The majority of ATVs on the market today come equipped with electronic power steering (EPS). Many ATV riders, myself included, will never go back to manual steering after experiencing the advantages power steering has to offer.
But how does ATV power steering work? ATVs use direct link electric power steering (EPS), where an electric motor assists the rider in turning the wheels. Sensors register the position, and what torque is being applied to the steering column. A computer module then controls the direction of and how much torque the motor needs to apply.
Before we look at the specifics of ATV power steering systems, it’s a good idea to know the basic principles of how any power steering system works.
Why do we need power steering on an ATV?
The primary purpose of a power steering system is to reduce the physical effort required to turn the steered wheels.
Another great selling point for having power steering on an ATV is how it reduces handlebar whip. The motor cushion the forces that transfers from the wheels and up to the handlebars from hitting rocks and other objects. This feature is especially useful if you often find yourself riding in rough terrain.
All power steering systems work by the same basic principles
- Forces going from the steering wheel or handlebar and down to the wheels get enhanced.
- Forces going from the wheels and up to the steering wheel or handlebar gets reduced.
- The system operates completely automatic, the driver only needs to turn the steering wheel or handlebar, and the system does the rest of the job.
- The input force applied by the driver is sent through a mechanical assembly with a motor that enhances this input force to a more powerful output force. The enhanced output force then goes to turn the front wheels.
- Forces coming from the wheels hitting objects get scaled down by the same mechanical assembly before going up tot he steering wheel or handlebar.
But the mechanics behind what makes the wheels turn are not all the same. There are, in fact, quite a few variations of power steering systems out there.
Electric and hydraulic systems
The unit that provides the extra steering power is called actuators, where the most common types are electric and hydraulic.
The job of the actuator is to convert and enhance the rotational motion from the steering column into a linear motion that goes out to the steered wheels.
Direct and non-direct link systems
Some steering systems are designed with a direct mechanical link from the steering column and out to the steered wheels.
A solid steel shaft goes from the handlebar and down to the actuator, through metal gears inside the actuator and then out to the steered wheels.
With a system like this, it is still possible to turn the wheels even if the actuator stops working or the system for some other reason fails in providing steering assistance.
But with a failed system, it will require a much higher physical effort from the rider to turn the wheels.
Similarly, if the hydraulic pump on a hydraulic system breaks, it is still possible to turn the wheels, but it’s much harder to turn the steering wheel
The backup of having a direct mechanical link acts as a nice safety feature that may help to prevent accidents.
Non-direct link systems have no mechanical connection between the steering column and the wheels. It uses sensors that register movement in the steering column.
An electric signal is then sent via an electrical wire, through a small computer for processing, before going down to the power steering unit. These are known as drive-by-wire systems.
The sensors tell the power steering unit which direction, how fast, and how powerful it should turn the wheels. With no direct link, you are not able to turn the wheels if the electronics fail.
What type of power steering system do ATVs use?
ATVs use what is referred to as a direct-link electronic power steering system. It consists of these main components:
The rider applies the input force to the system through the handlebar.
The input force gets transferred from the handlebar and down to the power steering assembly through the steering column.
Power steering assembly
The assembly consists of these components:
- Torque sensor: Registers the speed, direction, and torque of the rotating connection shaft. It sends an electric signal to the ECU.
- Electric motor: Small but high torque electric DC motor that helps to turn the steering column in the desired direction, torque, and speed.
- Metal worm gears: Converts the rotational motion from the steering column into a linear motion that goes out to the steered wheels.
- Metal housing and mounting brackets; Make sure the other components are protected from water and impact, as well as properly
Computer module (ECU)
A unit that processes the signal coming from the torque sensor, before sending it back down to control the electric motor. The signal coming from the ECU tells the electric motor what direction, how fast, and with what torque it should turn.
Tie rods and tie rod ends
Transfer the linear motion from the power steering assembly and out to the wheel hubs, which then turns the wheels.
Different ATV brands offer different variations of power steering systems
All ATV power steering systems use the basic components listed above. In principle, they all work the same way.
But, there are some variations between the brands in actual user experience. The most noticeable difference is how they control and adjust how much power the system provides.
Different riding situations require different amounts of force to turn the wheels. When you ride at higher speeds on smooth surfaces, you need very little help from the electric motor to turn the wheels. But when you do some technical riding in deep mud or rough terrain, much more torque is required to change the direction oft he wheels.
The same applies when changing to different wheel sizes. You need more torque to turn larger wheels.
So the power system should be able to adapt for better user experience in various riding situations.
Polaris, for instance, offers a system that uses sensors to tell how much force the system has to provide at any given moment. A so-called variable-assist power steering system.
The system then automatically adjusts the torque coming out from the power steering unit. This works flawlessly for the most part, and the rider doesn’t even notice the adjustments that the system makes.
Can-Am uses a slightly different approach. Their tri-mode dynamic power steering (DPS) system offers three levels of power output for the driver to choose from. With the push of a button, you can choose between low, medium, and high steering output power.
I prefer the Polaris type because it adapts automatically. Others prefer the ability to adjust themselves. In the end, it all boils down to personal preference.
Why do ATVs use a direct link electric power steering system?
There are pros and cons to all of the different variations of power steering systems available. These factors determine which system is better suited for various vehicles.
When choosing and designing power steering systems for an ATV, there are a few important factors the designers must aim for:
- Choosing and designing components that help to keep the overall weight oft he ATV down.
- The system needs to be simple, robust, and durable to handle rough use.
- It requires a high power output (torque) to turn big wheels or track at low speeds.
- It has to be cost-efficient.
ATVs uses direct link electric power steering and not hydraulic due to a number of reasons:
- Hydraulic servo systems are large and heavy compared to an electrical system. There is a belt-driven hydraulic oil pump, oil, hoses that ads up quite the weight.
- Electric systems have few and small components, which make it relatively lightweight.
- Electric systems are physically small and simple in their design. This makes it easier to fit on a compact vehicle like an ATV.
- Hydraulic systems are generally more powerful, but electric systems have enough power for a lightweight ATV.
- Electric systems are more fuel-efficient. The electric motor only runs when it needs to, as where the hydraulic pump runs all the time.
- Electric systems are simpler to manufacture and maintain. There are no belt drive accessories connected to the ATVs engine, no high-pressure hydraulic hoses, or steering gear mounted to the frame.
- Electric systems are cheaper.
- With an ECU on an electrical system, the manufacturers can design the system so that it adapts to various driving conditions. It can automatically increase or reduce torque, steering response, and dampening as needed for optimal riding and handling.
- With a direct link system, the rider will still be able to turn the wheels even if something breaks in the electric part of the system. It just requires using more force.
By this point, you may be wondering whether spending the extra money on power steering for your ATV is really worth it?
ATV power steering Q and A
Can you add power steering to an ATV?
There are aftermarket kits available that enable you to install power steering on almost any ATV.
My power steering has stopped working – what is wrong?
When an ATV power steering for no apparent reason stops working, it is often because the sensor that’s supposed to register the position of the wheels has lost track of them. When this happens, the system shuts down as a safety measure.
To fix the issue, stop the ATV and turn the key to the OFF position. When you start the bike again, the sensor will regain control of the wheel position, and the system should be working correctly again.
Do four-wheelers have power steering?
Most four-wheelers on the market today have power steering as an option. The cheapest models, however, do not have this system available.
What is ATV EPS?
When an ATV has EPS, it means that it has electronic power steering. A small electric motor enhances the force you apply to the steering handle, making the ATV much easier to steer.
How important is power steering on ATV?
Many riders think having power steering is very important. Power steering is beneficial to prevent fatigue from longer ATV rides, as well as for riders with mobility issues. When installing tracks on an ATV, having power steering is a must.
How to tell if an ATV has power steering?
You should be able to feel how the power steering system helps to turn the wheels on an ATV that has this system installed. At the bottom of the steering column, there will be an EPS unit on ATVs that has power steering.