Without power steering, drivers today would need to be bodybuilders in order to turn the steering wheel in a car. This invention from the mid 20th century enables any driver to be able to turn their car using a steering wheel at any speed with ease. This type of convenience is due to power steering fluid.
Power steering fluid is the hydraulic fluid that allows your car’s steering rack to turn left and right with ease. This process is referred to in today’s cars as “power assisted steering”.
How Does Steering Fluid Work?
Power steering fluid acts by creating pressure within your car’s power steering pump. This pump uses the pressure created by the flowing fluid to increase or decrease the power needed to turn the steering wheel.
This is important because your car will use the power assisted steering to increase pressure on the steering rack when traveling at higher speeds. You’ll notice it’s harder to turn the wheel when you’re on the highway verse pulling out of the driveway. This is because the power steering is using pressure to stabilize the car at higher speeds. Conversely, decreasing pressure at low speeds allows for easy turning.
The fluid is stored in a tank under the hood of the car called a power steering fluid reservoir. A fluid hose connects your power steering reservoir to the power steering pump, allowing fluid to freely pass from one to the other.
As fluid exits the low pressure zone of the reservoir and enters the high pressure zone of the pump, the pressure transfers to the steering rack allowing it to turn the car with ease. Unused fluid within the steering pump is then returned back to the lower pressure zone of the reservoir via the fluid hose.
Do I Need Steering Fluid?
While it is technically possible to drive a car without power steering fluid, it is not a great idea. There are even higher quality options like synthetic power steering fluid that make the process more trustworthy.
For starters, it will be extremely difficult to turn your steering wheel, especially when the car is at a stop. Without it, it will take much more strength than usual just to get your steering wheel to rotate once.
It’s also not a good idea to drive without steering fluid because of how newer cars are made. Given just about every car today is built with power assisted steering, you’d be neglecting an important part of your car’s functionality.
The power steering system will still try to operate as normal, but without fluid in the tank the parts will start to deteriorate. Once that starts, it doesn’t stop, so make sure to always drive with adequate power steering fluid.
How to Check Power Steering Fluid
It’s important to stay on top of your car’s power steering fluid levels. Failure to do so will lead to issues with your car and will cause headaches for you when trying to turn out of your driveway.
To check you current power steering fluid levels, pop your hood and located the power steering fluid reservoir. To make finding it easier, locate your engine. On the back should be the power steering pump which is connected to the reservoir.
Next, remove the power steering reservoir cap and observe the current steering fluid. The tank will have a recommended level for your fluid, so make sure to top off your tank adequately.
When you first look at the steering fluid, you might notice it is a dark brown or even blackish color. This is a sign of dirty power steering fluid. If you’re wondering “what color is power steering fluid”, clean fluid will be a light brown or yellow color. Some types of fluid can be red, but the dirty version of this fluid will also be a dark brown color.
As the steering fluid is utilized in the car, it will begin to turn a darker shade of brown. This is due to the constant contact with metal components and generally due to mixing with rust and dirt.
If upon checking you notice a power steering fluid leak, it’s possible you’ll need to replace the fluid hose or the entire fluid reservoir itself.
To diagnose the problem, pour some new power steering fluid into the tank and see if the level immediately lowers. If so, there is probably a leak in the reservoir itself. If not, try driving your car around the block and see if you notice any difficulty turning the wheel. If so, there might be a leak in the fluid hose during the pressure process.
Upon pulling back into your driveway, check the fluid levels again to see if there are any major differences.
How to Change Power Steering Fluid
If you’ve determined your power steering fluid needs to be replaced with fresh stuff, you’ll first need to know how to flush power steering fluid from the steering pump. This is crucial to get any dirty steering fluid out of the system so the new fluid can do its job.
To flush your power steering fluid, you will need a vacuum pump to remove the old fluid from the fluid reservoir. You can also use a turkey baster if you don’t have a pump. Just remove the power steering fluid cap from the reservoir and pump out the old fluid. Make sure to put a towel down around the reservoir to keep any excess fluid from getting on the other parts of your car.
Once the system is flushed, we can explain how to add power steering fluid to your car. All you have to do is pour in your new power steering fluid to the required level and close the reservoir cap
What Power Steering Fluid Should I Use?
When looking for what power steering fluid to use, it can be difficult picking from all of the options. Fortunately most power steering fluid reservoir caps will tell you which type of fluid you need to use. The cap will say something like “DEXRON ATF” or “MERCON” which describes the type of steering fluid you need to use.
You will also notice that there is universal power steering fluid which can be used in virtually any car. However some cars will require more specific type or brand that protects against corrosion or improves how lubricated the steering pump is.
So if you’re looking for a specific brand like GM power steering fluid, you might be surprised that car manufacturers don’t make their own specific kind of fluid. The most common brands are Prestone, STP, Valvoline, and Motor Medic. However there are some recommended steering fluids to use with various kinds of cars.
BMW recommends using a certain hydraulic fluid for your power steering referred to as CHF. It is manufactured European company Pentosin and is sold across the globe and online. Try googling “Walmart power steering fluid” and you’ll likely find it available for less than $20.
Honda recommends using steering fluid made specifically for Honda/Acura vehicles. This fluid is made by both Honda Genuine and Prestone and can be found at AutoZone, O’Reilly’s, and Advance Auto Parts.
Subaru recommends using their self branded option to fill your reservoir tank. Subaru ATF is a high quality power steering fluid solution that can be found at your local dealership or at Subaru’s website.