Power Steering and Power Steering Fluid

September 17th, 2013

Back in the days when there was no power steering, people didn’t have to worry about their power steering pump or fluid. This wasn’t such a good deal, since in turn, they had to wrestle with the steering wheel to turn the wheels of their car or truck. Nowadays, since about the late 1950s (depending on the make), power steering is standard on cars, which means you either have to know just enough to maintain the system properly, or trust your mechanic will keep it in good working order. Otherwise, you’ll suffer from noises at best and loss of control at worst.

Power Steering

The power steering system uses electric or hydraulic actuators to help the driver steer with little effort. It’s especially helpful when the car or truck is moving at low speeds or is stopped. Power steering also has a lot to do with what is called “road feel.”

If the system fails, a driver can still control the car, but it becomes very difficult and can result in a crash. Common power steering failures can be attributed to power steering fluid leaks.

Power Steering Fluid

Power steering fluid is hydraulic fluid specifically made to be used within the power steering system. Power is transferred through the fluid from the steering wheel to the steering mechanisms of the vehicle.

The fluid has to have low volatility, low compressibility, high fire resistance, and must be highly viscous in both hot and cold weather. This viscosity helps to protect and lubricate all the parts within the system.

Power steering fluid is kept within pipes and hoses that are connected to pistons. Pistons press down onto the fluid and force the fluid level to go up in other parts of the system.

Good fluid is made as a lubricant, with ingredients designed to guard against corrosion, and detergent to help protect the system against corrosion and contaminants.


Since all power steering fluid will eventually collect debris and contaminants, it needs to be drained out, flushed, and replaced regularly. Most automotive manufacturers specify how often it needs to be changed, but you can also tell by looking at the color of the fluid: it is black, brown, or not transparent, it needs to be changed.

To check the fluid, first you need to find the reservoir, usually located near the end of the power steering belt. The cylinder might be plastic or metal. The cap should be labeled, particularly if it’s a newer car.

Check the level of the fluid. Consult your owner’s manual to find out the best time to check, as some need to be run for a certain period of time while others need to be cold. Compare the level against the marks; if it’s very low, chances are that the system has a leak. If it’s only a little low, top it up.

As you check the level, particularly if you use a dipstick, look at the color of the fluid. It should be clear, amber, or pinkish. If it’s black, that means it is full of contaminants and needs to be changed as soon as possible.


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