By on February 10, 2010

Here’s a challenge: try to find a review of the Toyota Corolla that doesn’t bemoan its numb steering. Now try with a Chevy Cobalt. Or a Venza, or Vibe, Or Rav4, or Equinox. What do these vehicles have in common? Column-mounted electric power steering systems from JTEKT, a Toyota spin-off supplier which has done a brisk business in these fun-eliminating steering systems. And though the motor press has been bashing electric power assist steering (EPAS or EPS) for its deleterious effect on handling, the explosive growth in these systems may put more at risk than mere enthusiast-approved steering feel.

This anesthetization of steering systems has not taken place because manufacturers appreciate the proliferation of words like “numb” and “overboosted” in reviews of their products. EPS offers improved efficiency due to its reduction of parasitic losses, and is cheaper to manufacture than traditional hydraulic systems. This killer combination offers manufacturers a combination of improvements that have proven near-impossible to resist, resulting in the broad proliferation of EPS systems. And if reduced steering feel were the only casualty of the switch, it would be a tradeoff that any manufacturer would be willing to run.

But as EPS has exploded onto the market, a number of troubling issues has plagued the system. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has opened investigations into the Chevy Cobalt and Toyota Corolla, which share the column-mounted JTEKT EPS system. Cobalt, which moved to an EPS system for the 2005 model year has been haunted by an accelerating number of failures since the switch, while the Corolla investigation centers on Corollas built since the 2009 model-year switch to EPS.

In both of these vehicles, pinning down exact steering defects is proving to be difficult. Many of the Corolla complaints are related to sudden veering, particularly at speeds above 40 mph. The Cobalt, meanwhile, seems to experience complete EPS failure, causing momentary loss of steering and/or the need for drastically increased steering effort. Again, the inability to stay in a set traffic lane is being targeted as the most dangerous symptom of the possible defect.

These symptoms fit conveniently into a category that an early report (by Amit Rohidas Bendale of the Vishwakarma Institute of Technology, publication date unknown) on EPAS technology posted at college-seminars.com calls “auto steer,” a term the paper asserts “has crept into the lexicon as an adjunct to the development of EPAS system.” Bendale attempts to explain this phenomenon in his paper’s section on the disadvantages of EPS thusly:

To-date, technical and product liability concerns have precluded the introduction of such systems in the U.S. market through it is expected that niche application may be expected in the near-to-mid term mix of future vehicles. Such system design have yet to prove themselves sufficiently reliable and safe to prevent dangerous “auto steer” events. “Auto steer” has crept into the lexicon as an adjunct to the development of EPAS system. As the name implies “auto steer” denotes an uncontrolled steering event neither commanded nor stoppable by the vehicle’s driver due to catastrophic failure in the electron hardware or software. In truth, these systems are control servo systems, similar in function to aircraft control servo systems, and must have multiple redundancy. Although these new EPAS systems are said to have multiple redundancy , their design and broad application within the automotive industry have been, and will continue to be, subject to economic pressure more extreme then found in the aircraft industry. For instance one obvious safety related item has been universally deleted from such system specifications: a clutch for physically disengaging the reduction gear box and drive motor assist assembly from the host steering system in the event of system failure. This means that a driver encountering an EPAS system failure will have to exert additional force to “back drive” (i.e. manually over ride) the systems reduction gear box and drive motor assist assembly while attempting to maintain control of the vehicle in the absence of normal power steering assist.

Already, the parallels between these EPS issues (which are admittedly theoretical, but reflect NHTSA complaints) and Toyota’s gas pedal issues are plain to see. The first is the issue of economic pressure towards cost-cutting, which leads to the reduction of fail-safes and redundancy. Another parallel is the fragility of by-wire control systems: in Toyota gas pedals, tiny amounts of moisture was enough to cause the pedals to stick. In the case of EPS steering, there’s evidence to suggest that even cell phone interference could cause system failure. This is not to say that these two situations are directly comparable, but both cases indicate that earlier mechanical systems offer few clues as to possible malfunctions of electronic systems. Finally, the most important parallel between Toyota’s “unintended acceleration” and EPS “unintended veering” is the complicated dynamic between the driver and the system at the moment of malfunction or failure. Bendale continues:

Unlike the manual system described above, PAS with the presence of supplementary steering force to that provided solely by the operator introduces additional engineering challenges in terms of maintaining the desired steering linearity described previously. In fact, with respect to steering linearity, a poorly designed power steering assist system may have almost no relationship between the hand wheel torque applied by the operator and the actual required steering force imposed by the wheel or tires. There no longer may exist the uniform, consistent and predictable relationship between the “input and outputs” to facilitate “tactile reference driving.” Restated, the tactile sense of the driver to maintain directional control, and the magnitude and modulation of the “input” force may not bear a direct, proportional relationship to the required “output” force delivered by the steering system. Tactile reference steering is simply not possible with such vehicles. Rather their drivers must continuously engage in “visual reference steering” to maintain directional control. The result is that such vehicles are very tiring to drive for any length of time or distance. Further their drivers are constrained to continuously look at the road. If such driver should look away even momentarily (i.e., to check a rearview mirror or a child in the car), he or she has minimal tactile reference as to the actual position of the vehicle during that period of time. This is dangerous because, depending upon the road topography and condition, the vehicle may have moved transversely in significant amount relative to where the driver thought his or her vehicle was positioned. This can and often does lead to serious trouble.

This helps explain the varying accounts of unintended veering, as the ability to handle sudden changes in steering response varies greatly from driver to driver. Like unintended acceleration, this makes the task of narrowing down the primary causes of EPS failure or malfunction impossible based on recorded accounts alone.

More importantly, this helps explain the link between numb, overboosted and uncommunicative steering and safety. At highway speeds, any failure or malfunction would be registered and reacted to by touch (tactile feedback) before the brain would be able to register visual cues that vehicle control has been compromised. Because of EPS’s deficits in tactile feedback, and consistency between wheel and steering wheel positions, that all-important emergency tactile feedback would be more difficult for even a well-trained driver to interpret, making a crash more likely even if the unassisted steering system were still functioning (as has been reported in certain Cobalt incidents).

This is clearly an issue that companies like JTEKT have known about, as a 2008 paper on EPS [PDF] by a JTEKT engineer admits that making EPS feel like the hydraulic systems the buying public is used to has been a major challenge. Another paper from the JTEKT Engineering Journal [PDF] indicates that on higher-power versions of column-mounted EPS,

sensitivity to such inverse inputs as flutter and brake vibration has become higher. J-ISM [JTEKT's EPS assist control algorithm] has adopted a suppression system that can detect inverse input vibration as torque differentiation value, and by providing assist in the direction of canceling the vibration, the vibration is not transmitted to the steering wheel.

In short, tactile feedback is actively canceled, not only reducing the driver’s ability to respond to an emergency based on steering feel, but also further loading the EPS system with compensation duties in addition to pure steering control.

The point of all this is not to merely raise unwarranted fears about EPS. Improved efficiency and lower costs are the very definition of a successful automotive system, and as long as EPS offers these benefits, its use will continue to grow. As this trend continues, it will be important for safety watchdogs to pay close attention to these systems. Without pressure to include redundancy, fail-safes and extremely robust sensor units, suppliers will continue to cut the cost of these systems to remain competitive with the growing number of firms that offer similar systems. Just as importantly, these new electronic systems require a new approach to safety that pays as much attention to driver reaction to malfunctions as to the malfunctions themselves. Only in this way can we be sure that relatively minor malfunctions don’t yield an epidemic of inexplicable accidents and recalls.

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90 Comments on “Who’s Afraid Of Electric Power Steering?...”


  • avatar
    BMWfan

    Scary stuff! I for one will keep the traditional system and suffer the .1 mpg loss, thank you very much. This is the reason I do not want to buy a new car. The almighty quest for mpg improvement has taken all of the fun out of cars. If I want to ride in an appliance I will take the train.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      Hi BMWfan! BMW today is using rackEPS(ZF) in its senior cars, EPS in the Mini and from the middle of this year on will be using rackPas(TK) in its mid-series cars.

      For the rest of you out there, other notable users of EPS:
      - VW: Golf and Passat
      - Ford: Focus-based-vehicles,
      - smaller Fiat products
      - many Opel-based products
      - and plenty of others …

    • 0 avatar
      Greg Locock

      Some more for your list

      Mazda 2

      Ford Fiesta

      Toyota Kluger (I don’t know what they call it in the USA, Camry based SUV)

    • 0 avatar
      amca

      I just recently saw a reference to some car, and I can’t remember what it was, that uses an electric pump to more efficiently provide pressure to a hydraulic assist mechanism. Best of both worlds, though clearly more complex and expensive.

    • 0 avatar
      rpn453

      amca,
      My 2004 Mazda3 has that system (electrohydraulic). It provides great feel and I’ve had no problems with it.

  • avatar
    Contrarian

    Check out forums for the previous generation Malibu. They have a very high failure rate for their EPS.

    http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=2005+malibu+electric+power+steering&aq=f&aqi=&oq=

  • avatar
    guyincognito

    First, it should be mentioned that electric power steering systems do have a mechanical link to the wheels. They also are tested to verify they can not lock up under any scenario and prevent steering, even after a fairly severe crash.

    Additionally, extra or uneven effort are actually problems common to hydraulic systems as well. Contamination can stick a valve open and prevent hyraulic fluid from flowing in the intended cylinder, for example.

    It is certainly true that it is much harder to produce communicative steering feel with electric assist. In fact, one of the main advantages is the ability to prevent nibble and other common nvh issues from reaching the driver.

    This brings up another point about EPAS, it is not only cheaper and more efficient, but it also more reliable. Hydraulic systems are plagued by issues like cut seals leading to loss of power steering fluid, pump whine, nibble, clunk, etc. Electric assist can virtually eliminate these problems and thus lead to greater customer satisfaction and much lower warranty costs.

    I’m not saying EPAS doesn’t have issues, but there is no reason it can’t be designed to work effectively and safely.

    That said, I much prefer hydraulic steering stystems.

    • 0 avatar
      MBella

      I’m just speculating here, but the only way I can see a car with EPS being “unsteerable” is if the electric motor is fighting you. As you said, they do have the mechanical link.However, if the motor is steering left, and you need to go right, you will not be able to overpower it. Now as I said, I have no idea what is actually failing in this instance, and customer perception of a car being “unsteerable’ might just be lack of power assist.

      Personally, I hate both types of power steering systems, and would take a manual rack and pinion any day.

      • 0 avatar
        cyn

        Just happened to us today, which is what has me searching and brought me to this article. My husband said the power steering was acting funny this morning, then it suddenly died. I wouldn’t say it’s unsteerable, but my husband does manual labor for a living and has good upper body strength, and he struggles to steer the car. He took it to our Toyota dealer. It’s going to cost a bit over $1000 to repair. Almost $600 for the part and the rest is labor. The whole dashboard needs to come off. He went to a friend’s garage and looked up the time allotted for this repair in some sort of book and it’s 6 hours. The car is a 2009 Toyota Matrix XRS with 63,000 miles on it.

    • 0 avatar
      MadHungarian

      I am trying not to be a Luddite, really I am, but when it is said that electronic systems are more reliable than mechanical ones, I think that consideration is not being given to the differences in failure modes. The kinds of failures experienced in a hydraulic PS system – leaks, pump noise, nibbling, etc. — are gradual failures that usually can be attended to by the driver before they result in a catastrophic failure. Electronics can be fine one moment and then suddenly go completely kaput.

      It is possible that we will eventually get to a very reliable electronic steering system, but it might take a LONG time. I am thinking of electronic fuel injection and electronic ignitions as a comparison. Once again, carbureted engines with points ignitions usually didn’t fail suddenly. If you didn’t ignore the early symptoms of a problem you could keep the car in tune and not get stranded. Early efforts at replacing these systems with electronics were troublesome. I had a ’77 Lincoln and an ’88 Chevy that stranded me more than once. European makes had problems too. I think it took 15 years or so till we got electronic ignition and fuel management that is largely trouble free on most cars. We could put up with this learning curve because an electronic ignition failure usually left you stranded in a parking lot — a much more survivable event than failures of steering or accelerator control systems on the fly.

      The other difference in failure modes is that newer cars link multiple systems so that a failure of one either causes other failures or at least requires replacement of expensive electronic modules that control multiple systems. Sometimes this isn’t an electronic issue. I don’t even like serpentine belts. Why? Years ago I had an alternator seize on a ’74 Buick. I cut the alt belt and drove home — a substantial distance — on the battery. If the alternator seizes on an engine with a serpentine belt, the car is immediately undrivable.

      Another problem with electronic failures is there often is no limp home solution or temporary baling-wire fix. When I see a post-1990 car on the shoulder of the highway with the occupants fussing under the hood, I always wonder what they are doing. In most cases there is absolutely nothing they can do to get the car running again.

  • avatar
    CarPerson

    It is so totally wrong of the NHTSA to require a set minimim number of complaints before they will get off their butt and demand the cars be parked, recalled, or re-purchased.

    Why in the hell is this guy’s car sitting at his house instead of in a NHTSA garage in the middle of a complete tear-down???

    One, people, one! When something this fatal comes up, it should take only ONE to get moving on it.

    • 0 avatar
      Patrickj

      I’d be stunned if NHTSA Federal employees directly work in a garage where a car could be taken apart and analyzed.

      In the U.S. Government, especially outside of the Defense Department, such hands-on things are generally done by university or contractor-affiliated organizations working under contract or grant.

      Even though NHTSA has a facility in Ohio, the hands-on folks appear to be contractors.

      http://www.trcpg.com/whatsnewdetail.asp?id=29

    • 0 avatar
      210delray

      It is so totally wrong of the NHTSA to require a set minimim number of complaints before they will get off their butt and demand the cars be parked, recalled, or re-purchased.

      If NHTSA took every complaint at face value, there would be almost no cars that could be driven. Have you ever looked at the database and seen the number of crackpot complaints?

    • 0 avatar
      Ernie

      “If NHTSA took every complaint at face value, there would be almost no cars that could be driven. Have you ever looked at the database and seen the number of crackpot complaints?”

      Yup. I was looking to see if anyone else had the problem with a 100lb passenger not being heavy enough to trip my passenger seat occupancy sensor (60lbs is supposed to be the limit). I was browsing there on my car and they are . . . well, poorly written (being VERY forgiving).

      How they’ve escaped becoming an actually USABLE system (like any IT desk or many medical billing office uses) completely eludes me.

  • avatar
    Bancho

    1. All the vehicles in the opening paragraph have exactly zero to do with anything that could be considered “enthusiast”

    2. EPS doesn’t have to suck. I’m certain that a system engineered for an enthusiast vehicle with appropriately designed software could provide as much enjoyment as a hydraulic setup and function transparently to the driver.

    3. It’s the immediate goal of using the system to cut costs (and improve efficiency to some degree) that’s caused its proliferation especially in these lower end and/or appliance vehicles. The typical drivers of these vehicles will never give a crap (perhaps to their detriment) about steering feel.

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      The S2000 had EPS through its entire run, apparently without incident or complaint.

    • 0 avatar
      JuniperBug

      As does the RX-8, a car known (especially among reviews on this site) for its excellent handling.

    • 0 avatar
      Bancho

      So the real problem is when a company opts for the “WalMart grade” part like the JTEKT EPS or the CTS gas pedals.

      Electronic power steering and throttle control aren’t the problem in and of themselves.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      IIRC, they came equipped like this:
      NSX w/a NSK col-pas;
      Insight and Civic w/a a Showa pinion-pas;
      S2000 w/a Showa rack-pas (the RX-8 used the same motor)

      Generally, Honda’s systems come from Showa company (a steering and suspension company affiliated with the Honda keiretsu.)

    • 0 avatar
      JuniperBug

      That’s interesting, Walter. I know Showa as a big name in Japanese sport bike suspensions.

      As has been said, it seems that the problem with the affected cars isn’t so much electric steering as a bad implementation of it. We have yet to see how they hold up long-term, but I think there’s potential.

    • 0 avatar

      Add the current gen Honda Civic Si and Fit to the EPS list. Owned them both for years, with absolutely no complaints about the steering. Aside from the cost/weight/fuel savings, EPS service requirements can’t be beat. If Honda can get EPS right on an econobox like the Fit, there’s no excuse for other OEM’s to get it so wrong.

    • 0 avatar
      Steven02

      I would consider Cobalt SS for an enthusiast.

    • 0 avatar
      Brian P

      The VW Golf/Jetta Mk5 (of which I have one example) has electric power steering, and it’s reasonably well-regarded. I have no complaints about it. Someone else in this thread reports liking the steering in their Mk5 GTI … same steering system.

      But, it’s a different design from the one Toyota uses.

      Numb steering feel in Toyota vehicles is not limited to those with electric power steering. Every family-oriented Toyota vehicle in recent memory has grossly overassisted, numb steering, no matter whether the assistance is hydraulic or electric.

    • 0 avatar

      +1

      I fearlessly predict that EPS will be universal ten years from now, and issues of steering feel will be more or less resolved. A lot of the complaints about electric assist are identical to the complaints made about hydraulic power steering when it first appeared. There are electric systems already that have passable road feel, so it’s not an insurmountable problem.

  • avatar
    Richard Chen

    Mazda’s done okay by me with their EPS, anyone know who’s the manufacturer?

    • 0 avatar
      jpcavanaugh

      I as about say the same about my 2007 Honda Fit. I have never heard anyone grip about the steering feel in this car, and find it quite nice. Different manufacturer or design?

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      Richard, if it is an older Mazda 3, it is not a real EPAS, it is a hydraulic system with an electrically-driven hydraulic pump also called EHPAS or EHPS.

      1st Gen Mini also had an EHPS system (biggest complaint that I was aware of was a whirring noise from the pump.)

    • 0 avatar
      Emro

      As Robert.Walter points out, up until the 2010 Mazda3, most Mazdas have had EHPS (electro-hydraulic power steering) and not EPS. It works great, but it only replaces the belt-driven pump on the engine with an electric pump, all the fluid and lines are still there like a traditional power steering system.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      Funny story behind the 1st-gen Mazda3/5 and its Focus and S40/V50 siblings …

      Plan was to have a colEPS system … Ford underestimated what kind of power was needed from the system, while the colEPS supplier overestimated what kind of power its system could deliver …

      By the time it was recognized that the need and have lines did not cross, the engine design and vehicle package had been finalized … no room for a FEAD-driven hydraulic pump to support traditional HPS … no room at all to package a rackEPS system …

      Only way-out was the EHPAS solution.

  • avatar
    educatordan

    Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. “Cost savings” so let me ask does anybody maintain a list of the vehicles which have electric steering and those that don’t? Wonder which one the $10,000 Accent has?

    • 0 avatar
      Bancho

      The Hyundai site only says “power steering”. The Nissan site does specifically state that the versa has electric power steering though and it lists for <$10,000.

      For laughs I checked chevrolet.com and the Cobalt specs only mention power steering which is true, just vague on the implementation.

  • avatar
    John Holt

    Failure issues aside, exactly how are these “numb” and “tactile deficient” systems different in driveability than the fingertip-steer, overboosted systems of the 70s that had as much steer compliance as a limp spaghetti noodle?

    The pendulum keeps swinging…

  • avatar
    Russycle

    Mini Coopers have had EPS for a couple years now, haven’t heard anyone complaining about it. It can be done right.

    • 0 avatar
      Emro

      and MINI’s supplier is JTEKT… i hope my new Clubman doesn’t steer me into the other lane! :)

      MINI had problems with the EHPS on the 1st gen cars, i haven’t seen mention of issues with the new EPS system… i’ll have to poke around.

      I would hazard to guess that the MINI system is not column mounted:
      http://www.jtekt.co.jp/e/products/steering01.html
      now i want to find out which system it does use… Robert.Walter do you know? (you seem to have much knowledge :-))

  • avatar
    Libertyman03

    Now I’m scared, because I recently traded the Liberty for a 2006 Cobalt (yes, for fuel efficiency). Since it’s used, what would happen if the steering system is recalled? Would I get a notice from Chevy? And would they cover the cost since I am not the original owner?

    Jeez, I’m worried about this. I haven’t felt anything strange in the Cobalt, at least with the steering. What should I do?

    • 0 avatar
      Bancho

      If it’s a recall they would fix it for you as long as your car was one of the ones affected. It doesn’t matter if it’s used.

    • 0 avatar
      educatordan

      Yes you will get a notice if an actual recall happens. My 1997 Escort had a recall in 2001 for a possible airbag issue and I was contacted by Ford, shortly thereafter it had an issue with the MAP sensor failing but only affecting it enough to harm emissions, not actually make it un-drive-able, I was contacted about that too. Ford even affixed stickers under the hood to note for future purchasers that the recalls had been done.

  • avatar
    Barry K. Nathan

    I’ve been reading The Truth About Cars on an irregular basis for several years now, but I just now registered, because I finally have an opportunity to contribute to the discussion.

    I know from my personal experience that not all EPS is created equal. I currently have an ’06 Scion xA; the one thing I really miss compared to my previous car, an ’03 Honda Civic Hybrid, is the HCH’s (IMO) incredibly responsive steering. On the flip side, the steering on my mother’s ’05 Prius was the numbest I’ve ever experienced. I’m pretty sure that at some point in my childhood I played an arcade driving game (maybe it was Cruis’n USA?) that was less numb than that Prius. (It’s since been replaced with a 2010 Prius. While it doesn’t exactly have the best steering in the world, it’s not that much worse than my xA, and I’m pretty sure it’s much less numb than my ’01 Corolla was.)

    Anyway, my point is that EPS can and has been done without being dangerously numb. (I’ve spent too much time writing this comment, so maybe other posters will have made the same point by the time anyone reads this.)

  • avatar
    Robert.Walter

    A part of the problem in that the torque-sensor in colEPS systems is between the driver and the intermediate shaft, and as such, is reversed from the configuration in hydraulic systems. As a result, it is not really possible to take advantage of the natural sinusoidal torque variation inherent to an intermediate shaft system. (normally, the ‘trough’ of the curve is centered with the straight-ahead wheel position such that turning r or l of center takes increased torque, this ‘center-feel’ is sometimes also called ‘groove-feel’.)

    Problem is, that in a colEPS system, as the driver turns the steering wheel, T-bar/torque-sensor starts to wind-up and calls for assist before the i-shaft starts to turn, this, without proper countermeasures, can cause dead and fussy on-center and otherwise vague steering feel.

    • 0 avatar

      Apparently, Honda implemented the proper countermeasures for its colEPS. On those cars with dead/numb on-center feel, I’ve often wondered how much of that is a result of tire selection. As good as my Civic Si felt overall, there was a dramatic difference in steering feel when changing from winter tires to max performance summer tires. For anyone complaining of steering feel on any vehicle, I highly suggest reviewing your tire options.

  • avatar
    guyincognito

    Also, this line cracked me up: “drivers are constrained to continuously look at the road”

  • avatar
    Steven02

    This is typical of new technology. But, the same issues could happen with older technology. Power steering has failed in hydraulic systems as well. I don’t think the failure rate was this bad, but it did happen.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      No was hydraulic could ever be this bad now …

      I don’t have the exact figures for the Cobalt, but they were something like 1,800 complaints to NHTSA for just under a million sold.

      This equates to a defect rate of 1,800 ppm (pc per million.)

      If one realizes that not every defect, or warranty call, or episode garnered a call to NHTSA, the real ppm rate is certainly considerably higher.

      A ppm rate of anything >50 for a safety-related system is worthy of whatever ridicule anybody is willing to dish out against this system.

      They are so far beyond what’s acceptible that it reminded me of Space Balls when they reached “Ludicrous Speed”… I’m not quite sure what the warp trail behind them looks like, but I’m pretty sure it ain’t plaid…

    • 0 avatar

      Now wouldn’t it be interesting if someone brought that to the mic while LaHood was explaining why no one should drive their Toyota. I foresee a new NHTSA chief as soon as Obama thinks he can swing it.

    • 0 avatar
      Steven02

      Robert,
      I don’t have the exact numbers of the recalls, but I am saying that problems do happen with new technology. There were some people saying how this wouldn’t happen with hydraulic systems, but they do fail too. They don’t fail at this rate though, you are absolutely correct.

      Looks like GM and Toyota are going to be in a mess b/c of the JTEKT systems design, or lack there of. Anyone know if JTEKT designs for other vehicles as well?

      And for car applications no, I don’t think hydraulic systems were ever this bad, but there were some growing pains. That is all I am trying to say.

  • avatar
    TomH

    Clearly tagged as Editorial, and you’re on the Masthead as E-I-C, so there is no argument that you are entitled to your opinion on EPAS, but the pseudo-science and (literal) fear mongering are unfortunate.

    If you’ve ever thrown/broke a PS belt, you appreciate the absurdity of any claims to infallibility for hydraulic systems. The pseudo science statement comes from the fact that there is a direct mechanical linkage between the steering wheel and the front wheels in both PAS (Hydraulic) and EPAS systems.

    And about that closing paragraph:

    “The point of all this is not to merely raise unwarranted fears about EPS. Improved efficiency and lower costs are the very definition of a successful automotive system, and as long as EPS offers these benefits, its use will continue to grow. As this trend continues, it will be important for safety watchdogs to pay close attention to these systems. Without pressure to include redundancy, fail-safes and extremely robust sensor units, suppliers will continue to cut the cost of these systems to remain competitive with the growing number of firms that offer similar systems. Just as importantly, these new electronic systems require a new approach to safety that pays as much attention to driver reaction to malfunctions as to the malfunctions themselves. Only in this way can we be sure that relatively minor malfunctions don’t yield an epidemic of inexplicable accidents and recalls.”

    Puh-leeeeeeese.

    • 0 avatar
      Eric Bryant

      You are missing the difference in failure modes between hydraulic and electric systems.

      Hydraulic systems tend to fail in a passive manner – they just stop helping. That’s relatively benign.

      Electric systems can fail passively – or they can fail in a manner that dramatically increases the steering effort if the motor acts as a brake (such as the locked rotor condition that would occur with a shorter motor winding or fault condition in the drive electronics). Even more fun is if the motor actively attempts to drive the steering column or rack – in this case, the car can actually attempt to steer itself, and it may be rather difficult for an untrained driver of normal strength to counteract this failure.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m actually surprised it took this long for a comment of this kind to show up. Am I fear-mongering? Technically yes, although I prefer to think of it as Cassandra-ing. Do I have independent laboratory work to make an airtight case for my paranoia? Not even close.

      The idea for this piece came from my attempts to research the Cobalt/Corolla recalls. Descriptions of the reported incidents baffled me, and the only explanation I could come up was based on my own experiences driving EPS-equipped vehicles: they’re not consistent and predictable in the way hydraulic systems are.

      Throughout the Toyota recall situation, I’ve felt pretty strongly that responsibility for fatalities that resulted from unintended acceleration fell more on the side of operator error than anything else. The malfunction may have been the manufacturer’s fault, but there’s no evidence that the driver’s ability to affect the outcome of the incident was hindered. With EPS (particularly at the highway speeds reported in both investigations), I lacked the sense of certainty that a driver could have managed a steering malfunction as effectively, because steering feel and resistance isn’t consistent or linear. The research I found (and link to in the piece) establish that this basic concern has been present since EPS has been developed.

      I understand that it’s a little suspect to run a speculative piece like this in the midst of the ongoing Toyota situation (not to mention the ongoing Cobalt/Corolla investigations). Still, the topic captured my interest, so I wrote it up.

      My hope was that others with a better technical understanding of these issues would be able to provide more context and information in the comments. Or, perhaps even consider writing a piece to shed further light on the topic. Something more than “Puh-leeeese,” anyway.

      Hopefully we’ll all understand the specifics of this issue a little better when NHTSA comes back with finding on the Cobalt/Corolla investigation. Meanwhile, I always welcome (and will publish) well-argued rebuttals to anything found here at TTAC. Just hit up our contact form.
       

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      Eric pretty well summed it up. But I’ll add this: When HPAS fails, you wish you had a bigger steering wheel, if EPAS fails in one of its more dangerous modes, you’ll wish you had bionic biceps.

      TTAC’s Google search function is for shit, I can never find anything when I use it … but perhaps someone can find my earlier posts on this topic … for the on on “self-steering” (despite the report Ed found on the net, we never referred to this as “auto-steer”) search terms: “ashen face CEO”.

      btw, Ed, how come when I submit using your contact form I have to put in all that info? (This is when I am already registered.)

    • 0 avatar
      TomH

      Edward,

      I wrote off the fear mongering as your attempt to gain admission to the Roy LaHood School of Responsible Rhetoric, the “Puhleese” was in regard to the empty rhetoric of the last paragraph. Are there defects? Almost certainly, but the suggestion that today’s EPAS systems do not have “redundancy, fail-safes and extremely robust sensor units” is absurd.

      The current generation of EPAS may not have the haptics of a good rack & pinion system, but the trade-off for the EPAS numbness is includes the enabling of a number of safety (e.g. lane departure warning) and driver convenience (e.g. park assist) features. Eliminating hydraulics in steering systems also has a positive environmental impact and helps fuel efficiency. (Weight)

    • 0 avatar
      guyincognito

      @ Eric Bryant & Edward Niedermeyer,

      As I said in my comment above, hydraulic systems can also have uneven effort. They can lose fluid or the pump and immediately go to a no assist situation. The pump can also fight against you if the valve in the steering gear becomes stuck and causes the fluid to travel to the wrong side of the gear.

      I can not comment on how the JTEKT system feels, and maybe it is worse, but don’t think this issue is unique to EPAS systems.

    • 0 avatar
      Steven02

      Ed, while I would agree, that the UA incidents could have been mitigated by the operator, the data suggests that drivers are better prepared for the EPS loss.

      About 2000 complaints of UA, 980 accidents (if I remember correctly), and 19 deaths.

      For the Cobalt EPS, about 1000 complaints, 11 accidents, 1 injury.

      I think the reason for this is that when UA happens, it is sudden, surprising, and confuses people. The brakes are being fought against, and if you pump them you just made a terrible mistake. Most people don’t think of going into neutral or shutting the car off.

      For the Cobalt problem, when it happens, the brakes work, you stop the car where you are and turn on the hazards. Less surprising because you can slow down and don’t necessarily have to focus on the road as much as if your car was going 60 in a 35 zone.

  • avatar
    BMWfan

    @ Robert.Walter

    Hello Robert!

    Thanks for the info! Just confirms that I will keep my E46 till it dies. I do not want all of the new electronics. I would rather keep the crap I know than purchase a new pile that I am unfamiliar with. Maybe it’s just because I am getting older, but I do not like this trend in cars. I can’t fix anywhere near as much stuff as I could on my earlier cars. I guess that this is the way the manufacturers want it to pad the dealers pockets.

  • avatar
    Sinistermisterman

    I’m going to bring my inner-luddite out of the closet again…
    I can understand people’s arguments with regards to drive-by-wire gas pedals and better fuel management for the engine, but what is the benefit of this system apart from it being cheap?
    Nothing.
    Cars fitted with it are utter b*llocks to drive, and if it goes wrong it can seriously injure you? No thanks.
    Stick to hydraulic PAS. Yes it takes away engine power, but the failure of the power steering pump doesn’t completely rob you of control of the car. I’d gladly sacrifice 2bhp and 0.001mpg for the ability to steer my car.
    At least with a dodgy gas pedal you can brake and put the car into neutral. If a car suddenly decides to steer you into a tree and you can’t correct it, what hope do you have?

    • 0 avatar

      EPS is cheaper to produce, maintain, and provides better fuel economy. Properly implemented, it may possibly be more reliable over the life of a vehicle. I don’t have numbers to prove that, but I suspect it to be the case.

      I can absolutely assure you that a current gen Civic Si or S2000 is not “utter b*llocks to drive”, and if any of a great number of subsystems go wrong on any vehicle, they can injure you.

      EPS failure does not completely rob a driver of control any more than HPS failure does. As I said, if the econobox Fit has good EPS, it can be done right. I suspect Henry Ford used many of the same arguments against that new fangled hydraulic brake fad.

    • 0 avatar
      Quentin

      You lose power steering assist, not control.

      Apparently my GTI has fully-electric power assist. It has great road feel and is very easy to drive on long trips. It tracks so well that there is no fatigue during long stints of driving. My hydraulically assisted Impreza was not as pleasant. This was truly a blind test because I was unaware that my GTI was electrically assisted until moments ago.

  • avatar
    Sinistermisterman

    Ok, maybe not the Civic SI or S2000, but the Chevy Cobalt, Toyota Corolla and Fiat Grande Punto which I have driven (and are a tad more numerous on the roads) – are b*llocks handling cars. Its like playing on my Playstation, you feel completely removed from the road.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ll take your word for the steering feel of those cars, but that doesn’t mean that all EPS is bad.

      I didn’t say anything was more important than being able to steer a vehicle, but there are certainly equally important subsystems that can fail with disastrous results. Untimely air bag inflation, leaking fuel systems, tire blow outs, and acute brake failure immediately come to mind.

      @ EN: I appreciate this article and can understand your motivation to post it. No doubt Cobalt Dad is happy for the exposure, and perhaps it’s time for JTEKT sourced EPS systems to be scrutinized further.

  • avatar
    dkulmacz

    You do realize that in Mr. Bendale’s second quote, he is referring to a “poorly designed EPAS system”, yes?

    Of course a poorly designed system could have non-linearity, and lack of tactile feedback, and all other types of problems he describes. It’s already been identified as a poorly designed system.

    A well designed system can have excellent characteristics, as evidenced by some of the examples given in earlier comments.

    But the remainder of the article speak as though the characteristics of the proposed poorly designed system were equivalent to those of a well designed — or even typical — system. That seems like fear-mongering to me . . .

  • avatar
    Nicodemus

    The MGF was one of the first cars with full EPAS. Not only was this a sweet handling vehicle, there also don’t appear to be too many reports of them randomly veering off into hedgerows.

    Even when the systems fails or gets old it doesn’t seem to be a real biggy..

    http://www.mgf.ultimatemg.com/group2/common_problems/epas_reset/index.htm

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      IIRC, MGF and NSX both used similar EPS systems from NSK.

    • 0 avatar
      Nicodemus

      No I think your recollection is having you on. They were very different systems, the MGF had a manual rack with the motor providing annular assistance directly to the steering column. The NSX acted directly on the rack. The NSX system wasn’t a NSK system either…

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      I wasn’t entirely sure … Knew THE MGF had the colPAS from NSK, and my recollection was of being told the NSX had something in common with MGF, perhaps it was that they both used DC-brushed motors… I’m no loner sure of this point.

  • avatar
    carlisimo

    I take it they checked the alignments on the cars whose owners complained about steering problems?

  • avatar
    davejay

    I have to say, I always felt the power steering in my last two Sentras was overboosted, and the same for my current Versa. If I could somehow unplug/disable the electric power steering without voiding my warranty, I would, just to see if I preferred it — lord knows I’ve driven a lot of small cars without power steering.

  • avatar
    namstrap

    I’ve been in auto parts for quite a while. Back in the mid-eighties I did a stint at a Subaru dealer. The XT sports car spawned and XT-6 with a flat six boxer engine, and because there was no room now for a traditional steering pump with associated plumbing, they installed an electric motor driven one.
    I think the difference here is that the motor drove a hydraulic pump, and because it was electrically controlled, the speed it ran at could be managed by the on-board computer, taking into consideration such things as steering wheel input, amount of movement in a given time, vehicle speed, etc.
    I may be getting older and forgetful, but I don’t remember a problem with this system in the few years I worked there.

  • avatar
    Geo. Levecque

    The current Corolla steering was one reason that Phil Edmonston of the Lemon-Aid books down rated the Corolla in his latest book, he called the problem instability and excessive road wander, he also suggested that the optional 185/65R14 Tires should be ordered for better steering response and additional high speed stability.

    I drive a RAV4 2008, I have not noticed anything wrong with the Steering since new. Current mileage is 28,000 kms.

  • avatar
    MarcKyle64

    I bought a 2007 Cobalt LS and the steering was absolute crap. There was no road feel, it had about as much steering feedback as the old Pole Position arcade game. Numb is exactly the word. There was no feedback telling me I needed to do a steering correction other than a very vigilant watching of the road. I figured I could live with the steering since the out the door price was good and the engine seemed willing enough. At about 8,000 miles or so a year later, I started hearing and feeling a big ‘clunk’ from the front when I turned the wheel at low speed, so off I go to the dealer service department. They told me I had a worn out steering shaft and replaced it under warranty. Mind you, I’m 45. I don’t drive full bore over speed bumps. I’m careful when I go over railroad tracks. The roads where I live are in good repair. So what in the hades is a major steering component doing wearing out so fast? Is this related to the EPS problem? Will the replacement wear thru again after another 8,000 miles which will be after my warranty expires?

  • avatar
    Garak

    I’ve driven several VW Caddies (Golf-based van) at work, and all have had steering issues in the winter. The steering freezes occasionally, usually when turning the wheel more than 180 degrees, and the headlights dim at the same time. It also happens when turning the wheel in one direction, then quickly to the other.

    According to the mechanics, there are no problems with the cars, and the sticking steering is a normal feature.

  • avatar
    shaker

    My Hyundai Elantra’s EPS is definitely of the “numb-on-center” variety, and if your attention wanders for a second, so will the car, especially on heavily-crowned pavement. I don’t like it, but I accept it for what it is; if I drove a lot more than I do, then I’d probably complain about the “fatigue factor” as well.

    EPS is monitored digitally, any failure will disable the assist, and pop an “EPS” idiot light.

    • 0 avatar
      cars2drive

      I have been car shopping to replace my 2004 Hyundai Elantra and first checked out the 2013 models that are equipped with electric power steering. I was appalled at how awful it was – as the phrase accurately describes it “numb on center”. I was constantly waiting for the car to go off course when I then corrected it and then started waiting again. The Elantra’s EPS runs totally contrary to the most basic and important aspect of driving – being in constant control of the car. Instead, driving was more like playing an arcade game. I think EPS as set up in the Elantra is dangerous and am amazed Hyundai allowed it to be installed. I can only imagine trying do drive it on snow or ice. I didn’t buy the new Elantra mainly because of the EPS. The electric assisted hydraulic (e.g. Mazda 3) give much better road feel – and you get very good mpgs too.

  • avatar
    capdeblu

    A co-worker of mine has a 2006 G6 and the electric steering went out at 60,000 miles. It cost 2500$ to fix.

    • 0 avatar
      snowcrash

      The Pontiac G6 was notorious for EPS failures as well. Had a 2006 G6 that the power steering went out on as well while driving. People don;t realize just how difficult these things are to steer when the EPS goes out. It’s not like when hydraulic power steering goes out (in my youth i drove cars around with dead steering pumps cause of $$$), there is significantly more steering effort when these units fail. Dangerously high in my opinion. It was about $1200 to “repair” the steering in this car. It started failing again within a couple of weeks. Traded it in on a 2009 Pontiac G6 as otherwise it was a great car. Interesting thing to note is that about the only change between the years was that they removed the EPS and went to hydraulic power in the last model years. Obviously they realized the EPS was garbage. But if you were stuck with one of the older models they left you high and dry.

  • avatar
    tedward

    Awesome article. If TTAC did this every day I’d hardly look at other websites.

    I think these steering problems are deserved. When a company is sourcing one of the most important parts of a car in a cheap and careless manner the inevitable result should be complaints about tactility and safety/reliability. When they get away with it the problem just grows, and encourages further ill-advised cost cutting in the areas where money should be spent.

    I think we should all relish in bending them over the barrel here, if for no other reason than the quality of our future choices. I would love to see the tie-in between quality of steering feel and cheapness of the EPS to become part of the narrative, especially if cheap EPS systems are going to be associated with dangerous faults. Maybe GM and Toyota could be pushed a little bit further toward our own ideals.

  • avatar
    blowfish

    So the real problem is when a company opts for the “WalMart grade” part like the JTEKT EPS or the CTS gas pedals.

    Electronic power steering and throttle control aren’t the problem in and of themselves.

    It is true they can splurge on Military grade electronic circuit board , components and soldering technique.

    If it can work on a plane why not work on ground, these fremlins did happened on Mercedes before but not on their steering column yet.

    Thank God my F250 & 350 were both very old touch wood their good old hydraulic steering were still going very strong.

    EPS could suffer more issues once it has to run through the central clearing house of the car’s ECU aka Computer or Brain. Thats like u go thru the Central Committee for even going going to the sand box.

    Circa 10 yrs ago, folks were saying those BMW V12s have computer to run everything, even as simple as the power window, at that time I was kind of half believe and half not. But then was only the coming, now is a reality.
    Because of power window had crushed some kids neck so now they put a sensor in it, so as these new posh Porsche who will drop window couple of Centimetres when u pull on the door latch so it will not rub the weather strip every time u open the door.
    When they only design the car to run for 5-6 yrs why bother to put so much gadgetry in it?

    In a few yrs all these new EPS, E Brakes, Gas pedal and drive by wire stuff are going to make some of us to look for older cars that have were designed by the Luddites of her days.

    OT the early Mercedes diesels had some issues of the vacuum pump went out, so u have no power assist brakes, it did happened to my bro, but since I had 5-6 of them now Thank God & touch wood they never had such issue, only 1 had a noisy vac pump I changed her.
    I was told the ball bearings when dropped down into the crank case could do a world of damage.

  • avatar
    blowfish

    EPS is monitored digitally, any failure will disable the assist, and pop an “EPS” idiot light.

    God forbid u driving on some hilly terrain, with lots of turning action, or young, small physique drivers that cannot wrestle the steering wheel when extra power is needed.
    Not being a sexist how many drivers on the road were female?
    Even for a guy if the load suddenly comes on that needed double the effort how do u deal with it safely?

    I have moved cars that the PS were not working but I can gauged the strength it needed before I need to turn any way.

  • avatar
    niky

    The real issue, really, is the calibration of the steering systems in these cars.

    Last I drove a Corolla, I adjugded the power steering to be too light, overboosted and too twitchy. It had a terribly hard time keeping on center by itself, and required lots and lots of corrective actions to stay in one lane on the highway.

    Most electric systems are better. The norm nowadays, in fact, is to program the electric assist to firm up at highway speeds, for better tracking at cruising speeds. Toyota doesn’t do this… for some odd reason.

    -

    Electric steering systems suck. While hydraulics could go when the valves start sticking or the belts start slipping, electric motors can overheat… go bad… on many Korean and Chinese cars, the steering gets better after 20-30,000 miles. Why? The electric motor loses power. Heat, traffic and effort just destroy it.

    With a hydraulic system, you can repair it. Most electric steering systems are sealed units, and require replacement, outright. I like the new electronic paradigm, mind you… electronic ignition, electronic throttles, etcetera… but electronic steering? It’s another expensive service item, to me.

    -

    There was one track session here where a Honda test-driver from Japan came over to duke it out with local drivers in a Honda Fit challenge. Before his timed lap, he’d be sitting in the pits, sawing away at the steering wheel.

    Why? To kill the electric motor, of course. Car drove better that way.

  • avatar
    Bruce from DC

    You should separate the two problems in your post. Problem #1 is poor “steering feel” from EPS. That appears to be a design/implementation issue as many report EPS-steered cars that have good steering feel. The cars I grew up driving in the 60s had “muscle-power” steering, even the big Chevy sedans (my dad always bought the stripper model). They were a chore to park and required some vigorous cranking of the wheel to steer on a curvy-road, mechanical advantage being necessary to reduce effort to tolerable levels. The power-assisted steering of the cars of that era was completely numb.

    Problem #2 is more serious. If a failure mode of EPS is having to fight the motor trying to steer you left when you don’t want to steer left, or overcoming the drag of a non-functioning or seized electric motor, that is clearly a problem. I suppose it may be possible for a failed hydraulic system to steer the car when you don’t want to turn, but that’s got to be extraordinarily rare. The most common failure mode (that I’ve experienced) is loss of power assist from a broken drive belt or hydraulic fluid loss as a result of a system breach.

  • avatar
    wmba

    So I’ve asked 3 people this week who own 2010 Corollas whether the car wanders erratically at speed on the highway. I’ve done this because after reading the NHTSA website last weekend, it seemed to me that all new Corollas were highway death traps.

    So, none of the three folks notice anything untoward on the highway compared to their previous or other cars. However, reading the NHTSA comments, it seemed that this was a characteristic of the Corolla. None of the three felt unsafe driving on the highway.

    Now, I’ve been deeply involved in RC car racing (1/8 scale gas)AWD, all independent suspension, and the stiction reported by Corolla owners might be the EPAS system, but it might also be overly tight ball joints or steering rod connections, that the EPAS system cannot correct for near the straightahead. Happens to our servo electric steering miniature cars all the time. That and not enough caster to force the car to go straight ahead. Maybe lack of toe-in as well.

    Not all problems are necessarily due to one cause. And funnily enough, when you get sufficiently expert at R/C control and race 7 others at the same time, you seem to develop a feeling for steering feel — and get fast reflexes.

    Sure, with EPAS some implementations are better than others, but let’s not blame wander on electric steering to the exclusion of other problems.

  • avatar
    fred schumacher

    My brother-in-law bought a new Corolla last year and he hated the steering. He took it back to the dealer several times but to no avail. It was very difficult to keep the car going straight down the road, a serious condition in North Dakota, where so many of the roads are straight. He finally gave up and traded it in on a Mazda and has had no complaints.

  • avatar

    Glad I found this! I currently am experiencing a lot of issues with my 2005 Equinox. 68,600 miles
    -EXCESSIVE Rattle coming from steering column when on bumpy roads
    -”Dead” spot in steering
    -loss of powersteering when trying to manuever out of tight parking spaces…you literally can not move the wheel…like when trying to do small space 3-pt turns.
    -replaced strut
    -bad swaybar bushings which is causing a extremely annoying squeaking noise
    -Key sticking in ignition after shutting off car. It will come about 1/2 way out and they you have to use excessive force to get it out
    -Car periodically will not start…usually after it has been started, shut off and sat for a few minutes and then tried to restart. After about 2-3 tries it will start
    -Short lived break and rotors…need replaced again after only 7 months
    -Windows “skip” when putting up in down in the rain

    Although my personal mechanic is one of the most ethical still around (he didn’t charge me service bc he couldn’t fix–dealers would never do that) he checked my steering column issue and told me what he thought was wrong but did not know how to fix it due to not having much experience with the “new” way Chevy designed their power steering. He is betting that the noise and steering issues is due to a “dead” spot in the EPS system.
    If anyone out there can comment on this and give advise it would be great…I WANT CHEVY TO PAY FOR THESE PROBLEMS…these are not normal wear and tear issue that should be happening to a car that is only 5 years old! If I end up in an accident with my 4 & 8 year old, trust me when I say Chevy will be sued…THIS STEERING ISSUE SHOULD HAVE BEEN RECALLED WHEN THE COMPLAINTS STARTED ROLLING IN IN 2006-7!

  • avatar
    Aaron12345

    If Honda doesn’t have any problems with their electric steering why does a lot of the other manufacturers do? Specially Toyota. I bought a 2008 Toyota Matrix that has the hydraulic steering because I was afraid of their electric steering recalls aon the 09′s and newer. I test drove a 2009 matrix which has the electric steering and did not like the feel of it and it was too sensitive. I will keep my 2008 matrix until all of the electric steering problems have been fixed.

  • avatar
    nazreex

    As someone mentioned above,not all EPS are the same.I test drive many cars fitted with EPS including Corolla/Altis before.My comment on Corolla-Lousy.After heard the 2009 recall issues,then I know its not only give you bad steering feeling,but also can kill your families.
    I drive VW Touran and the EPS is from ZF.I like the performance and never heard any issues about the EPS.
    So back to basic.I think its depend on company philosophy.Some japanese in JTEKT may think too much on cost rather than safety.I hope and believe ZF will not compromised any item related to safety as I think this is normal German thinking.
    So do not afraid of buying car fitted with EPS.Soon or later,there will be no more hydraulic power steering.

  • avatar

    Even though there are some inherent problems with EPS systems there is no doubt in my mind that hydraulic power steering systems will be obsolete within the next 10 years. The current problems with EPS systems will be worked through – most of the issues such as overheating and twitchy and unpredictable movement have been fixed by most manufacturers. Electric Power Steering systems will continue to advance. Another trend to watch for is aftermarket bolt on EPS systems for both cars that do not have power steering, and systems to convert from the archaic hydraulic steering ;) Check out the bolt on kits from this company – http://electricpowersteering.net

  • avatar
    beetlebugged

    The new 2012 Beetle has this steering and it is horrible. It is going back for a different car next week.

    Having just owned a vehicle with hydraulic steering, the steering on the new Beetle is SLOPPY, and requires so much steering wheel movement JUST TO GO STRAIGHT that in my other vehicle I would have been weaving all over the highway.

    It has wanderd into other lanes on the expressway SIX TIMES driving normally. The last straw was a SEMI TRACTOR TRAILER’s horn that made me realize it was indeed wandering to the right. I took my attention off needing to constant compensate steering just to keep it going straight to simply turn up the song on the radio.

    Because of this steering the 2012 Beetle is NOT READY FOR PRIME TIME. It is a hazardous vehicle and the dealer is getting it back next week.

  • avatar
    paulgrueser

    I own or should I say used to own a 2006 Honda Civic Lx with a 5 speed manual transmission. I’m not sure if my car has EPS but I assume it does from reading other peoples post’s that have the identical car. My experience is as follows, I was driving to work on 8/7/12 at 9:00am, the weather was sunny and about 80 deg. I had my windows rolled halfway down because it was so nice. As I was getting on the entrance ramp to a two lane highway I noticed my tires sounded odd, like I was on a rough road but the road was freshly paved blacktop. As I continued to drive ( in the right hand lane ) I heard a thump similar to a bad shock absorber that bottoms out when you hit a pot hole but I didn’t feel anything. I looked in my rear view mirror and didn’t see anything. A minute or two later I thought I smelled burning rubber but I wasn’t sure it was from my car but there were no other cars around me.
    I decided to pull off at the next exit to see if something was wrong even though the car seemed to drive fine. Within a minute or so the car drifted into the left lane by itself ( I was going 68mph with cruise control on ) I tried to steer back into the right lane but even though my steering wheel turned like normal the car didn’t respond.
    At this point I realized I had no steering and the only logical thing to do was to slowly put on the brakes which I did. The car then went back into the right lane then went to the left and then back to the right where it went off the road down a grassy embankment turned sideways and rolled over several times and landed on the roof of the car after becoming airborn. Luckily I had my seat belt on like I always do and was not killed.
    The police officer investigating the accident said they could find nothing wrong with the steering.

  • avatar
    boxingbarry

    ” I own or should I say used to own a 2006 Honda Civic Lx with a 5 speed manual transmission. I’m not sure if my car has EPS but I assume it does from reading other peoples post’s that have the identical car.”

    The 2006 Honda Civic Lx is equipped with hydraulic steering. Only the SI models were equipped with electric assist.

  • avatar
    brandloyalty

    “Road feel” is one matter, but EPAS failure is another.

    Toyota Prius, Camry and Highlander hybrids use EPAS, as did the Ford Escape Hybrids. All have had dozens of EPAS failures reported. Hybrids typically have EPAS because they need to maintain steering boost when the gas engine is shut off. The symptom is sudden total loss of the boost from the electric power steering. There is no warning. Because there is a physical column, steering is still possible but very difficult. Loss of boost while initiating a turn can and will result in accidents. Applying the brakes and/or shutting the vehicle off and on again seems to correct the problem. The failure does not trigger OBDII codes. Toyota has recalled their faulty hybrids, while Ford has not. So Ford is comfortable making their normal profits on this approximately $2000 repair for a design failure that endangers their customers.

    I have a 2009 Escape Hybrid, have experienced this problem once. I’m having the steering column assembly replaced. 2008 Escape Hybrids most commonly suffer this problem, followed by the 2009, then the pre-2008′s. The 2010-2012′s rarely have the problem. Ford variously says they don’t think it’s a safety problem because not enough of their customers have died, or it’s not a significant safety problem to begin with.

    NHTSA in the US and Transport Canada are aware of this, but so far have not required Ford to do a recall. I urge anyone with a Toyota hybrid to have the recall/repair done, and anyone whose Escape Hybrid has had an EPAS failure to report it. It makes no sense to be driving a ticking time bomb, and the more Escapes are reported the sooner Ford will have to deal with it.


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