Blog Car Care Advice How to Check Your Power Steering Fluid & When to Change It
Car Care Advice

How to Check Your Power Steering Fluid & When to Change It

Looking for a mechanic near you for maintenance or repair? AutoNation Mobile Service brings the shop to you. Get a free instant quote today.
Get a Quote

Power steering fluid ensures your car’s steering remains smooth, dependable, and within your control. When the fluid level drops, it can transform your driving experience into a battle of strength and desperation. 

But how can you tell you’re running low on steering fluid?

In this article, we’ll walk you through the simple steps to check power steering fluid. We’ll explore signs of low power steering fluid levels, how to top up the fluid when needed, and the right type of power steering fluid for your vehicle.

We’ll also cover when to change your power steering fluid, what to do when it becomes contaminated, and a few FAQs.

This Article Contains:

Let’s get started.

How to Check Power Steering Fluid

Checking your power steering fluid level requires a little know-how.
Here’s a brief rundown on how to do it:

Now that you have an action plan, let’s dive a little deeper into the processes.  

1. How to Prepare Power Steering Fluid for Checking?

You’ll need to heat the power steering fluid in your vehicle to get a more accurate reading of your fluid level.

Turn your engine on and let the car idle for 3-4 mins until it reaches the ideal operating temperature (180°F to 250°F). Then, turn your steering wheel in one direction until the steering rack locks to circulate the hydraulic fluid.

2. Where is the Power Steering Fluid Reservoir Located?

After heating the power steering fluid, turn off the engine, pop the hood, and look for the power steering fluid reservoir.

Generally, the power steering reservoir is a clear plastic or metal container in the engine bay with a black or yellow reservoir cap. But the placement of the reservoir varies depending on the vehicle manufacturer. So, if you can’t find it, refer to your owner’s manual for the precise location.

Most steering fluid reservoirs come with level-indicating markings on the side that help you check fluid levels or a dipstick under the reservoir cap. The dipstick has markers, much like oil level checks.

3. How to Check the Power Steering Fluid Level?

If the fluid reservoir is made of clear plastic, it’s easier to see the fluid level. But, if the reservoir is made of metal, you must check the fluid level with a dipstick.

Remove the reservoir cap and wipe off the excess fluid on the dipstick. Then, fully re-insert the dipstick and pull it out again to check the power steering fluid level.

Now, observe how much of the dipstick is covered with power steering fluid. Compare the area surrounding the dipstick against its indicator lines to see if your fluid reserve is within the recommended power steering level.

Before replenishing your fluid reservoir, examine the color of the fluid to rule out any serious issues with your steering system.

4. How to Examine Power Steering Fluid Color?

Your power steering fluid color can help determine if your power steering fluid is contaminated.

Typically, the power steering fluid is clear, amber, or pinkish. If contaminated, the power steering fluid turns brown or black.

The fluid becomes filled with rubber bits from a damaged connecting hose, seal, or steering pump. If you suspect contamination, consult a mechanic for assistance. 

Next, let’s explore the signs that indicate you may be running low on this fluid.

3 Signs of Low Power Steering Fluid Levels

The hydraulic power steering system requires adequate steering fluid to function correctly. When the power steering level is low, it can impact your car’s performance and your overall driving experience.

Below are some common indicators of low power steering fluid:

➤ Weird Noises: If you hear a whining noise while operating the steering wheel, it could be a sign of low power steering fluid. The noise results from air bubbles in the connecting hose or lack of lubrication within the power steering system.

➤ Difficulty Steering: Insufficient steering fluid can make it harder to turn the steering wheel, particularly at lower speeds or when vehicles are stationary.

➤  Fluid Leak: If you notice puddles or drips of fluid under your vehicle, it could be a sign of a power steering fluid leak. The leak may be from the power steering pump, steering gear, or pressure lines.

Curious about how to fix low power steering fluid levels?
A simple top-up may be the answer.

How to Top Up Power Steering Fluid

Once you notice that you may be running low on steering fluid, topping up your steering fluid levels is essential.

Here’s how:

Note: If your power steering fluid is contaminated, have a mechanic check it before topping it up.

Now, topping up your power steering fluid is simple, but choosing the proper fluid type can be tricky.

Which Type of Power Steering Fluid to Use

For modern vehicles, power steering fluid makes your steering wheel much easier to operate. But you need to be sure to use the right type for your car.

The ideal power steering fluid type you should use depends on the recommendations provided by your vehicle manufacturer. Check your vehicle’s owner’s manual for the most accurate information about purchasing new fluid. 

The different power steering fluid types include:

➤ Conventional Power Steering Fluid: This fluid is created with traditional base oils. While they may still be available, they are less common in modern vehicles as they don’t offer the same level of protection as synthetic fluid.

➤ Synthetic Power Steering Fluid: Synthetic fluid is made with synthetic base oils and provides improved performance and longevity compared to conventional fluids.

➤ Automatic Transmission Fluid: Automatic transmission fluid (ATF) is an automotive fluid that can also be used as a power steering fluid. It’s generally used for older vehicles.

Note: Do not use any power steering fluid if you have an electric power steering system. The electric power steering system utilizes an electric motor and doesn’t require fluid to work.

Choosing the right power steering fluid type is crucial, but knowing when to change it is equally important.

When to Change the Power Steering Fluid

Power steering fluid is a hydraulic fluid that enables the steering assist system and operates under extreme pressure and heat. These conditions in the engine compartment cause power steering system components to wear out over time, contaminating the power steering fluid. 

That’s why you must perform a power steering flush to lubricate your system components every 30,000 miles. This scheduled maintenance can help preserve your connecting hose, steering pump, and gear.

Now that we’ve discussed ideal scheduled maintenance for your steering system, let’s explore the process of removing contamination.

What to Do When Power Steering Fluid Is Contaminated

When power steering fluid becomes contaminated, it’s crucial to perform a flush to prevent further damage to your vehicle’s hydraulic power steering system. This procedure helps replace your old fluid with new fluid, ensuring the longevity and protection of your steering system.

Knowing your way around power steering fluid can be handy, so let’s explore a few questions about this automotive fluid. 

2 General FAQs about Power Steering Fluid

Below are answers to common questions you may have about steering fluid:

1. How Does Power Steering Fluid Work?

Power steering fluid plays a significant role in the steering assist process. The power steering pump distributes the fluid through hydraulic pressure, allowing the piston in the steering gear to oscillate, decreasing the effort to turn the wheel. 

2. What’s the Difference Between Power Steering Fluid and Automatic Transmission Fluid?

Despite some similarities, power steering and automatic transmission fluid (ATF) serve different purposes.

Power steering fluid is designed specifically for the hydraulic power steering system, providing lubrication and hydraulic pressure. ATF, however, is primarily intended for lubricating automatic transmission components.

Final Thoughts

Checking your power steering fluid is a simple yet essential maintenance task to ensure the proper functioning of your vehicle’s power steering system. By following the steps outlined in this article, including inspecting the fluid level and quality, you can easily monitor and maintain your power steering fluid. 

Looking for reliable car repair and maintenance to keep your steering system running smoothly? 

AutoNation Mobile Service is a mobile car repair and maintenance solution offering upfront pricing and stellar customer service. Our expert mechanics will tackle any car maintenance issues right in your driveway.

Fill out this form to fix an appointment for a power steering fluid flush or any other car maintenance procedures!