What Power Steering Fluid Should I Use?

Modern vehicles have become heavier than ever with the introduction of mainstream creature comforts, safety regulations, and increased use of electronics. One technology we take for granted in daily driving is power steering. Without our power steering systems, turning your vehicle would be very difficult. 

These systems use a hydraulic fluid called power steering fluid to reduce the force needed to turn the wheels of the cars. 

Like any fluid used in our vehicles, power steering fluid can start to wear down, pick up debris, and lose its effectiveness over time. This can pose several issues, which is why it’s crucial to have your fluid replaced every once in a while. 

Some modern vehicles use an electronic power steering system which is not reliant on hydraulic fluid. In this article though, we will be focusing on hydraulic systems.

What is Power Steering?

Power steering systems operate with hydraulics, which works by using an incompressible fluid to transmit force from one point to another.

Using a component called a rotary valve, fluid is either directed back to the power steering pump or into one of the fluid reservoirs of the steering rack. When your steering wheel is in the straight position, the fluid is all returned to the pump as the fluid is not needed. However, when you turn your wheel, the fluid is then directed to one side of the steering rack.

A hydraulic piston in the center of the steering rack divides the fluid reservoir into two sides. When turning, the pressure differential created by the introduction of fluid to only one side allows us to turn in that direction without having to manage the entire weight of the vehicle.

Simple diagram of a power steering system

Power Steering Fluid

The hydraulic fluid used within your steering rack is called power steering fluid. Made up of a mix of various oils, power steering fluid is incompressible, which amplifies your steering input, making the wheels easier to turn.

Why Do I Need to Change My Power Steering Fluid?

Much like the other important fluids of our vehicles, power steering fluid doesn’t last forever. Over time it can begin to accumulate debris that can damage and contaminate the pump or other sensitive components such as O-rings. 

This will lead to the pump experiencing increased stress as it tries to keep up with moving fluid throughout the system, often leading to a failed pump or drive belt. 

How Often Should I Change My Power Steering Fluid?

While the life of your power steering fluid depends on a variety of factors, most manufacturers recommend fluid changes between every 50,000 to 70,000 miles.

The best way to judge the life of your fluid is to visually inspect it. Fresh fluid will be a bright red and will remain a similar tone during its usable lifespan. When it becomes a dark red, brown, or black tone it should be replaced to avoid damage to your steering components. 

What Power Steering Fluid Should I Use?

When replacing your power steering fluid, it’s important to be aware of what type of fluid your vehicle needs. 

Your vehicle’s owner’s manual will have the optimal type of fluid for your make and model. You can also contact your local dealership’s service department for advice on using the proper fluid in your system. 

In some cases, automatic transmission fluid can be used as power steering fluid due to them being quite similar and both hydraulic fluids, however in some vehicles specific synthetic power steering fluid is required to avoid damage. You should only use ATF if it’s recommended in your manual or by a trusted professional. Using the wrong type of fluid can cause problems, including premature wear and failure on the pump.

Power Steering Service in Naperville

If it’s time for a power steering fluid flush or any other power steering services, trust the experts at Becker Service Center to take care of you! Our ASE-certified technicians have years of experience working on the steering systems of various platforms. Call or schedule online with us today!