June 26

2009 Ford Escape Hybrid Power Steering

Ford

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Mark: Hi, it's Mark Bossert. I'm here with Bernie Pawlik, Pawlik Automotive in Vancouver, Vancouver's best auto service experience. 24 times they've won best auto repair in Vancouver as voted by their customers. We're talking cars. How you doing Bernie? 

Bernie: Doing very well. 

Mark: So we were just talking about that little bit advanced technology 2009 Ford Escape Hybrid that had a steering problem. What was going on with this vehicle? 

Bernie: So this vehicle came to our shop with a concern that sometimes the steering was stiff, the wheel wouldn't turn properly, seemed like a possible power steering issue. So I took the vehicle for a road test and I didn't notice any problem with it. So it was an intermittent issue.

Then one of my technicians drove it and then the problem occurred and basically sometimes when you turn the steering wheel, most of the times normal. Sometimes it'd just be stiff, like there was no power steering there. So this vehicle uses electric power steering. So basically we identified what the issue was.

Mark: So where'd you go from there to diagnose where the root of the problem was? 

Bernie: So from there, because it's electric, it's electronic, we plug a scan tool into the vehicle. We interrogate the system for stored trouble codes. The electric power steering system has its own you know, modules and control units. So there were codes in there. I don't have that information right here, but there were codes relevant to the steering system. So from there doing a little research, a little further testing to make sure there's proper powers grounds, and those normal things to the steering unit. We determined that the actual power steering unit was bad. And need to be replaced. 

Mark: So what's involved in replacing an electric power steering unit? 

Bernie: So, this one's interesting. So most cars with electric power steering, there's a few different systems, but most cars, the electric power steering unit is a very large motor that sits on the steering rack, the power assist motor.

Now you can imagine, you know, like in previous hydraulic power steering systems, there was a pump with hoses. And so there's a lot of pressure, takes a lot of force to move that steering rack back and forth. And electric power steering basically uses an electric motor to do the job. So it's gotta be fast responding, it's gotta be very powerful.

And so these motors are pretty large. If you're listening to it, you won't see this, but the motors are you know, four or five inches in diameter most of them. They're pretty large. So on this unit, which is interesting, the actual power steering unit is in the steering column.

So the steering shaft goes down into the power steering unit. You'll see some pictures in a few minutes, goes into the power steering unit, so the motors actually under the dash of the vehicle on the steering column. And then from there, the power is actually delivered to the rack and pinion from up above. So the rack is basically a manual steering rack, but it has the power unit separate above. 

So what's involved is basically getting underneath, you know, tearing the steering column out, getting under the dash, removing it. And it's not a crazy job. It's about the same as taking the rack out. Possibly a better job, not as dirty. 

Mark: So are there rebuilt parts for this or used parts? Did you use new? 

Bernie: We ended up getting a used part because we couldn't get any other options. It's a 2009. The car's now 14 years old at the time of this podcast. So we attempted to order a new one. It was pretty expensive, but the owner agreed to do the new one. So we went to order that, but after a week Ford came back and said, we don't have that unit available anymore. So we acquired a used unit which is a good second option.

Rebuilt wasn't available. We don't do a lot of electric power steerings, but it seems like rebuilt is a little harder to find for some of these pieces. But anyways, so we got a used unit for it. It's cheaper, but not overall, you know, timeframe as reliable.

Mark: Yeah. How often, well, I guess, first is this electric steering system unique to hybrid vehicles? 

Bernie: No, it's not actually. It's used on all these models of Escape of this model year and plus or minus a few model years, they use this electric unit. So it's not unique to the hybrid.

So we'll have a look at a couple pictures here. So there's the vehicle and the steering unit here. 

2009 Ford Escape Hybrid Power Steering

This would be the side here. So this is the electric unit. As you can see, very large electric motor here. There's a gear drive system in here, we can't see the inside, but we can see a little better when we flip it over. This part here is the piece that attaches to the rack and pinion side. 

2009 Ford Escape Hybrid Power Steering

And this would be the other side. This fits into the steering column. So this is the unit that's under the dash, electrical connectors here. And we have another view here.

2009 Ford Escape Hybrid Power Steering

This is kind of a close up of the electrical connector. So you can see two very large pins here. This is the power and ground. As I mentioned. These, these use a lot of electricity. So you know, the motors are big. They require a lot of power. This is the control from the module from the electronics from the vehicle computer signals.

2009 Ford Escape Hybrid Power Steering

And this would be you know, various signals that come from the power unit to confirm whether the motor's moving in the right direction, which is important. You don't want, you know, the power steering to move too fast or too far. So again, large motor, there's a number of gears, I would imagine there's a very large worm gear inside here.

2009 Ford Escape Hybrid Power Steering

I haven't taken this unit apart. It's sealed up, so difficult to take apart, but nothing a large hammer and chisel can't take care of to explore the inside. So there's our unit right there. 

Mark: So this is like a force multiplier that's kind of in the steering column. In between the steering column and where the rack and pinion is, what actually moves the front wheels of the car.

Bernie: Yeah, that's exactly what it is.

Mark: So have a lot of manufacturers gone to an electric power steering unit?

Bernie: Yeah, quite a few. The one advantage of electric power steering, of course with an electric vehicle, you have to have it. I mean, you don't have to have it, but it would be kind of silly to have a hydraulic pump to run your steering.

Especially when an electric vehicle, nothing is actually running when you're sitting in one place and you do need to steer. So electric makes sense. The other area that makes a lot of sense is in the start and stop technology for internal combustion engine. This has been used for quite a while now, where, you know, you pull up to a light and the engine shuts off to, you know, obviously not waste fuel and pump pollutants into the air, which is a smart idea.

So yeah, you need electric power steering for that. And so many cars have it, and even cars without start stop technology have it because it's actually, there's fewer parts. There's less things to wear out. There's no pump on the engine, so there's no parasitic load on the engine. It only draws power when you need it. So it actually makes a lot of sense. 

Mark: And how reliable are they? How often do you repair electric power steering units? 

Bernie: Well, not often. So this is the other benefit to the consumer is that the owner of the vehicle is they're less problematic overall. I mean, they are expensive. You know, this would've been an expensive repair if we did it with a new one. I mean, it's still expensive, even with the used part. But you know a rack pinion job is generally expensive and I don't know if you take all the parts of a hydraulic system versus an electric one. An electric one's probably still a little more money, but they are definitely more reliable. And I can't think of, you know, it's been very rare that we've actually ever replaced one of these. So it's pretty good that way. 

Mark: It's probably less expensive for the manufacturer to put into the vehicle?

Bernie: I think so. And less complicated. There's less bits and pieces and I think it's a much better system for sure. You know, it's a little bulkier on the steering rack end of it, so they've gotta figure out where to put that motor from a design point of view. But, you know, that's not, our department as repair people. We just repair what's given to us. 

Mark: So you service quite a bit of these electric Escape hybrids and Ford Escapes. How are they for reliability? 

Bernie: Well, I'd say the hybrids are actually really good. You know, these are actually basically the same type of design as a Toyota Prius. The motor, the whole system works the same way as a Toyota Prius. They're quite good. They're very reliable. So I think they're a good vehicle. I know the Ford people out there won't like me saying this, but I find there's a lot of Ford vehicles that aren't the most reliable and, let's say reliable, but they break down more frequently.

I'll say it this way, you know Ford along with a lot of other manufacturers that have made some garbagey vehicles, but these are among their better vehicles. I think, you know, it's a good vehicle. The Escapes are pretty good. I actually find the hybrids are probably better, just my opinion.

Mark: If you have some service issues for your Ford Escape Hybrid or Ford Escape in Vancouver. The guys to see your Pawlik Automotive, you can reach them on their website at pawlikautomotive.com. You can book your appointment there, or you can call them, talk to somebody. Now they're busy, so they might have to get back to you (604) 327-7112. You have to book ahead. They're always busy. Pawlik Automotive in Vancouver. Thanks so much for watching and listening. 

Bernie: And thank you, Mark, and thanks for watching.

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Bernie Pawlik

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