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What Is Power Steering? Is Power Steering Fluid All The Same?
March 28, 2021 by Car Gambit
Power steering fluid is a kind of hydraulic fluid transferring power in modern vehicles with power steering. As a vital part of your steering system, power steering fluid allows drivers to turn the steering wheel easily. Power-steering fluid replacement is typically not a regular maintenance task for most cars, as it is replaced under the guidance of a mechanic or the discretion of the vehicle owner. Many car manufacturers do recommend that an auto specialist flush the power steering fluid system from time to time. You always want to check your owner’s manual for the best course of action for your power steering fluid.
Is Power Steering Fluid All The Same? How Do I Check Power Steering Fluid?
Various vehicle applications require various kinds of power steering fluid. Some vehicles require an ATF transmission fluid such as MERCON or DEXRON. Lots of newer vehicles use some sort of synthetic-based hydraulic power steering fluid specifically formulated for power steering fluid usage. Synthetic fluids are able to flow well at a relatively low temperature. This also improves longevity and pump lubrication.
Many auto professionals do have what is called a “universal” power steering fluid that can prove to be a satisfactory fluid for many vehicle applications. But it’s important to note that some vehicles may require additional additives to the power steering fluid. These special additives can be used corrosion protection and for pump lubricity.
Need to Change Your Car’s Power Steering Fluid?
Power steering fluid allows for easier and smoother steering for your car. Anyone who has ever driven a car with manual steering, has first-hand knowledge of the difficulty associated with turning a vehicle steering wheel, as opposed to today’s modernized power steering. But power steering goes far beyond just turning your steering wheel. Many auto experts recommend periodic changes of steering fluid. They suggest such, to prevent grit and sludge from accumulating- and further getting into your car’s pinion seals and rack- consequently destroying them.
How do I Know when to replace My Power Steering Fluid?
A moaning sound or even filthy fluid during steering, signals low power steering fluid levels. In fact, moaning and dirty fluid both signal that fluid change is needed ASAP. If you have low power steering fluid levels, then this means that you have a possible leak somewhere, since a vehicle’s power steering system is sealed. Besides that, auto experts recommend that you change power steering fluid anywhere from a few years, to at least every 100,000 miles. Visit your mechanic for the best course of action you should follow.
What Can You Use If You Don’t Have Power Steering Fluid? Are There Alternatives?
You as a car owner know and can better feel when you have little to no power steering fluid. Power steering fluid is vital for every vehicle and if need be, has to be replenished whenever levels are too low. So, what if you can’t get your hands-on power steering fluid, and you need a substitute for your car? You have a few options, according to auto professionals.
First and foremost, if your power steering fluid is an issue for you, then you should take the time to check power steering fluid on a regular or even a monthly basis and looking to see what the appropriate amount of fluid is for your car. You also want to do that periodic check to ensure that your power system is functioning well and you don’t have any leaks.
A word of caution here: be careful when choosing an alternative for your power steering. All it takes is selecting the wrong kind of fluid, to cause damage and hefty car repair bills. A fluid that is incompatible can forge an attack on your seals, rubber parts and plastic. The wrong fluid can also have a bad reaction with the remnants of the original fluid, which can produce an acidic fluid that’s in your car.
ATF – Automatic Transmission Fluid
Many vehicles-those manufactured between 1980 and 2003- are able to use ATF or automatic transmission fluid- as an alternative to power steering fluid. If the power steering fluid in your car is purplish or reddish in color, it is very likely that the power steering is ATF fluid. Talk to your mechanic if you are not sure.
DEXRON is a transmission fluid is another alternative and is generally grayish, brownish or even greenish in color. If your vehicle’s power steering doesn’t have a purple or red color, then it may be a DEXRON-kind-of transmission fluid.
MERCON transmission fluid is quite similar to DEXRON transmission fluid, and is a suitable substitute for your power steering, or if your DEXRON fluid is not within reach.
Before using a substitute for your power steering fluid, ask a mechanic and discuss the alternatives at are best suited for your car.
Can I Drive Without Power Steering Fluid?
NO! You need power steering fluid!
How to Check Power Steering Fluid
Time needed: 2 minutes.
Step by step: How to check power steering fluid
When do I change Steering Fluid?
Check the owner’s manual for recommendations on how often to change power steering fluid.
However, if it’s been a while (like, never) and the fluid appears dark and dirty, go ahead and change it.
This image shows the dramatic difference between old and new power steering fluid.
Like any other lubricant, power steering lube accumulates wear material, moisture and other debris. The fluid also wears out due to oxidation. Worn out power steering fluid can cause the pump to whine and make noise.
It’s a good idea to replace the fluid before you end up replacing the pump, which is far more expensive.
How do I change power steering fluid?
The process differs depending on your vehicle. Check your owner’s manual or a service manual for instructions specific to your car or truck.
In general, though, most power-steering systems have the same configuration.
A high-pressure hose carries fluid from the power-steering pump to the steering rack. A low-pressure hose returns the fluid back to the reservoir. The cycle repeats as the engine is running.
Flushing the power steering system
Completely flushing the power steering system requires some technical know-how and can be a mess. It’s also helpful to have a helper on hand.
It requires disconnecting the low-pressure return hose and directing it into a bucket or drain pan. You probably will need a length of hose to reach the pan.
Then, someone starts the engine and turns the steering wheel as far as it goes in both directions. This will pump old fluid into the drain pan.
To prevent air from entering the system, have a helper near the reservoir with a couple bottles of new power steering. Add fluid as needed to prevent the reservoir from running dry.
Once your helper sees new fluid draining into the pan, shut off the engine and reconnect the hose.
The trick is to avoid allowing air into the system so you don’t have to bleed it.
An easier way to change power steering
While flushing the system completely is best, you’ll inevitably run into hurdles.
First, rust on the hose clamps will likely prevent removal without breaking them. The hose you’ll need to disconnect to drain the system will inevitably be buried at the bottom of the engine bay; you may need to recruit Plastic Man to reach it. And, of course, you’ll likely mess up your garage floor with power steering.
The “poor man’s” power steering flush
Granted, it won’t remove all the old fluid, like flushing the system will, but you’ll get most of it.
- Place some rags around the fluid reservoir and place a catch can nearby.
- Using a fluid extraction pump or turkey baster, remove the old fluid and empty it into the catch can. Leave enough fluid in the reservoir to cover the hose inlets. This prevents air from entering the system.
- Add new fluid to the reservoir and run the engine. Turn the wheel from side to side as far as it goes a few times.
- Turn off the engine and repeat the first three steps until the fluid is clean.
You can also drive as normal for a day or two and repeat until you’ve cycled most of the old fluid through the system. This simple procedure removes much of the old fluid quickly and easily. I’ve performed it on a couple different vehicles with good results.
What kind of power steering fluid do I need?
Use a fluid that meets the appropriate specification given in your owner’s manual. Some vehicles use automatic transmission fluid in the power steering system.
For best protection against pump wear and best performance in temperature extremes, use synthetic fluid.
Synthetics promote formation of a strong fluid film to prevent wear. Plus, they also flow readily in cold weather to help silent that annoying power-steering-pump whine on frigid mornings.
The short answer is “sure you can!” but a better question to ask is: “do you really want to drive my car without my power steering fluid?”
Power steering fluid assists with the motion of your vehicle, while protecting your car from tear and wear. If you fail to add power steering fluid regularly or don’t use it at all, then you run the risk of damaging the pinion, rack and pump of your car. Power steering fluid is very cheap at WalMart or Autozone
How Do I Add Power Steering Fluid to My Car?
If your power steering fluid reservoir’s are low, then it’s time to add more. Check out how it’s done below.
- Start your vehicle’s engine and allow it to run until the temperature gauge is at normal operating range.
- As your engine idles, turn your steering wheel until it fully locks. Then turn it the other way which is opposite of the lock. You may have to do this several times.
- Turn off your engine.
- Then, open your hood.
- Find the power steering reservoir (It will be full of power steering fluid)- which is usually located near the engine, and is usually outfitted with either a yellow or a white reservoir and a black cap.
- Clean the reservoir with a cloth so that dirt won’t enter into it, while you’re working on it.
- Look at your fluid level. Depending on the reservoir type, you may have to either pull or twist your cap. Then continue on with pulling out a dipstick. Then, see where the fluid levels are based on the “MAX” or “MIN” indicators on the stick.
- If your reservoir level or the dipstick is between “MAX” and “MIN,” no addition of fluid is needed.
- If the fluid falls below the “MIN” indicator line, then you need to take the cap off/ leave the dipstick out and add some power steering fluid. Be sure to be careful and you add the fluid in tiny increments. Please do not fill the fluid past “MAX” indicator line.
- Then, close the car or replace the dipstick, and ensure that you’ve sealed it tightly.
Is It Bad To Drive With Low Power Steering Fluid?
If you choose to drive your car for long periods of time, with no power steering fluid, then you run the risk of damaging the pump. No, there is nothing that will physically stop you from driving your car; but driving it with low levels of power steering fluid is never a good idea. Once that fluid level drops, you not only have a dry pump on your hands, but high levels of heat and friction that can lead to hefty repair bills and power steering fluid all over your engine.
How Long Can You Drive With Low Power Steering Fluid?
The power steering fluid in your car is the needed lubricant for your vehicle’s power steering fluid/pump. This ensures that the pump stays cool and doesn’t overheat. Sure, you can drive your car without power steering fluid; but don’t plan on a long trip to the store or a day of running errands and your vehicle has no power steering fluid in it. In other words, it’s NOT SAFE for you to drive a car without any power steering fluid.
How Much Does It Cost To Fix Power Steering?
Generally, many power steering pump repairs and replacements can cost around $200, up to around $400. You may have to shell out more money, depending on the kind of car you drive and how much the mechanic will charge you for labor.
Is A Power Steering Leak Expensive To Fix?
Are you faced with a damaged or a faulty power steering pump? Then you’re looking at a few hundred dollars in repair costs. In terms of the worst-case scenario, a power steering fluid leak could damage your car’s power steering rack. If you’re staring down the barrel of this issue, then expect to pay at least $1,000.
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