What is power steering fluid and what does it do?
Power steering fluid is important for vehicles to keep running. The fluid is responsible for steering the vehicle with little or no effort. Power steering fluid ensures that various components, like the valve, pump, pistons and hoses are working optimally. Regular maintenance of the power steering by topping it up, replacing it or flushing it keeps the components of the power steering from deteriorating.
So, what is power steering fluid, what are the different types of power steering fluid and when do we change the power steering fluid to keep cars running smoothly?
First let’s have a look at what power steering is.
What is power steering?
The power steering system in a vehicle uses the engine’s power to assist in steering the front wheels of the vehicle. It allows the driver to have more control and reduces the amount of effort required to turn the wheels.
Power steering can be of two types – hydraulic or electric. Hydraulic systems require a hydraulic fluid to apply pressure to the system to help turn the vehicle’s wheels. An electric power steering makes use of an electric motor and sensors to ascertain how much force is being applied by the driver, and then decides how much force is required to assist in turning the wheels.
How does power steering fluid work?
Power steering fluid is the hydraulic medium that is used to make a hydraulic link between the steering system and the front wheels. The fluid is used to decrease the amount of effort that is used to turn the wheels.
Hydraulic fluid also acts as a lubricant for the moving parts in the power steering system. It prevents foaming and reduces corrosion in the power steering gears and pumps, which keeps the vehicle running smoothly.
Power steering fluid looks like a red, pink or amber liquid. If it is dark brown and foamy, it probably requires replacement.
Also Read: Top 5 Car Maintenance Fluids Essential For Your Car
Where is the power steering fluid?
The power steering fluid reservoir can be found under the hood in the engine bay. It is usually located on the passenger side, although it could also be located on the driver side. The container holding the power steering fluid is white or yellow with a black cap with the words, power steering or steering fluid on top.
What are the different types of steering fluid?
Automatic transmission makes use of automatic transmission fluid (ATF). ATF can also be used in some power steering systems. Dexron and Mercon are some types of automatic transmission fluids.
A non-oil-based fluid created in a lab called synthetic power steering fluid can also be used in some power steering systems. These synthetic power steering fluids are specifically engineered for a particular vehicle or power steering system. New vehicles often use a synthetic based power steering fluid.
A different kind of power steering fluid is a mineral oil-based liquid. They can be used in some power steering applications that use ATF.
Some may ask, is automatic transmission fluid and power steering fluid the same? Although both fluids are used for hydraulics, ATF has certain detergents and agents to remove dirt, grease and grime from the automatic transmission system.
Also Read: The Ultimate Guide To Engine Bay Detailing
What are the power steering fluid standards?
Power steering fluid specifications are required to determine the viscosity, additives and detergents of the fluid. If these specification standards are met, then the power steering fluid is safe to use in a vehicle’s power steering system.
Power steering fluid specifications are created by standardisation organisations such as ISO.
Certain vehicles require power steering fluids to meet these specifications in order to function normally. Each automaker will mention these standards in their relative power steering systems.
Also Read: Difference Between Petrol Engine and Diesel Engine Explained
When is the right time to change your power steering fluid?
The replacement of a power steering fluid depends on the type of fluid that is used and the amount of fluid present in the system. Following the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) guidelines is one of the surest ways of determining when to change the power steering fluid. Usually, power steering fluid must be changed at least every 5 years or at 50,000 kms.
There are also certain warning signs that can tell you when to replace the power steering fluid. If the liquid looks too dark in colour, then it’s time for a replacement. A light-coloured fluid means it is fine. If dirt, grease or grime is present in the power steering fluid then the system should be flushed and replaced with fresh fluid.
Another indication for checking the system is if you hear a moaning or creaking noise from the power steering system. If turning the steering wheel is proving to be hard or if there is a visible leak of power steering fluid from the engine bay, then it is best to have the power steering system checked and have the fluid replaced.
A service of the power steering fluid includes draining out the old fluid from the system and pouring in new power steering fluid. Servicing is important to ensure that the power steering system components don’t wear out and that their life is prolonged.
If the power steering fluid is neglected, the power steering pump and rack / pinion mechanisms could get damaged. Replacing these parts is quite costly and it is better to have them serviced at regular intervals.
If the level of the power steering fluid goes down or leaks out completely, then it makes the vehicle difficult to turn. Once the components get damaged due to the lack of power steering fluid, it becomes a costly fix. Power steering fluid does not expire, but if it is not changed, or flushed it will cause wear and tear on the components.
Along with passenger cars and trucks, power steering fluid is also used in heavy diesel vehicles.
Also Read: Fuel System Cleaning: Clean the System Quickly
Frequently Asked Questions?
Q1. How is power steering fluid used?
Ans. Power steering fluid is the hydraulic fluid that is used to make a connection between the steering wheel and the vehicle's front wheels. The power steering fluid reduces the amount of force required by the driver to turn the wheels. The hydraulic fluid also lubricates the various components of the power steering system. The power steering fluid keeps the pump and steering mechanism from corroding, allowing the vehicle to run smoothly.
Q2. How is power steering fluid filled?
Ans. The power steering fluid is filled in the power steering fluid reservoir found in the engine bay. The reservoir cap should be opened and the level of the power steering fluid should be checked. The level should be between the Min and Max levels. If the power steering fluid is below the minimum level, then the fluid is added to the reservoir till the fluid reaches just below the maximum level.
Q3. How to fix a power steering fluid leak?
Ans. If the power steering fluid develops a leak, it is difficult to turn the car without putting force on the steering wheel. Basically, wear and tear over time may cause the O-rings to lose their form. When the power steering fluid leaks out, the system components cannot do their work properly. If the power steering fluid level goes low, there won’t be enough fluid to pressurise, leading to difficulty in steering the vehicle. It is best to address the leak before vital components in the power steering system get damaged.
Q4. When is the right time to change the power steering fluid?
Ans. It is advisable to change the power steering fluid every 2 years or about 50,000 kms. A closer look at the user manual of the vehicle will probably suggest exactly when to change the power steering fluid. If the fluid is not changed at the required intervals, the components will start to undergo deterioration and the fluid will become contaminated with metal and rubber shavings.
Q5. What is the symbol for power steering fluid?
Ans. The power steering system’s warning light can be seen in the instrument cluster on the dashboard of the vehicle. It is usually a steering wheel with an exclamation point next to it. If this warning light is visible, it means the power steering system has a problem. The warning light may be red, yellow or orange to indicate a problem with the power steering system.
Q6. How much power steering fluid does a car hold?
Ans. There are a number of indications for a low level of power steering fluid. The steering may be firmer and difficult to handle. Topping up the power steering fluid may solve the problem. There is no set volume for the power steering fluid. Different vehicles use different systems with unique requirements. In the reservoir, there is a minimum and maximum level. Filling the power steering fluid to between these levels is sufficient for the proper functioning of the power steering system. Usually, 1 litre is enough for topping up, whereas about 2 litres are required for a flush.
Q7. How much power steering fluid is required for a flush?
Ans.A power steering flush is something that your car needs if the power steering fluid is dark and looks contaminated with pieces of metal and rubber. The condition of the power steering fluid can be checked by examining the contents of the reservoir in the engine bay. A flush is better than just changing the fluid because it removes all the old fluid and replaces it with fresh, clean liquid. Without the flush, there will still be old fluid stuck in the power steering hydraulic pump and steering rack that will contaminate the new fluid. About 2 litres of power steering fluid is required for a flush.
Q8. What are the different types of power steering fluid?
Ans. Automatic Transmission Fluid (ATF). The same fluid that is used in automatic transmission systems can be used as a power steering fluid.
Synthetic power steering fluid. Newer vehicles use this kind of power steering fluid in their steering systems. The fluid is usually created in a lab and engineered for specific vehicles or power steering systems.
Non synthetic mineral-oil based power steering fluid – mineral oil hydraulic fluid can be used in some systems that accept automatic transmission fluid.
Q9. How do I know what kind of power steering fluid to use?
Ans. Power steering fluid has to meet specifications and standards for viscosity, additives, detergents and other components. Meeting these standards ensure that the power steering fluid can be used safely in a vehicle. Requirements will vary depending on the vehicle type and manufacturers recommendations. It is always advisable to refer to the car’s reference manual to determine what kind of power steering fluid can be used.
Q10. Can I use vegetable oil for power steering fluid?
Ans. It is not a good idea to use vegetable oil for power steering fluid because it may damage the seals and components. The temperature in the power steering system may cause the oil to break down and thicken, thereby putting a strain on the pump and other components.
Q11. Can motor oil be used for power steering fluid?
Ans. The seals could get clogged with sludge, resulting in clogging of orifices. Motor oil is not suitable for power steering systems because it causes the seals to swell. It is recommended that you replace the power steering fluid with the manufacturers recommended power steering fluid standards and specifications.
Q12. What can I use if I don’t have power steering fluid?
Ans. Automatic Transmission Fluid (ATF) can be substituted for power steering fluid if it is not available. This can work for the older generation of vehicles. Newer vehicles make use of synthetic based fluids and using ATF in them is not suitable. Dexron transmission fluid that is used to maintain transmissions can also be used. Mercon transmission fluid is another substitute for power steering transmission fluid.
Q13. What are the signs of power steering problems?
Ans. The steering vehicle is too stiff and hard to turn. It takes some time for the steering system to respond when the steering wheel is turned. There are strange sounds like whirring and whining when the steering is used. The fluid level in the reservoir is below the minimum level. The colour of the power steering fluid has changed from light to dark brown.
The next time you go out for a drive, and you notice that steering the vehicle is taking a bit more effort, the culprit is most likely power steering fluid. With modern vehicles we tend not to think of it too much, but the power steering system is necessary for both a safe and enjoyable driving experience.