Beginners Hydro Steering Guide – Hydro Steering Vs Power Steering

What is hydraulic steering?

Hydraulic steering sometimes referred to as full hydro is a type of steering system that can typically be found in farm equipment, construction equipment, boats, rock crawlers, mud trucks, and other offroad vehicles. The common hydraulic steering system can be found with the following components.

Hydraulic Steering Parts:

  • Hydraulic Cylinder
  • Power Steering Pump/Hydraulic Pump
  • Steering Control Unit (Orbital Valve)
  • Fluid Cooler/Fluid Heat Sink
  • Fluid Filter
  • Hydraulic Hoses

Full hydro steering is similar to a factory mechanical power steering system in many ways. A well-designed hydraulic steering system will outperform most mechanical steering systems off-road. When it comes to on-road performance, a hydraulic steering system is surrounded by legality issues as well as performance issues. Here is a comparison chart of full hydro steering vs mechanical steering.

Hydraulic Steering vs Mechanical Power Steering


For off-road applications full hydraulic steering is the proven victor for serious applications. There are far fewer mechanical parts that can fail or limitations to design possibilities for a build. Like always, the type of steering you should use boils down to the goals for the build. If you plan to stay street legal, with 40″ tires or under, and are not looking to stretch the vehicle in the front, mechanical power steering is a great option!

On Road:

When it comes to on-road driving, mechanical power steering is clearly the best option. While full hydraulic steering is not limited only to offroad. Full hydro does have legality issues, can be unpredictable at times when going fast, and replacement parts can be hard to find. Factory power steering is predictable, reliable, and parts can be found all around the country at any time.

It is important to understand that poor design = poor performance. If you plan to modify your factory mechanical power steering to fit a more offroad role but maintain street-ability. If designed poorly, your performance will be greatly impacted.

Hydraulic steering design:

The diagram shows the cooler top of the loop. Please understand this is only a diagram. The reservoir should always the at the top of the loop.

Going for simplicity here. This would be an example of a setup used if you do not plan to use hydraulic brakes or rear steer.

Vehicle-specific kits are easy to find, they will also come with instructions far better than what I have provided here. Besides a high-dollar kit, it is possible to source less expensive parts to cobble a hydraulic steering system together.

How much does hydraulic steering cost?

Front steering only, no hydraulic brakes: $1500-$3800

Front steering only, with hydraulic brakes: $2000-$4000

Front and rear steering, with or without hydraulic brakes: $3000-$5000

The price of the build really depends on what you want to accomplish. The easier you want this to be, the higher the price. The cheaper you go the harder it gets.

For example on my buggy nightmare, I went with quality parts. Except for my cylinder. I decided to go with a tractor supply 2.5×8 single-ended cylinder for $140.00. This not only saved me from buying an extremely expensive double-ended cylinder, but it also saved me about $500 on a double-ended cylinder axle mount. Other than this, the remaining steering components are a mix between PSC and Wild Horses 4×4.

By far the most unexpected cost of any hydraulic steering system is the hydraulic hoses! No matter which way you decide to go, you will be spending upwards of $500-$1000.

What is the best type of pump for hydro steering?


Flow rate: 1350 PSI and 2.7-3.5 GPM at 3000RPM

86-93 5.0 MUSTANG 302 P-pump bracket:

TC Pump:

Flow rate: 1600 PSI and 4.5 GPM at 3000RPM

Uses standard mounting brackets for any TC/Chevy Type II/CB/CBR steering pump 

CBR Pump:

Flow rate: 1800 PSI 4-6 GPM at 3000RPM

Uses standard mounting brackets for any TC/Chevy Type II/CB/CBR steering pump 

TT Pump:

Flow rate: 1750 PSI 8 GPM at 3000RPM

LS Chevy TT Pump Bracket: in a new tab.

Gear Pump:

Flow rate: 4000 PSI 10 GPM at 3000RPM

Which power steering pump do I need?

It is important to use a power steering pump that fits your build. Running only front steering full hydraulic is vastly different from running front, rear, and hydraulic brakes. Also, consider what driving style your offroad vehicle will be used for. If you plan to race King of Hammers Ultra 4 4400 then make sure the pump can handle this sort of abuse.

From what I have seen when doing my hydro steering project, the TC pump offered in GM products is regarded as the best for general rock crawling. I myself chose to go with a P-Pump offered by PSC when I did my latest project. The reason being, I did not want to build my own bracket to hold the pump on my ford 302. With aftermarket support being so far and in between for a ford 302, I just went with what was available. Otherwise, the build did not require the extra flow offered from a TC pump.

What are the drawbacks to a P-pump?

Some say they are not durable, but from my experience, this is not the case. Most of the time when any kind of pump has issues it is mainly from contaminants within the fluid loops. The P-Pump is more sensitive to contaminants compared to others. It is important when retrofitting a power steering system to hydraulic that, all lines are either cleaned out or replaced.

Having a high-quality fluid filter can help protect the pump as well. No matter how hard you try to keep contaminants out. As soon as the cap comes off the fluid reservoir, contaminants will make it into the loop.

Hydraulic hoses: Crimp VS Field Repairable

For my build, I went with field repairable. If I had time to perfectly map out every inch of hose within the system, I would have just had crimped hoses made.

Crimp connections are the best, but field repairable connections can get the job done perfectly as well.

The largest drawback to crimp fittings is the dozens and dozens of different brands. Which all require a different proprietary crimping tool.

If you’re like me, and you just want to get a bag of connections as well as a big roll of hose and fly by the seat of your pants. Then go field repairable.

Another advantage to field serviceable hydraulic fittings is the ability to make repairs on the trail. This is hardly ever required. Maybe once in a 10-year offroad span will you need to do this once.

Double-ended ram vs single-ended ram

Both a single-ended cylinder and a double-ended cylinder have their advantage. For most cases, the double-ended cylinder will be the best option for quality and reliability for your steering system.

It is important to also understand that a single-ended cylinder is still a great option. The price and availability are major reasons to look into a single-ended cylinder further.

Jake Burkey explaining hydro steering

Fluid cooler vs heat sink

Fluid coolers and heat sinks are cheap and easy to install, but a fluid cooler will offer the best performance. It really just depends on what kind of autosport you’re going to use your system is for.

If you’re racing ultra 4 or jumping dunes. Go fluid cooler, the heat sink will not be able to keep up with the heat load. If you’re just gonna crawl around on the rocks. Not as much heat removal is needed to keep everything at designed operating temperatures.

What size Steering Control Unit (Orbital Valve) should I get?

The size of the Steering Control Unit (Orbital Valve) you need for a system is dependent on which size cylinder you get and how many turns to lock you are seeking.

On my buggy, I went with a 7.5 CI, and 2.5×8 single-ended cylinder to achieve about 4.3 turns to lock. If you’re looking for about 3 turns to lock with a 2.5×8 single-ended cylinder then you should go with a 9.8 CI Steering Control Unit (Orbital Valve). Do not expect you can use a 7.5 CI Steering Control Unit (Orbital Valve) with any single or double-ended cylinder to achieve the turns to lock number you desire.

What is turns to lock?

Turns to lock means how many rotations of the steering it will take to go from full lock right to full like left.

Full hydraulic steering turns to lock calculation

3.14R² = Piston Area

It is important you not only use this calculation for the cylinder but for the rod as well. Once you have found the volumes of both the cylinder and rod, you will subtract them to find the total fluid volume.

To find turns to lock you will divide the total volume by orbital displacement.


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