Many modern cars use rack and pinion steering mechanisms, where the steering wheel turns the pinion gear; the pinion moves the rack, which is a linear gear that meshes with the pinion, converting circular motion into linear motion along the transverse axis of the car (side to side motion). This motion applies steering torque to the kingpins of the steered wheels via tie rods and a short lever arm called the steering arm.
The rack and pinion design has the advantages of a large degree of feedback and direct steering "feel"; it also does not normally have any backlash, or slack. A disadvantage is that it is not adjustable, so that when it does wear and develop lash, the only cure is replacement.
Older designs often use the recirculating ball mechanism, which is still found on trucks and utility vehicles. This is a variation on the older worm and sector design; the steering column turns a large screw (the "worm gear") which meshes with a sector of a gear, causing it to rotate about its axis as the worm gear is turned; an arm attached to the axis of the sector moves the pitman arm, which is connected to the steering linkage and thus steers the wheels. The recirculating ball version of this apparatus reduces the considerable friction by placing large ball bearings between the teeth of the worm and those of the screw; at either end of the apparatus the balls exit from between the two pieces into a channel internal to the box which connects them with the other end of the apparatus, thus they are "recirculated".
The recirculating ball mechanism has the advantage of a much greater mechanical advantage, so that it was found on larger, heavier vehicles while the rack and pinion was originally limited to smaller and lighter ones; due to the almost universal adoption of power steering, however, this is no longer an important advantage, leading to the increasing use of rack and pinion on newer cars. The recirculating ball design also has a perceptible lash, or "dead spot" on center, where a minute turn of the steering wheel in either direction does not move the steering apparatus; this is easily adjustable via a screw on the end of the steering box to account for wear, but it cannot be entirely eliminated or the mechanism begins to wear very rapidly. This design is still in use in trucks and other large vehicles, where rapidity of steering and direct feel are less important than robustness, maintainability, and mechanical advantage. The much smaller degree of feedback with this design can also sometimes be an advantage; drivers of vehicles with rack and pinion steering can have their thumbs broken when a front wheel hits a bump, causing the steering wheel to kick to one side suddenly (leading to driving instructors telling students to keep their thumbs on the front of the steering wheel, rather than wrapping around the inside of the rim). This effect is even stronger with a heavy vehicle like a truck; recirculating ball steering prevents this degree of feedback, just as it prevents desirable feedback under normal circumstances.
The steering linkage connecting the steering box and the wheels usually conforms to a variation of Ackermann steering geometry, to account for the fact that in a turn, the inner wheel is actually traveling a path of smaller radius than the outer wheel, so that the degree of toe suitable for driving in a straight path is not suitable for turns.
The worm and sector was an older design, used for example in Willys and Chrysler vehicles, and the Ford Falcon (1960's).
A hydraulic power steering (HPS) uses hydraulic pressure supplied by an engine-driven pump to assist the motion of turning the steering wheel. Electric power steering (EPS) is more efficient than the hydraulic power steering, since the electric power steering motor only needs to provide assistance when the steering wheel is turned, whereas the hydraulic pump must run constantly. In EPS the assist level is easily tunable to the vehicle type, road speed, and even driver preference. An added benefit is the elimination of environmental hazard posed by leakage and disposal of hydraulic power steering fluid.
In most active four-wheel steering systems, the rear wheels are steered by a computer and actuators. The rear wheels generally cannot turn as far as the front wheels. Some systems, including Delphi's Quadrasteer and the system in Honda's Prelude line, allow for the rear wheels to be steered in the opposite direction as the front wheels during low speeds. This allows the vehicle to turn in a significantly smaller radius — sometimes critical for large trucks or vehicles with trailers.
Many modern vehicles offer a form of passive rear steering to counteract normal vehicle tendencies. For example, Subaru used a passive steering system to correct for the rear wheel's tendency to toe-out. On many vehicles, when cornering, the rear wheels tend to steer slightly to the outside of a turn, which can reduce stability. The passive steering system uses the lateral forces generated in a turn (through suspension geometry) and the bushings to correct this tendency and steer the wheels slightly to the inside of the corner. This improves the stability of the car, through the turn. This effect is called compliance understeer and it, or its opposite, is present on all suspensions. Typical methods of achieving compliance understeer are to use a Watt's Link on a live rear axle, or the use of toe control bushings on a twist beam suspension. On an independent rear suspension it is normally achieved by changing the rates of the rubber bushings in the suspension. Some suspensions will always have compliance oversteer due to geometry, such as Hotchkiss live axles or a semi trailing arm IRS.
General Motors offers Delphi's Quadrasteer in their consumer Silverado/Sierra and Suburban/Yukon. However, only 16,500 vehicles have been sold with this system since its introduction in 2002 through 2004. Due to this low demand, GM will not offer the technology on the 2007 update to these vehicles.
Previously, Honda had four-wheel steering as an option in their 1987-2000 Prelude, and Mazda also offered four-wheel steering on the 626 and MX6 in 1988. Neither system was very popular, in that whatever improvement they brought to these already excellent-handling vehicles was offset by an unavoidable decrease in sensitivity caused by the increased weight and complexity.
A new "Active Drive" system is introduced on the 2008 version of the Renault Laguna line. It was designed as one of several measures to increase security and stability. The Active Drive should lower the effects of under steer and decrease the chances of spinning by diverting part of the G-forces generated in a turn from the front to the rear tires. At low speeds the turning circle can be tightened so parking and maneuvering is easier.
Articulated steering is a system by which a four-wheel drive vehicle is split into front and rear halves which are connected by a vertical hinge. The front and rear halves are connected with one or more hydraulic cylinders that change the angle between the halves, including the front and rear axles and wheels, thus steering the vehicle. This system does not use steering arms, king pins, tie rods, etc. as does four-wheel steering. If the vertical hinge is placed equidistant between the two axles, it also eliminates the need for a central differential, as both front and rear axles will follow the same path, and thus rotate at the same speed.
As of 2007 there are no production cars available that rely solely on steer-by-wire technology due to safety and reliability concerns, but this technology has been demonstrated in numerous concept cars.
Collapsible steering columns were invented by Bela Barenyi.
Ford started to install collapsible steering columns in 1968.