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What Is Power Steering Fluid? Everything You Need to Know

Mar 29, 2021 ·
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Power steering fluid is an essential part of keeping cars and trucks running. Like the name implies, it’s what allows you to steer and turn your vehicle with little to no effort.

Power steering fluid ensures the hoses, pistons, valves and power steering pump work optimally. Without staying on top of the quality of your vehicle’s power steering fluid and flushing it and replacing it as necessary, the power steering pump will start to deteriorate.

Read along as Brian Murphy, Universal Technical Institute (UTI) Education & Development Program manager, answers the question, “What is power steering fluid?” He explains the types of power steering fluid, how to change power steering fluid, what color is power steering fluid, how to flush power steering fluid and other information about how power steering fluid keeps cars running smoothly.

What Is Power Steering?

The power steering system in a vehicle uses engine power to help reduce the amount of effort needed to turn the front wheels of a vehicle. It’s a system that helps the driver have increased control and handling of a vehicle.

Power steering systems can be hydraulic or electric. Hydraulic systems use fluid to apply hydraulic pressure to the system to help turn a car’s wheels. An electric system uses an electric motor and various sensors to detect how much force a driver is applying to the steering wheel, and then determines how much assist needs to be added by the system.

What Does Power Steering Fluid Do?

Power steering fluid is the hydraulic fluid used in the steering system to create a hydraulic link between the steering wheel and the front wheels. That decreases the amount of effort required to turn the wheels.

Power steering fluid also lubricates the moving parts within the steering system. It suppresses foaming and prevents corrosion in the power steering gear and steering pump, which keeps vehicles working optimally.

What Color is Power Steering Fluid?

Most commonly, power steering fluid is red, amber, pink, light and/or clear. If it’s dark brown or foamy, it probably needs to be changed.

Where Is Power Steering Fluid?

The power steering fluid reservoir is located under the hood, usually on the passenger’s side of the vehicle, although sometimes it can be found on the driver’s side. The container is usually white or yellow with a black cap that has the words “power steering” or “steering fluid” on the top.

What Are the Types of Power Steering Fluid?

Automatic transmission fluid (ATF) is the same fluid used inside the automatic transmission. ATF can also be used in some power steering systems. Some ATF types include Dexron and Mercon.

Synthetic power steering fluid is a non-oil-based fluid that’s created in a lab. Synthetic power steering fluid is usually specifically engineered for the particular car or system for which it’s being used. Most newer vehicles use synthetic power steering fluid.

There are also non-synthetic, mineral-based oil power steering fluids that may be used in applications that accept ATF fluids.

A lot of people ask, “Is power steering fluid the same as transmission fluid?” While ATF and power steering fluid are both hydraulic fluids, ATF features different modifiers and detergents that are specifically designed to remove dirt and grease from the transmission system.

What Are Power Steering Fluid Specification Standards?

Power steering specification standards are requirements for the viscosity, detergents, additives and other components of the fluid. Meeting these standards ensures the power steering fluid is safe to use in a specific vehicle.

Power steering fluid specification standards are created by standardization organizations. For example, DIN 51 524T3 is the standard given by the German Institute for Standardization, while ISO 7308 is the standard given by the International Organization for Standardization.

Certain vehicles will require that power steering fluid meets both DIN 51 524T3 and ISO 7308 standards. There may be other power fluid standards for certain types of vehicles, like those made by Japanese automakers.

When Should You Change Power Steering Fluid?

When you should change power steering fluid depends on the type of fluid that’s used and how much fluid is in the system. The best way to know when your power steering fluid should be changed is to follow the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) guidelines. Generally, power steering fluid should be replaced at least every five years or 50,000 miles.

There may be physical warning signs that power steering fluid needs to be changed. When you inspect the power steering fluid, it should be light in color. If it’s dark, that’s a sign it’s time to change it. If you see any dirt, debris or sludge in the power steering fluid, it’s time for the system to be flushed.

You might also hear a moaning or whining noise when you turn the steering wheel, which indicates you’ll want to check your power steering system. If it’s more difficult for you to turn the wheel, that may be another sign it’s time to change the fluid. If there are leaks, you’ll also want to check the power steering fluid level.

To service steering wheel fluid, you drain or flush the old power steering fluid out of the car and add new power steering fluid. It’s important to service power steering fluid because it can help prolong the functionality of other power steering parts.

Power steering fluid helps protect your car's power steering pump.

Neglect power steering fluid, and it could damage components like the power steering pump and power steering rack. Having to replace these parts is much more expensive than servicing power steering fluid.

Wondering what happens when a vehicle runs out of power steering fluid? It’ll make the vehicle much more difficult to turn. In a worst-case scenario, you’ll damage the power steering pump, which may result in a costly replacement.

Does Power Steering Fluid Go Bad?

Power steering fluid doesn’t expire, but if it isn’t changed or flushed when it needs to be, it will wear down in the system over time.

What Types of Vehicles Is Power Steering Fluid Used In?

In addition to personal cars and trucks, power steering fluid is used in large diesel vehicles.

Learn About Power Steering Fluid in UTI’s Auto & Diesel Programs

Both UTI’s Automotive Technology and Diesel Technology programs cover power steering fluid. In the Diesel Truck Steering & Suspension Systems course, students learn about power steering pumps and truck steering systems. You’ll disassemble a steering gear box and master other steering system components.

In the Vehicle Steering and Suspension Service and Repair course in the auto program, students learn about steering and suspension systems, including steering gear boxes.

To learn more, head to our website to request info or call 1-800-834-7308.

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