Power steering fluid is an essential part of keeping cars and trucks running. As the name implies, it’s what allows you to steer and turn your vehicle with little to no effort.
Power steering fluid ensures the hoses, pistons, valves, and power steering pump work optimally. Without staying on top of the quality of your vehicle’s power steering fluid and flushing it and replacing it as necessary, the power steering pump will start to deteriorate.
What is Power Steering Fluid?
Power steering fluid is the hydraulic fluid that transmits the power in a power steering system. The pressurized fluid decreases the amount of effort required to turn the steering wheel. It also keeps the moving parts in the system lubricated and ensures the hoses, pistons, valves, and power steering pump work as intended.
Power-steering fluid is a type of hydraulic fluid that transfers power in modern vehicles with power steering. It is an important part of your steering system, and it makes turning your steering wheel easy. Replacing power-steering fluid is generally not listed among the regular maintenance items that should perform, so on most vehicles, replacing it is at the owner’s discretion.
However, there are some manufacturers that recommend you have a mechanic flush the system from time to time. As always, it is best to check your owner’s manual.
What Is Power Steering?
The power steering system in a vehicle uses engine power to help reduce the amount of effort needed to turn the front wheels of a vehicle. It’s a system that helps the driver have increased control and handling of a vehicle.
Power steering systems can be hydraulic or electric. Hydraulic systems use fluid to apply hydraulic pressure to the system to help turn a car’s wheels. An electric system uses an electric motor and various sensors to detect how much force a driver is applying to the steering wheel, and then determines how much assistance needs to be added by the system.
Related: What is Power Steering System?
What Does Power Steering Fluid Do?
Power steering fluid is the hydraulic fluid used in the steering system to create a hydraulic link between the steering wheel and the front wheels. That decreases the amount of effort required to turn the wheels.
Power steering fluid also lubricates the moving parts within the steering system. It suppresses foaming and prevents corrosion in the power steering gear and steering pump, which keeps vehicles working optimally.
What Does Power Steering Fluid Look Like? Most commonly, the power steering fluid is red, amber, pink, light, and/or clear. If it’s dark brown or foamy, it probably needs to be changed.
Where Is the Power Steering Fluid? The power steering fluid reservoir is located under the hood, usually on the passenger’s side of the vehicle, although sometimes it can be found on the driver’s side. The container is usually white or yellow with a black cap that has the words “power steering” or “steering fluid” on the top.
What Are the Types of Power Steering Fluid?
Refer to your owner’s manual to learn what type of power steering fluid to use in your car.
- Automatic transmission fluid (ATF). The same fluid used for automatic transmissions can be used in some power steering systems.
- Synthetic power steering fluid. Most newer vehicles use synthetic fluid that is created in a lab. These varieties are usually engineered for specific types of cars or steering systems.
- Non-synthetic, mineral power steering fluid. Mineral hydraulic fluid may be used in some instances that accept ATF.
Tip: Choosing an incompatible fluid can cause damage. Be sure to select a replacement steering fluid that is appropriate for your vehicle.
What Are Power Steering Fluid Specification Standards?
Power steering specification standards are requirements for the viscosity, detergents, additives, and other components of the fluid. Meeting these standards ensures the power steering fluid is safe to use in a specific vehicle.
Power steering fluid specification standards create by standardization organizations. For example, DIN 51 524T3 standard is given by the German Institute for Standardization, while ISO 7308 is the standard given by the International Organization for Standardization.
Certain vehicles will require that power steering fluid meets both DIN 51 524T3 and ISO 7308 standards. There may be other power fluid standards for certain types of vehicles, like those made by Japanese automakers.
How to check the power steering fluid?
There are three things you’ll want to check regularly in relation to your power steering fluid, these include the level of the fluid in the reservoir, the clarity or color and then finally check that there are no leaks from this area.
Checking power steering fluid levels – Most reservoirs for this fluid will come with either level-indicating markings on the side where you can see how full the reservoir is or, with a dipstick under the cap of the reservoir. Using the dipstick is simple, much like with oil:
- Remove the dipstick from the container
- Wipe the dipstick down and look at where the max and min level markings are
- Replace the dipstick in the fluid, then remove it to see where the fluid goes up to
- If the fluid is near or below the minimum level, refill to the maximum level
- If the fluid is already at a good level, simply replace the cap and check again in a few months
Checking the color or clarity of power steering fluid – As with any important fluid in your vehicle, you want to avoid contamination. Dirty fluid will result in poor performance and could prevent the power steering from working altogether. A common occurrence is the oxidation of the fluid, which can see it darken and lose its effectiveness. Regardless of the reason for the contamination, once you notice this you should prepare to replace the fluid.
What color is power steering fluid normally? This is dependent on the recommended steering fluid for your particular make and model of the vehicle but the power steering fluid is usually some shade of red.
Checking for power steering fluid leaks – The last thing you want is to fill up your power steering fluid and have it leak away while parked or driving. You will usually know if this is happening as you’ll see fluid marks where you’ve parked once you move your car. An easy way to find out which fluid is leaking is to leave a scrap of white sheeting underneath your car to see what color the fluid leaking is. If it’s red, that’s a sign that it’s your power steering and you should seek professional assistance as soon as possible.
When to Change Power Steering Fluid?
Generally speaking, you should flush your power steering fluid every two years or 50,000 miles, whichever comes first.
Some sources will tell you that you should change it out every seventy-five thousand to a hundred thousand miles while some simply say that it should be changed every two years. The reality is, there’s no real definitive answer and even the car manufacturers vary in their opinions.
However, fear not because no source is necessarily completely incorrect (or completely correct for that matter). The best advice that could possibly be given would be to meet somewhere in the middle. Either every two years or every seventy-five thousand miles (whichever comes first!), you should change your power steering fluid out.
Changing out your power steering fluid is incredibly important because of how the power steering pumps function. Power steering pumps are hydraulic pumps that put out upwards of sixteen hundred pounds of pressure.
Over years of use, the power steering fluid gets dirty along the way. Dirty fluids create vastly more friction, becoming abrasive. Dirty fluids can even go so far as to ruin the seals in the pump, or the seals on the rack, which can be incredibly expensive to replace.
How To Change Power Steering Fluid?
Step 1: Jack up your car
Follow these instructions to jack up the front of your car and support it on jack stands.
Step 2: Drain the power steering reservoir
Find your power steering fluid reservoir. This is often attached to the power steering pump itself. Open the cap, and use a turkey baster to suck as much fluid out as you can, like a giant-eyedropper.
Step 3: Disconnect the return line and drain the system
Find your power steering fluid return line. There are two lines under the car that attach to the power steering pump. The return line is the one with clamps that you can remove with a pair of pliers.
Place your drain pan under the return line. Remove the clamp, then pull the hose off. Fluid will pour out of both ends and will likely make a bit of a mess. The more fluid you drained out of the reservoir in Step 2, the less you will have to drain out here.
With the hose still disconnected, turn the steering wheel all the way to the left and right several times. This will pump even more old fluid out of the system. Keep doing this until fluid stops coming out.
Step 4: Flush the system with fresh fluid
With the return line hose still disconnected, fill the reservoir about halfway with fresh fluid.
Start and run the engine to force this fluid through your steering system and drain out the bottom, flushing any dirt or remnants of dirty fluid out of the system. Once again, turn the steering wheel all the way left and right several times to get all the power steering fluid out.
The reservoir will drain while you do this. Keep an eye on it, and make sure you pour enough fluid in the reservoir so that it doesn’t go dry. When the fluid coming out is the same color as the fluid you’re pouring in, the system is clean. Turn off the engine.
Step 5: Reconnect the return line
Slip the return hose back onto its fitting. Using a pair of pliers, replace the clamp on the hose so it won’t come loose.
Step 6: Top off the fluid
Fill the power steering reservoir all the way to the “full” mark. Put the cap on, then run the engine for about 10 seconds. Shut it off, remove the cap, and refill the fluid to the “full” mark.
Step 7: Check for leaks
Start the engine and let it run while looking underneath the car to see if fluid is leaking from anywhere. Pay close attention to where you disconnected the hose to drain and flush the system. But don’t mistake fluid that spilled while the hose was off for a new leak, either.
Yet again, turn the steering wheel all the way right and left to pump fresh fluid all the way through the system. Keep checking and topping off the fluid level in the reservoir until it remains full.
Step 8: Lower the car and take a test drive
If you haven’t already, remove the drain pan from under the car. Remove the jack stands and place the car back on the ground. Turn the steering wheel all the way left and right, this time to make sure it functions with little effort despite the tires being on the ground. If everything feels right, take a test drive to see how it feels out on the road. Everything works well, congratulations, you’re done.
If the steering doesn’t feel quite right, open the hood and check the power steering fluid level. It’s possible that you still had some air bubbles in the system, which may have burped themselves out while you drove. If the fluid is full and you still have problems, have your car looked at by a professional for further diagnosis.