Hydraulic-Assist: The Best Jeep Steering Upgrade You'll Ever Make [Video]
The two most important systems on a given vehicle are the brakes and steering. It’s doesn’t matter how fast you can go, because if you can’t steer or stop, you’re in trouble. Since we already have our stoppers in check with a big brake kit from Dynatrac, the only real thing that was lacking on our 2013 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon build was the steering system. Sure, we had previously upgraded it a little with an over-the-knuckle steering setup from JKS Manufacturing. However, once we added the grippy 37-inch Nitto Ridge Grapplers, our steering system felt a bit overwhelmed on the trail.
This was only compounded when we engaged the Rubicon’s front differential locker. While we love the fact that the selectable TruLok locker can be disengaged on the street, off-road it can present a challenge. This is mostly due to the locking differential becoming a spool when engaged. Since it offers no give (change in wheel speed from side to side) it can be too much for the stock steering system to handle. Couple this with tires aired down into the single digit range and it only gets worse.
The good news is this isn’t a complicated issue to resolve. In fact, with the help of the steering geniuses at PSC Motorsports, we’ve been conquering our steering woes with hydraulic-assist steering systems for years. The concept behind a hydro-assist kit is that it removes much of the mechanical strain and force from your steering gearbox by placing a hydraulic cylinder at the axle. As you steer the vehicle one way or the other, the cylinder helps push/pull the tie-rod, taking much of the load off of the steering gear.
On a JK, this is a major benefit given that the 2007 to 2018 Jeeps have notoriously weak sector shafts. Thanks to PSC’s Big Bore XD gearbox that increases the stock sector shaft by 35 percent, this is no longer an issue. When optioned with the assist system such as we did, it makes for an absolutely robust steering setup.
Tires Where They Need to Be
Tire size, wheel backspacing and air pressure can all challenge your steering system. Terrain can also play a major role. In high-traction scenarios, such as the rockcrawling Mecca of Moab, Utah, the steering battle can be even worse. Our 37x12.50R17 Nitto Ridge Grapplers like to grab the trail—even more so when they are aired down into the single digits. With the hydro-assist kit, we have yet to find a scenario where the steering system couldn’t put our tires where we needed them.
In order for the steering system to function optimally, it needs to run cool. PSC includes this massive in-line cooler, which we placed at the base of the support bar behind our JK’s grille. Since all the necessary fittings and hoses came with the kit, plumbing the system is fairly easy.
Your steering system is gravity fed, so it’s important to have the fluid reservoir mounted above and close to the pump. Given that this system replaces virtually every critical part of the steering system, there needed to be a new place for a fluid reservoir to mount. PSC provides a bracket that sets it just in front of the JK’s air box for Wranglers fit with the 3.6L engine. Despite the size of the new fluid tank, we still had plenty of room to re-install our stock air filter box.
The steering cylinder is axle-specific, so it doesn’t exceed or limit steering axle. Once you have the axle-side tabs where you need them, you’ll weld them in place, then position the tie-rod clamp accordingly. We’re still running the original tie-rod, but PSC does offer bar clamps for larger aftermarket tie-rods as well.
How It Works
While the video above offers insight into the system's on- and off-road performance, we will reiterate it here. Immediately you’ll notice that the steering is much easier and requires less input from you to turn the wheel. This equates to a Jeep that is extremely easy to drive down the road. It does take a few minutes to adjust to, but once you get the feel for how responsive it is, it becomes second nature. Off-road, you’ll never have to worry about the steering feeling overwhelmed again. Even with our tires at 5 psi, we can turn with ease with the front end of our Rubicon locked. So, if you’re tired of battling your JK’s steering in the dirt, we highly recommend checking out this system.