Power steering fluid is a type of hydraulic fluid your power steering system uses. It’s one of the essential car fluids that keep your vehicle running smoothly. The power steering fluid is pressurized to make it easier to turn the steering wheel. If you’ve ever driven an older vehicle (one made before the 1950s), you know that turning the wheel took a lot of effort. Power steering fluid changed all of that. It’s a part of every car made today (except electric vehicles — their power steering comes from the battery and charging system).
Knowing your power steering fluid type and the recommended power steering maintenance will help keep your vehicle in great working order — and keep you safe on the road. Checking your power steering fluid, and other important fluids should be part of your regular car maintenance schedule.
Is power steering fluid universal?
Although many cars use the same power steering fluid, it isn’t universal. According to Jonathan Ganther, COO and founder of Brakes To Go, “You should always check the owner’s manual to see what type of power steering fluid the vehicle takes. Some possibilities are synthetic, nonsynthetic, [and] automatic transmission fluid, or ATF. The most universal [common] power steering fluid is ATF.”
Your power steering fluid type matters, but it isn’t difficult to find. You can purchase power steering fluid at any auto parts store, although you don’t need to replace it often. Consult your owner’s manual if you plan to buy it yourself.
What does power steering fluid look like?
When your power steering fluid is new and in good condition, it will be clear with a slight red tint. If the color shifts, it’s a good sign that you need to have it serviced. “To inspect it yourself, pop the hood and look for the steering fluid cap,” says Ganther. “Twist the cap off and shine a flashlight. Look for a dark brown or black color. This indicates the power steering fluid needs attention.”
Most power steering fluid will last between two and three years or between 50,000 and 75,000 miles. It isn’t just a matter of replacing it, however. According to Ganther, “It should be flushed. Some manufacturers will give you a specific time, or it can be gauged through a visual inspection. Age and miles both play a factor here.”
There’s no specific time your power steering fluid requires maintenance. Follow your manufacturer’s recommendations and perform visual inspections a few times a year.
Signs you need to check your power steering fluid
If you notice leaking power steering fluid, take your vehicle to a mechanic. The system requires a steady, constant pressure. A leak can impact that and make it difficult to steer. Another sign to look out for is difficulty steering. If it feels harder to turn your wheel, or you feel like the steering wheel “jumps,” it might mean your power steering fluid system needs maintenance. When you take in your vehicle to have your regular oil change, ask your mechanic to check all the fluids. Regular maintenance will prevent minor problems from becoming major repairs.