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What is Power Steering Fluid?

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In 1951 the Chrysler Imperial was fitted with power steering – the first of its kind in America. Since this meant that the days of difficult wheel turning and driver fatigue would be gone, drivers all across America quickly got on board. Due to the popularity, the top major manufacturers began producing more and more models with power steering and – well, the rest is history.

Before power steering, drivers would have a difficult time making even the smallest turn or maneuver. And if the vehicle was on the larger side, it would be even harder if not near impossible. While the invention of the power steering system is one to be celebrated, the real star of your car’s turning system is the hydraulic power steering fluid used.

WHAT IS POWER STEERING FLUID?

Simply put, power steering fluid is the fluid used in the power steering system to create a hydraulic link between the steering wheel and the front wheels, making it easier to turn. In addition, power steering fluid lubricates the moving parts of the steering system, allowing for optimal performance.

The power steering fluid used in your car is not universal. Some of the most common types of power steering fluid used include:

  1. Universal Power Steering Fluid – Most modern vehicles use universal power steering fluid in their systems and is incredibly easy to find.
  2. Synthetic-Based Hydraulic Fluid – If your car is manufactured overseas, you may need to use synthetic-based hydraulic fluid. This fluid is great because it flows well regardless of the temperature, as well as extends the life of the power steering system.
  3. Automatic Transmission Fluid (ATF) – Most domestic vehicles made before the turn of the 21st century and after 1970 use this kind of automatic transmission fluid.

There are a variety of power steering fluids offered, so be sure to double-check which one your specific make and model require. The type of power steering fluid needed can be found on the manufacturer’s website, in the manual, as well as sometimes printed directly on the reservoir cap.

HOW OFTEN SHOULD I REPLACE MY POWER STEERING FLUID?

Yes, your car’s power steering fluid must be replaced like the other fluids in your car, but the answer is not quite as clear as something like engine oil. Ultimately, how often you should replace your power steering fluid depends on a variety of factors: type of fluid used, frequency of use, driving habits, and more.

Generally speaking, our local auto mechanics recommend having your fluid completely flushed and replaced at a minimum every two years or every 75,000 miles.

Signs You Need to Replace Your Power Steering Fluid

In some cases, you may need to change your power steering fluid sooner than scheduled. To ensure your power steering system remains in optimal condition, it’s important to understand some of the signs attributed to needing a replacement sooner rather than later. Some common signs include:

  • COLOR CHANGE – IF YOUR POWER STEERING FLUID IS DARK IN COLOR, SMELLS BURNT, OR SIMPLY OFFERS A DIFFERENT APPEARANCE THAN ITS NORMAL REDDISH COLOR, IT’S TIME FOR A REPLACEMENT.
  • DIFFICULTY STEERING – NOTICING RESISTANCE WHEN YOU ATTEMPT TO STEER? ANY LOSS OF POWER IN YOUR STEERING SYSTEM CAN TELL YOU THAT IT’S TIME FOR A FLUSH AND REPLACEMENT.
  • DEBRIS – AFTER SOME TIME, THE POWER STEERING FLUID BECOMES ABRASIVE AND CAN SHOW SPECKS OF RUBBER AND METAL, TURNING INTO SLUDGE WHEN IGNORED FOR LONG ENOUGH. OFTEN ASSOCIATED WITH A BURNT SMELL, THIS IS A TELLTALE SIGN IT'S TIME FOR A FULL FLUID REPLACEMENT SERVICE.  

Additionally, if you’ve noticed bubbles in your power steering fluid, leaks, or strange noises when attempting to turn, see a professional auto mechanic right away. This could mean that damage has occurred to the power steering system or the pump itself.  

You can explore the top causes of power steering failure here.

How Do I Check my Power Steering Fluid?

Just like the other fluids in your car, it’s important to regularly inspect it via the dipstick. This helps you catch any problems your system may have before they begin. You can inspect your power steering fluid at home following these simple steps:

  1. Locate the Reservoir – The power steering fluid reservoir is located on top of the power steering pump. This is usually found on one side of the engine and can be easily located by searching for the belt that powers the pump.
  2. Remove the Cap – Once your car is off and you’re ready to begin, take off the cap. This allows you to inspect the dipstick, helping you identify the fluid levels. This is a great time to inspect for any of the signs you need replacement mentioned before.
  3. Add more Fluid – If you’re low and the fluid is healthy, add more fluid to the appropriate line on the Reservoir or dipstick.

If your system seems to be losing fluid quickly, a leak may be present and you should have your vehicle inspected by a professional auto mechanic.

Risks of Not Changing Your Power Steering Fluid

Just like the other fluids in your vehicle, the power steering fluid must be replaced regularly. If not, your car could face some serious damage, not to mention the inconvenience of turning your steering wheel without any help. Some risks you run from not changing your power steering fluid include:

  1. Empty power steering fluid reservoir
  2. Seals deteriorating, resulting in leaks
  3. Increased difficulty in turning
  4. Whining noises when turning
  5. Increased wear and tear
  6. Total breakdown of your vehicle
  7. Additional strain on other components of the power steering system (could cause failure)

Your power steering fluid won’t last forever, nor will your power steering system. Instead of waiting until the last minute to replace your fluid, and dealing with any repairs needed, take the cost effective route and get it done today!

Local Auto Repair Shop Power Steering Fluid Replacement

Changing your power steering fluid is an important part of your vehicle’s routine maintenance. Whether you’ve been putting off your replacement or just don’t have the time or know-how to do it on your own, rely on the expert team of auto mechanics at Christian Brothers Automotive for help.


With affordable prices, friendly auto mechanics, and over 35 years of industry-leading service, there’s no question why we continue to be the best option for your local power steering services.


Ready to schedule your power steering fluid service? Locate your closest CBA auto repair shop online and give us a call!

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