Power Steering Fluid

Power steering is a luxury. At least it used to be. I had many cars that did not have power steering, and they were difficult to drive. Of course, the 1931 Model A Ford had manual steering (and manual everything else, for that matter). But so did my 1980 Mazda RX-7. So I really appreciate having power steering in my modern cars.  However, to keep them running smoothly, you need to be aware of power steering fluid and maintain it properly.

What is Power Steering Fluid?

Power steering fluid is a hydraulic fluid that nearly always contains anti-foaming additives as well as anti-corrosion additives as well. This hydraulic fluid is pulled into the power steering pump that puts the fluid under pressure. This pressure does the work to make your car easy to turn.

There are many types of fluid out there, Dexron, Mercon, Type F, etc. So how do you know which fluid is right for your vehicle? Simply check your owner’s manual. If you read my column a lot, you’ll know I recommend reading your owner’s manual, for nearly everything. Your vehicle was made to work with certain fluids, and power steering fluid is no different. Check the owner’s manual.

Low Power Steering Fluid

There are several indicators that your power steering fluid level is low, or lower than it should be. The first is a screeching sound coming from under the hood. This may be especially true when you are turning the car at low speeds, like in a parking lot.

Another problem can be that the car is difficult to turn. You have to really “crank” on the wheel. Usually, this accompanied by the screeching sound I just mentioned. If the steering is jerky, clunky, or it seems to “pop” in and out of being easy to turn, it could be due to low power steering fluid.

Checking the Power Steering Fluid Level

It is really easy to check the power steering fluid. Check the owner’s manual for exact instructions for your car. Then, open the hood and find the power steering fluid reservoir. Remove the cap, clean the short dipstick with a clean paper towel. Replace the dipstick and check the level.  If you check the level while the car is hot, be sure to read the “hot” level on the dipstick. Otherwise, read the level according to the “cold” notches on the dipstick.

If the fluid level is low, use the proper fluid, according to your owner’s manual, and slowly add a small amount. Check the level again. Do not overfill the reservoir. Too much is a bad thing. Once you have added the proper amount, get in the vehicle, start it, and turn the steering wheel back and forth.  This may resolve your problem.

Flushing the Power Steering Fluid

About every 60,000 miles (or more, if needed), it is a good idea to flush the power steering fluid.  If the fluid near black in color, or if it smells “burnt,” you should definitely change it. Your trusted mechanic will be able to flush it for you.  In a future article, I plan to explain how you can flush the power steering fluid yourself.


So, be sure to check your power steering fluid regularly and save yourself a lot of hassle in the long run by flushing the power steering fluid when recommended.


Written by Gary Pradel