Do Drift Cars Have Power Steering? Does It Make Drifting Easier?

When you’re looking at video of someone drifting, you’ve probably noticed drifters flicking the wheel one way or another. Especially while they’re transitioning between turns, they need to completely reverse the car’s steering immediately. When you have to steer your car that quickly, would it be easier or harder to have power steering?


Running a drift car without power steering is usually inefficient as well as dangerous. Having power steering in a car makes it easier to handle, safer, and doesn’t interfere with the car’s self-steering properties. There are different kinds of power steering racks, with each having their own pros and cons. 


As with nearly every superior design, there are some nuances, differences in car builds between skill levels, etc. Some cars, like Hertlife’s Twerkstallion, take advantage of a fully electric power steering rack. Others, like most grassroots drift builds, utilize the stock hydraulic power steering systems found in their cars, with minor modification. Such modifications may include rack spacers, modified knuckles, and complete rack relocation.



Is Daily Driving My Drift Car Harder Without Power Steering?


Driving a car without power steering doesn’t have to be difficult. The only time you really notice it is while at low speeds, under 5mph. Since your tires will have to skid more across the pavement while your car isn’t moving quickly, you feel that resistance. At higher speeds, however, the tire isn’t in the same place during the turn. Since it’s constantly rotating, and the ground is passing by under your car, you don’t have nearly as much issue steering.


Just as with a welded or very tight limited slip differential, parking lots are the worst. While you’re travelling at incredibly slow speeds or stopped, you’ll have to wrestle your steering wheel in order to turn. On the bright side, you’ll look like Popeye the sailor after a few months of driving like that!


Having a daily drifter is no easy feat, especially one without power steering. If you plan on daily driving your drift car, I’d suggest getting some form of power steering. Even for the single day that I was without power steering (more on that later in the article), my S14 was a nightmare to wrestle around corners. That sure didn’t stop me from loving to drive that car!



Will Daily Driving Without Power Steering Injure My Hands/Fingers?


We aren’t starting a Model T engine, we’re just steering a car! You have no risk of losing your thumbs by driving without power steering. The technology for power steering wasn’t even main-stream until the mid ’60s, and people weren’t constantly losing their thumbs in the ’50s. The only major difference for driver steering input from then to now was the steering wheels being much larger. Since they constantly had to wrestle their manual racks, they wanted the increased leverage of a larger steering wheel.


The idea that someone could lose a thumb by driving without power steering is based around the direct connection to the road you now have. With power steering, there was either a hydraulic or electronic buffer between you and the road, softening your feeling of any impacts your wheels may’ve had. Without that buffer, any shock your front wheels take, the steering wheel jerks in your hand. Unless you’re having a high-speed impact with something, the force of the steering wheel jerk won’t be enough to cause damage. If it is, then you’ve had a serious accident, and have much bigger problems than bruised thumbs.



Does Driving Without Power Steering Help Me Feel How My Car Drives?


Technically, yes, you can feel the car’s movements better without power steering. However, most of your responsiveness comes from your feet, not your hands. Just like in rally, you primarily use the throttle to control your car, not the steering wheel. If you look around in Formula Drift, every car there runs a power steering setup of some kind. Those guys are the best of the best, competing on live television in a ballet of burning rubber with thousands of horsepower. Most grassroots builds shoot to imitate the Formula D cars in one way or another, and thus, run power steering.


Since even professional drivers have plenty of control over their cars without power steering, there’s no real reason to drift without it aside from personal preference. Even if the pump sucking power out of your engine is an issue, you can simply convert to an electric system and completely avoid the issue.



Are There Any Cars That Drive Or Drift Better Without Power Steering?


Almost every car out there does significantly better with power steering. However, as with almost everything else, there are exceptions. From talking with other drifters, I’ve heard that classic cars with shorter wheelbases tend to feel better without power steering. Such cars include the FC-generation RX-7, the Corolla AE86, and the the Toyota Cressida. Aside from those few exceptions, I don’t believe any cars are better without power steering.



How Would I Know About Driving Without Power Steering?


Alright class, story time! So, back in my ’95 240sx Starry Night, I’d take her to the local skid pad for their “drift nights”. It wasn’t a very large skid pad by any means, just large enough for a figure-8 pattern, but it was the only track within an hour of me. In contrast to the pad, the turnout for drifting was rather large. On a slow night, about ten cars would show up. On a nice spring night though, you’d have queues of over thirty cars for that tiny pad, going one or two at a time.


As far as the actual cars go, there wasn’t much to look at. There were a few regulars with nice cars, including a 1JZ-swapped S13, a rat IS300, and a pair of 350Zs who would try and get people to run 3-car tandems with them. While the rest of the cars were mostly stock, that didn’t mean the people were boring. Everybody looked different, spoke in a different manner, drove a different way. We all were extremely polite and helpful, however, as most drifting enthusiasts are. While cars were lined up in the queue, some would have to shut off to avoid overheating. When the line would shift, more people would offer to help push than there was room to push!


Once you’d get to the front of the line, you had to get your car running and idling, sometimes with pushing assistance from the guys around you. You’d get waved on the track, and then have two to three minutes to do your drifting. Your time being up was signified by a red siren light being turned on near the course.


What’s Your Damage, Heather?


My damage luckily didn’t come on the track, but off it. I’m incredibly thankful, as I would’ve felt bad to dump my power steering fluid all over their nice skid pad. After my first run of the night, I was pulling back by my sister to check in and inspect the car, and my PS pump began to groan. I finished parking, left the car running to cool the turbo, and popped the hood, just to see power steering fluid puddling under my car. Fabulous, I had a major leak, and had no spare fluid.


Some of the other drifters saw my car and I off to the side, and helped inspect for the leak. One of them (the driver of a single-turbo NB Miata) pointed to my high-pressure line, and the hole rubbed through it. The line was sitting on the edge of my engine bay, and had made its way to a screw sticking through. The worst part? It was a braided line, I had no way to plug the leak. Luckily for me, the power steering pump was run by a separate pulley than the serpentine belt. With some effort, we wrestled the belt off the crankshaft, and I ran the rest of the night without power steering.


What Was It Like To Drift (And Drive) Without Power Steering?


Well, with only a 320mm steering wheel, it was a tad annoying while at low speed. However, running negative camber on the front wheels helped with lowering my tires’ contact patch, making it easier to turn. Drifting without power steering felt very different, I could feel how rough the pavement actually was, compared to the smoothness of the skid pad. On the skid pad, it wasn’t all that different, but the car was much happier to go to full lock than before. I did find I was having problems with my steering going over center, but if I kept it off full lock, it wasn’t an issue.


Maneuvering the parking lot was still a pain, magnified by the sensitive 1-way LSD. Luckily, I spent very little time in the parking lot. The only issue I had was with a blown tire at the end of the night. From there, I just swapped out my rear tires and drove home. After beating on her the whole night, a relaxing drive home was sure in order. While you’re just calmly driving, having no power steering isn’t nearly as big an issue. Once the car is in motion, manual steering feels very similar to power steering.


The only time you notice the lack of power steering on the street is during right-hand turns. Even during left-hand turns, the increased turning radius significantly reduces the effects of lacking power steering. However, the increased effort required to turn at a stop makes power steering well worth it for a daily.



What Steering Setup Would I Recommend?


If you’re looking to build a daily drifter on a tight budget, just use your stock power steering rack. You can get more angle with spacers and knuckles, and the power draw is so minimal that grassroots drifters shouldn’t worry about it. With a larger budget, you could run an electric system, but that would be overkill for a daily car.


For a competition setup, I would recommend the electric power steering system, deleting your hydraulic one. Between the draw on the engine, the lack of responsiveness, and being prone to leaking/blowing out, hydraulics don’t have any notable advantages over electronic.


Would I ever recommend drifting without power steering? Only if your pump is broken, or you purchased a car without one. Being able to feel the car’s steering is not worth the trouble of being unable to quickly turn the wheels, and the size of wheel you’d need to effectively turn the wheels would be un-conducive of a drift car.


As a drift enthusiast, if I've owned the car, you can bet it's been sideways! Honda S2000, Chrysler Crossfire, 1987 Porsche (only once, *never again*), and my babies, my 1995 Notch-top SR 240SX and 1991 Red-top SR 240SX. I've had a ton of fun, and I'm looking forward to sharing my experiences, tips, and recommendations with you all!

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