When cars were first created, power steering was not an option. Turning the wheel required a lot more force. Turning corners or pulling into parking spots was much more difficult without power steering, as it was only the physical strength of the driver and a series of gears turning the wheels of the car.
Power steering first showed up in the 1950s, allowing drivers to steer and maneuver vehicles much more easily. Hydraulic power steering was the most common type of power steering for the better part of 50 years. Hydraulic fluid, known as power steering fluid, runs through a pressurized system powered by a pump.
If your power steering system developed a leak, it could potentially cause serious accidents and injuries. Let’s check out some power steering leak symptoms as well as a power steering leak repair costs and power steering leak causes but you need to be aware of.
Can you drive a car with a power steering leak?
As we said, power steering didn’t exist until the 1950s. Any vintage car before that doesn’t have power steering and drivers originally learned to drive vehicles without power steering in the first place. So, in a practical and mechanical sense, you can drive your car even though your power steering isn’t functioning.
If you let your power steering leak get too bad, your power steering rack will cease to function properly. Steering will become very difficult at this point. Ironically, at low speeds it will be much harder to maneuver your vehicle. Parking and turning will be close to Impossible depending on the kind of car you drive.
When you drive for a long time with no power steering fluid, it can damage the pump. Because there’s no fluid inside the pump any longer, it’s going to overheat. The pump doesn’t shut off, even though there’s no fluid present. Getting this repaired can be pricey. A new power steering pump replacement cost can be upwards of $500 to $700.
All things being equal, getting a power steering leak fixed is better than ignoring it.
How do you stop a power steering leak?
As it happens, you don’t necessarily have to take your car to a mechanic if you have a power steering leak. You can buy a product such as Power Steering Stop Leak, which will fix the problem for you in some cases.
You can find several different brands and products on Amazon.com that all do the same job. It costs about $10 to $20 for a bottle and you add it to your power steering fluid.
The power steering leak stop solution will cycle through your power steering system. As it does so, it can fill in any cracks or holes and seal them for you. So long as they’re not too large, this could be a solution that lasts for several years.
Is Power Steering Stop Leak bad for your car?
Power steering Stop Leak Solutions are designed to revitalize the seals and O-rings in your power steering system. Over time, these seals will shrink and crack. That’s where the leaks come from that causes your power steering fluid to leak.
These stop leak liquids that you can add to your power steering fluid reservoir will revitalize gaskets so they can seal cracks and holes. However, they are not able to fix large holes in your hoses and pump.
You need to ensure you’re using the right amount of power steering stop leak when trying to fix leaks as well. The directions will stay clearly exactly how much you need to use. If you use too much, it could cause serious damage to your power steering system.
If you have a leak in your pump housing or the pump bearings, a stop leak solution will not fix that. These will require a power steering leak repair at a mechanic to get them fixed.
How long does it take for Power Steering Stop Leak to work?
Power steering stop leak and similar solutions are not instantaneous fixes for a leak in your power steering system. One bottle will treat about 3 quarts of power steering fluid. The problem is that you may need several applications to see any results. And if it is working, it may take a few hours before results are noticeable.
Because the stop leak solution restores your O-rings, it’s a chemical process that will take time to happen. It’s not like some other sealants which work instantly. You need to have some patience and make sure you’re following the directions on the bottle for the specific brand you’ve bought exactly.
Some drivers have had problems using power steering Stop Leak solutions in the past because they didn’t follow the directions to the letter. It’s possible that you won’t achieve the results you’re looking for in these cases.
Can I just add power steering fluid?
If you need to add more power steering fluid to your system this is something that you can do on your own at home. It’s worth noting that newer vehicles don’t actually require power steering fluid any longer. Electronic power assist steering is featured in most vehicles, so fluid is not an issue.
If you do use power steering fluid in your vehicle, and most vehicles made in the last 70 years do, then you should check your fluid levels on a monthly basis. If you’re finding the levels are low, you can add more to top them up.
- Before attempting to add any fluid, let your vehicle get up to temperature. Run your engine for 10 or 15 minutes.
- Let your engine idle and then turn your steering wheel fully in one direction until you can’t any longer. Then proceed to turn it in the opposite direction until you can no longer turn it. Do this two or three times in each direction.
- Turn off your engine and pop the hood of your car. The power steering reservoir is located near your engine and will have a white or yellow reservoir full of liquid. The cap should be black. If you’re not sure where it is, check your owner’s manual or Google the make and model of your car.
- If the reservoir tank or cap is dirty, use a clean rag to wipe them down so nothing gets in your reservoir when you pop the cap. If you can see the fluid level from outside, then check to see if it’s filled to between the minimum and maximum levels. If not, remove the cap and check the dipstick.
- If your fluid levels are low, start adding new power steering fluid to the reservoir. Do this carefully because you don’t want to exceed the maximum fill level. Make sure you seal a reservoir tightly when you’re done.
How long can I drive without power steering fluid?
Because of the potential damage to your power steering pump by driving it without fluid, there isn’t really a safe amount of time you should be driving without power steering fluid. A small leak is one thing, you may have time to get to a mechanic to have it repaired or to use a power steering leak stop solution.
If your reservoir is completely drained, you’re going to cause serious damage to your power steering pump by trying to drive without fluid . It will probably only take a few minutes of operation before the pump suffers serious damage in this condition. Because it can’t be turned off, you really have no choice here.
What causes a power steering leak?
Like many kinds of fluid leaks in your car, power steering fluid leaks can have a number of different causes.
- Bad seals. The various gaskets, seals, and O-rings throughout your power steering system are subject to wear and tear. Over time, they can dry out and grow brittle from extended use and exposure to the heat of your engine. That can lead to cracks and openings through which your power steering fluid will leak.
- Mechanical failure. Your power steering system doesn’t technically require any maintenance to keep it running properly. However, if any of the hoses, gaskets, belts, or the pump failed due to mechanical reasons that can lead to fluid leaks.
In the year 2012, Honda had to recall over 600,000 Accord and Acura models as a result of a problem with power steering hoses that could deteriorate and leak fluid. So, it’s not unheard of that parts will get into brand new cars and be subject to failure through no fault of your own as a driver.
- Physical damage. It’s possible that the hoses in your power steering system could have been damaged during an accident or repairs of other parts of your engine.
How much does it cost to fix power steering?
If you need to head to a mechanic to get your power steering leak fixed, it might cost you anywhere between $100 and $250. That’s just for swapping out an old, broken hose with a new one.
As we said earlier, a power steering pump replacement could potentially cost upwards of $700 to fix. And of course, if all you need to do is buy a bottle of leak stop to put in the reservoir, then you might be able to get that for as little as $10.
What are signs of a bad power steering pump?
If the problem with your power steering isn’t just an old seal but an issue with your power steering pump there are some symptoms that you can be on the lookout for.
- Noises. If you notice a whining sound coming from under the hood when you turn the steering wheel, this is probably a problem with your power steering pump. It may also indicate that you have extremely low power steering fluid. If you check your fluid levels and see that they are fine, but the whine continues, you’re going to want to get into a mechanic.
You may also notice that your car produces a squealing sound upon startup. This is your steering pump trying to get started along with the rest of your car. It’s possible a steering pump can make loud groaning sounds as well, but this is usually while you’re driving and especially turning, rather than on startup itself.
- Steering wheel problems. By now you should be familiar with how your steering wheel responds while you’re driving. It should be fairly free in your hands and offer minimal resistance but not wobble all over the place.
When you have a problem with your power steering pump, you may find that the steering wheel is very stiff in your hands. Turning one direction or the other can become very hard to do and will require far more effort than you’re used to.
In addition to a stiff steering wheel, you may find that your vehicle’s response is slow when you have a steering pump problem. That means when you turn the wheel one way or the other, your car seems to take a minute to go the direction in which you’ve turned.
As you can imagine, a steering wheel that is slow to respond or hard to turn could potentially lead to some serious accidents.
The Bottom Line
If you have a problem with your power steering, the best thing you can do is get your car into a mechanic to have it checked out. It’s possible that a simple $10 bottle of power steering leak stop is all you need to get things working again properly. But it may also be a bigger issue than you realize.
However you wish to approach your power steering fix, just know that ignoring it is going to be a bad idea. The longer you try to drive a car with bad power steering or no power steering at all, the more likely you are to cause some serious damage.
Remember, even though older cars function without power steering, they were also designed to function without power steering. Newer cars were never meant to operate without this kind of assistance, so just saying that it’s a bit harder to steer is not entirely accurate. Get your power steering fixed as soon as you can to enjoy a smoother, safer ride.