Hydraulic ram-assist steering. What is it? Why and when do you need it, how do you set it up, and what choices will you need to make along the way? These questions and more on the next Oprah."
Well, you'll probably never hear that on primetime TV, but that's why you buy this here quality magazine. We contacted Jeff Howe of Howe Performance Power Steering for the lowdown on high-performance juice steering systems. Jeff Howe has about 20 years of off-road racing under his belt and his hydraulic ram-assist steering has been around for about 15 years. Add to that the 10 years Howe Performance has been in business and that's a whole lot of years. We installed a hydraulic ram-assist system on our Dodge that usually runs 38- or 42-inch tires and learned a bunch of stuff along the way.
What Is It?
Basically, it's just a hydraulic ram that attaches to your frame, axle, or other solid-mounting point on one end and a steering component such as your tie rod, drag link, steering knuckle, or pitman arm on the other. The hydraulic pressure from your power steering pump is fed from the control valve in your steering box. That's why the lines that go to the ram come out of the side of your steering box.
Why You Need It
If you've broken your steering-box mount more than once, continuously bent drag links, broken pitman arms, or even shattered the sector shaft in your steering box, then a hydraulic ram mounted to your drag link or steering knuckle can help lessen the load on these components. Likewise, if you often find yourself stuck in the rocks and can't turn the steering wheel, a hydraulic ram can give you the added power you need to steer through trail obstacles.
How You Choose Components
Howe says that in order for a hydraulic steering system to work properly, it must be well matched to itself: the pump, ram, and box should all work together. That's why Howe wants to know how you drive your vehicle off road, how much you drive it on the street, how large your tires are, and how much room you've got underneath your hood. Knowing that, Howe can design a system that will work for you and not against you. Ram size is important. A large-bore ram uses a lot of fluid and creates a lot of power, but it's going to have a slower response time than a smaller ram.
Pump, Fluid, Volume
Howe told us the key to making a pump live in a hydraulic-assist steering setup is to increase the volume of fluid into the pump more than the volume out of the pump. In other words, if more fluid is coming in than can go out, you'll never burn up a pump. Another benefit is there's no pump growling, howling, or squealing. Howe's company takes your stock pump and doubles the output, but triples the input.
Another issue is the total fluid volume in the system. With the pump pushing and pulling so much fluid, there needs to be more on hand, so Howe removes the stock teardrop-shaped reservoir and replaces it with a can that has a -6 AN outlet fitting and a -10 AN inlet fitting for use with a high-capacity remote reservoir. Howe offers a remote power-steering reservoir with a spin-on filter, or for those without the room, there's a version without the filter. However, if you're using the version without the filter, Howe strongly recommends running an in-line or remote filter.
How You Set Up Components
We're sure there's a formula for steering-box-to-pump-to-ram ratios, but we don't want to know about it. The easy way to do it is to measure the distance your tie rod travels left to right and make your ram's travel distance the same. Measuring simply involves turning the wheel to full lock one way and putting a mark on the tie rod with a straight edge perpendicular to the ground. Then, turn the wheel the other way and make another mark. Measure the distance between the two marks and you've got your steering stroke. Howe will build the stroke of your ram from this measurement.