Not unlike it’s distant cousin, brake fluid, Power Steering Fluid is one of those under-the-radar fluids that probably don’t come to mind first when thinking about regular car maintenance. While a check of this fluid is recommended with every oil change, some car manufacturer maintenance schedules even neglect to mention such inspections!
To boot, unless you’re of a certain age and have had the opportunity and (un)-pleasure to drive an older model, full-workout-providing manually steered vehicle, you probably don’t think twice about the magnificent convenience of a power steering system. That said, let’s get to Maintaining, shall we – So read on for an overview and recommendations for your power steering system.
Hydraulics in Harmony
Like a number of systems in your vehicle, the power steering system is based on the pressurization of fluid upon your command (turning the steering wheel), and the use of this pressure to actuate a hydraulic cylinder that provides power to help steer. In most cars a special belt from the engine powers a pump that pressurizes the fluid, although some vehicles use an electronic pump for pressurization. (To take things a step further, in some vehicles with electric motors, the motor itself provide the power assist for steering, and no power steering fluid is needed at all!)
Oh Happy (Shelf) Life
Like other fluids in your vehicle, power steering fluid breaks down over time. Just as important, the fluid attracts moisture, and since moisture/water has different (less effective) properties than steering fluid, with time the fluid delivers decreased power through the system. On top of that, water is corrosive and can damage steering components over time. When you add it all up – Well, let’s skip the addition and just change your power steering fluid at the recommended intervals!
When tending to the power steering system, your mechanic will flush the system and clean it using a detergent, and then fill the system with new steering fluid to get you back down the middle of the road. Also, a system check will reveal any leaks in the seals or hoses of your steering system. This is important, since driving with a low fluid level can damage the system.
Signs and Symptoms
While regular power steering system inspections will keep your system in top form, the appearance of any difficulties are cause for a prompt check of the system. These include
**Remember: Never continue to hold the steering wheel to the far left or right more than a few seconds, as this can rapidly wear out your pump.
Also, remember that your overall steering system involves other components apart from the power steering system, and steering symptoms may point to a problem with one or more of these components rather than the power steering system itself. Such components include: Ball-joint, steering-gear, idler-arm, tie rod and steering-knuckle – to name just a few; and your mechanic can check all steering components when evaluating any steering difficulties.