How to Change Power Steering Fluid and Why!

PowerSteeringWheelWhen most people think of changing fluids and oil in their car they most often think of engine oil or transmission fluid.  Rarely does anyone give any thought to changing power steering fluid. This is unfortunate because even though it is often overlooked, power steering fluid is integral to the safe operation of your car.  A power steering system works by using hydraulic pressure to assist in turning the wheels.  This is done by using a pump and hydraulic fluid that flows through hydraulic lines.  In a vehicle, these components are referred to as the powering steering pump, power steering fluid, and power steering lines.  The fluid in this system will, over time, degrade and can cause premature failure of the power steering pump.  This is why you should know about performing a power steering fluid change.

When to Change Power Steering Fluid

The power steering fluid in your car will begin to break down and get contaminated over time. Seals and gaskets start to deteriorate and the little pieces will float around in the your fluid. Sometimes dirt can enter through the cap, and let’s not forgot that the fluid constantly cycles from cold to hot and back to cold as the car is driven and parked.  At some point you’ll probably want to change the power steering fluid in your car.  Generally speaking most car manuals don’t have a specified time interval or mileage at which you should change the fluid.  If your car has an indication of when to change the fluid then be certain to follow it.  For everyone else plan to change it every 50,000 miles or 5 years, which ever comes first.  Some car manufacturers claim to use lifetime fluid, but what they consider lifetime and what you consider lifetime could be two very different things, so I’d recommend changing it.  You aren’t going to hurt anything by putting fresh power steering fluid in your car.  Another way to tell if it’s time to change the fluid is by looking at it.  If it’s brown, change it.  The fluid should be pinkish or red and will start to turn brown as it breaks down and gets contaminated.  Now that you know how often to change power steering fluid, let’s find out why you should do it.

Why You Should do a Power Steering Fluid Change

As the power steering fluid in your car’s power steering system breaks down it causes more wear and tear on the components.  The fluid becomes less efficient at staying cool and doing it’s job, which is to provide hydraulic pressure to assist you in steering your car.  Bad fluid can cause premature failure of your power steering pump, which in most vehicles runs at least a couple hundred dollars.  If the pump should fail while you are driving it could be a serious safety concern.  A car equipped with a power steering system becomes quite difficult to steer when that system fails.  So what about power steering fluid change cost?  Well it’s pretty inexpensive compared to having to replace a pump.  You won’t spend more than $10 on the new fluid and you can pick up a fluid transfer tool for $10-$20 which will be a one time cost.  It’s well worth doing.

How to Change Power Steering Fluid

So now we can get down to the nitty gritty.  First things first though, make sure you have the following items ready before starting this job.

  • Fluid Transfer Tool
  • New Power Steering Fluid
  • Funnel
  • Shop Rags

This is actually a pretty easy process and I think most anybody can handle this.  I’ll break it down into some easy to follow steps, just remember to take your time as you go along so you don’t make any mistakes.  So grab your supplies and let’s get started!

  1. Remove the Power Steering cap - This may sound easy and obvious, but there is something to note here.  Take one of your shop rags and clean around your power steering cap and reservoir before taking the cap off.  This will ensure you don’t knock any contaminates down into the power steering reservoir and pump.  In fact, this is good practice when removing any caps on your car before checking or filling fluids.
  2. Fluid Removal Tool, Stat! - With your fluid transfer tool in hand you’re ready to remove the old power steering fluid from the reservoir.  Exactly how this is done will depend on the type of tool you purchased.  I have one where you insert the tube and then pull the handle out on the back of the tool and it sucks the fluid out.  There are also tools that look something like a turkey baster where you squeeze to remove the fluid.  NOTE – Don’t use a real turkey baster!!  Just keep sucking the fluid out of the power steering reservoir until you can’t get any more out, be sure to put the old fluid into a container for storage and proper disposal later on.
  3. Refill - Time to open up the new bottle of power steering fluid and fill the reservoir back up.  Be sure to use the proper fluid for your make and model.  Check your manual or ask a clerk at the parts store if you’re unsure.  Use your funnel if you need to and only fill the power steering fluid to the proper line.  On your dipstick you should see two lines, a cold line, and a hot line.  Obviously your car and the new fluid are cold at this point so you’ll want to fill to the cold line.  Once the level is good, reinstall the cap and wipe up any fluid you may have dribbled.  Close your hood, you’re done FOR NOW.
  4. Steering Check - Start your car up, let it run for a minute or two and then turn you steering wheel from side to side and make sure everything feels normal.  If it doesn’t, double check your power steering fluid level and repeat.
  5. Go for a Drive - You need to drive your car for several miles at this point before you can continue to the next step.  You can choose to do that in the same day, or simply drive your car to work for a couple of days before continuing with your power steering fluid change.  That’s totally up to you, but I’d give it a good 30-50 miles of drive time.  Also, be sure you are driving in long enough intervals for the engine to reach its normal operating temperature.
  6. Back to the Beginning - At this point you’re really just going to repeat steps 1-5. Remove your power steering cap again and check your fluid.  It’s probably going to look pretty dirty even though you just changed it.  This is because there was fluid in the lines that you could not get too before.  When you were driving the old fluid and new fluid were mixing together.  That’s fine, in fact that’s what you wanted.  Now you will go ahead and remove the fluid again and refill with fresh fluid just as before.
  7. Completion - The number of times that you need to complete steps 1-5 will vary from car to car, but 2 or 3 times is usually sufficient in most cases.  Once the fluid looks pink and clean when you check it, your job is done.  You won’t get 100% of the old fluid out and that’s fine, the idea here is just to replace the majority of the old worn out fluid with fresh fluid.

Go ahead and give yourself a pat on the back, you’ve successfully changed your power steering fluid and prolonged the life of your power steering pump.  Make sure you properly dispose of your old power steering fluid.  Most transfer stations and recycling centers have a spot to recycle used oils.  Remember, changing power steering fluid is an often overlooked aspect of car maintenance, but it’s still important.  You might also want to check out my article on changing the motor oil in your car by clicking HERE.

Jason

Jason has been working on cars since he was 11 years old helping his dad fix up an old Jeep. Since then he's done partial rebuilds on car engines and two complete rebuilds on motorcycle engines. As an avid backyard mechanic Jason maintains and rebuilds his Jeep. Connect with Jason on Google+

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