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What Is Power Steering Fluid? Is Power Steering Fluid All The Same?

What Is Power Steering Fluid

Power steering fluid is a kind of hydraulic fluid transferring power in modern vehicles with power steering. As a vital part of your steering system, power steering fluid allows drivers to turn the steering wheel easily. Power-steering fluid replacement is typically not a regular maintenance task for most cars, as it is replaced under the guidance of a mechanic or the discretion of the vehicle owner. Many car manufacturers do recommend that an auto specialist flush the steering system from time to time. You always want to check your owner’s manual for the best course of action for your power steering fluid. 

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Is Power Steering Fluid All The Same?

Various vehicle applications require various kinds of power steering fluid. Some vehicles require an ATF transmission fluid such as MERCON or DEXRON. Lots of newer vehicles use some sort of synthetic-based hydraulic fluid specifically formulated for power steering usage.  Synthetic fluids are able to flow well at a relatively low temperature. This also improves longevity and pump lubrication. 

Many auto professionals do have what is called a “universal” power steering fluid that can prove to be a satisfactory fluid for many vehicle applications. But it’s important to note that some vehicles may require additional additives to the power steering fluid.  These special additives can be used corrosion protection and for pump lubricity.  

Do You Need to Change Your Car’s Power Steering Fluid?

Power steering fluid allows for easier and smoother steering for your car.  Anyone who has ever driven a car with manual steering, has first-hand knowledge of the difficulty associated with turning a vehicle steering wheel, as opposed to today’s modernized power steering. But power steering goes far beyond just turning your steering wheel. Many auto experts recommend periodic changes of steering fluid. They suggest such, to prevent grit and sludge from accumulating- and further getting into your car’s pinion seals and rack- consequently destroying them. 

How do you know when to replace your power steering fluid?

A moaning sound or even filthy fluid during steering, signals low power steering fluid levels. In fact, moaning and dirty fluid both signal that fluid change is needed ASAP. If you have low fluid levers, then this means that you have a possible leak somewhere, since a vehicle’s power steering system is sealed. Besides that, auto experts recommend that you change power steering fluid anywhere from a few years, to at least every 100,000 miles. Visit your mechanic for the best course of action you should follow. 

What Can You Use If You Don't Have Power Steering Fluid? Are There Alternatives?

You as a car owner know and can better feel when you have little to no power steering fluid. Power steering fluid is vital for every vehicle and if need be, has to be replenished whenever levels are too low. So, what if you can’t get your hands-on power steering fluid, and you need a substitute for your car? You have a few options, according to auto professionals. 

First and foremost, if your power steering fluid is an issue for you, then you should take the time to check the power steering fluid on a regular or even a monthly basis and looing to see what the appropriate amount of fluid is for your car. You also want to do that periodic check to ensure that your power system is functioning well and you don’t have any leaks. 

A word of caution here: be careful when choosing an alternative for your power steering fluid. All it takes is selecting the wrong kind of fluid, to cause damage and hefty car repair bills.  A fluid that is incompatible can forge an attack on your seals, rubber parts and plastic. The wrong fluid can also have a bad reaction with the remnants of the original fluid, which can produce an acidic fluid that’s in your car. 

ATF- Automatic Transmission Fluid 

Many vehicles-those manufactured between 1980 and 2000- are able to use ATF or automatic transmission fluid- as an alternative to power steering fluid. If the power steering fluid in your car is purplish or reddish in color, it is very likely that the fluid is ATF fluid. Talk to your mechanic if you are not sure. 


DEXRON is a transmission fluid is another alternative and is generally grayish, brownish or even greenish in color. If your vehicle’s power steering fluid doesn’t have a purple or red color, then it may be a DEXRON-kind-of transmission fluid.  


MERCON transmission fluid is quite similar to DEXRON transmission fluid, and is a suitable substitute for your power steering fluid, or if your DEXRON fluid is not within reach. 

Before using a substitute for your power steering fluid, ask a mechanic and discuss the alternatives at are best suited for your car.

Can I Drive Without Power Steering Fluid?

The short answer is “sure you can!” but a better question to ask is: “do you really want to drive my car without my power steering fluid?” 

Power steering fluid assists with the motion of your vehicle, while protecting your car from tear and wear. If you fail to add power steering fluid regularly or don’t use it at all, then you run the risk of damaging the pinion, rack and pump of your car.  


How Do I Add Power Steering Fluid to My Car? 

If your power steering reservoir’s fluids are low, then it’s time to add more. Check out how it’s done below. 

  1. Start your vehicle’s engine and allow it to run until the temperature gauge is at normal operating range.
  2. As your engine idles, turn your steering wheel until it fully locks. Then turn it the other way which is opposite of the lock. You may have to do this several times.
  3. Turn off your engine.
  4. Then, open your hood. 
  5. Find the power steering reservoir- which is usually located near the engine, and is usually outfitted with either a yellow or a white reservoir and a black cap.
  6. Clean the reservoir with a cloth so that dirt won’t enter into it, while you’re working on it. 
  7. Look at your fluid level. Depending on the reservoir type, you may have to either pull or twist your cap. Then continue on with pulling out a dipstick. Then, see where the fluid levels are based on the “MAX” or “MIN” indicators on the stick. 
  8. If your reservoir level or the dipstick is between “MAX” and “MIN,” no addition of fluid is needed.
  9. If the fluid falls below the “MIN” indicator line, then you need to take the cap off/ leave the dipstick out and add some power steering fluid. Be sure to be careful and you add the fluid in tiny increments. Please do not fill the fluid past “MAX” indicator line.
  10. Then, close the car or replace the dipstick, and ensure that you’ve sealed it tightly. 


Is It Bad To Drive With Low Power Steering Fluid?

If you choose to drive your car for long periods of time, with no power steering fluid, then you run the risk of damaging the pump. No, there is nothing that will physically stop you from driving your car; but driving it with low levels of power steering fluid is never a good idea. Once that fluid level drops, you not only have a dry pump on your hands, but high levels of heat and friction that can lead to hefty repair bills. 


How Long Can You Drive With Low Power Steering Fluid?

The power steering fluid in your car is the needed lubricant for your vehicle’s power steering pump. This ensures that the pump stays cool and doesn’t overheat. Sure, you can drive your car without power steering fluid; but don’t plan on a long trip to the store or a day of running errands and your vehicle has no power steering fluid in it. In other words, it’s NOT SAFE for you to drive a car without any power steering fluid. 


How Much Does It Cost To Fix Power Steering?

Generally, many power steering pump repairs and replacements can cost around $200, up to around $400. You may have to shell out more money, depending on the kind of car you drive and how much the mechanic will charge you for labor. 


Is A Power Steering Leak Expensive To Fix?

Are you faced with a damaged or a faulty power steering pump? Then you’re looking at a few hundred dollars in repair costs. In terms of the worst-case scenario, a power steering fluid leak could damage your car’s power steering rack. If you’re staring down the barrel of this issue, then expect to pay at least $1,000. 


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