, similar to what you might find on a shop air compressor. If there's a malfunction in the system and the pressure spikes, the relief valve opens and the pressure is released back to the reservoir. This is a wonderful safety mechanism.
This is the hydraulic actuator commonly known as a ram. Technically, they're referred to as nondifferential cylinders, or double-acting piston-type cylinders. They replace the mechanical linkage in a traditional manual steering setup. The size of the ram depends on the mechanical effort that the system requires to steer the tires. Here we believe the most important things to consider are what materials are used to build the ram and how far the manufacturer goes to ensure the ram is perfectly centric. Does it have two thin internal fiberglass shaft-support bushings? Or does it feature a larger 2-inch-long bronze bushing block to support the shaft? Little things like this make a big difference when your wheels are in a bind. Also, is the ram easily rebuildable? We suggest you do some research online before buying. To help calculate how big your cylinder should be, consider this: The force a cylinder can generate is equal to the product of the piston area (sq. in.) and the pressure (psi) supplied by the pump, minus losses due to inefficiencies such as friction and flow restrictions.
Just as a radiator exchanges heat from water, the power-steering cooler helps keep the steering system's oil temperature in check. Howe builds two very trick billet coolers that lower oil temperatures up to 24 degrees without restrictions. The units are both durable and compact, and we like the trick-looking mounting brackets Howe supplies to help you secure it to rollbar tubing.
Pressure Line or Supply Hose
These lines carry power-steering fluid to all the parts of the system. The operating requirements for hydraulic hoses are impressive. High-quality hose should be considered a top priority, as the hose is typically the most vulnerable part of the system. All lines must be of the proper size and free of restrictive bends. It's nice to use the do-it-yourself hose kits with screw-tight fittings rather than professionally built crimp-on fittings. This way, all you need is a short length of hose to do repairs on the trail.
In hydraulic systems, oil performs the dual function of lubrication and transmission of power. It's basically the life blood of a hydraulic system, and careful selection should be made with the assistance of a reputable supplier.
A steering box is used on most 4x4s built today. With the exception of late-model SUVs and some IFS pickups, a steering box is typically mounted on the driver side, along the framerail. The function of a steering box is to translate driver input from the steering wheel into a usable rotational force for mechanical steering linkages. Typically, this is the most complex part of a steering system. Most steering boxes are made from cast iron and have a pretty good life expectancy.
Howe recently stepped up to the plate with a whole new steering box cast entirely from air
When a steering box gets old, the steering begins to feel loose or sloppy. Most shops have rebuild programs where worn boxes are reconditioned for second and third installations; this is called a core exchange program. Sometimes, a used box is too badly worn to repair and has to be replaced completely.