While vehicles today have power steering as a standard feature, it hasn’t always been the case. Over 50 years ago, power steering was considered a luxury and was found only in higher-class cars. As time went on though, power steering found its way into modern vehicles. Just like the engine needs lubrication from oil to keep internal components from premature wear, the power steering system also requires the assistance of a lubricant known as power steering fluid. Running out of or low on power steering fluid could create some unfavorable outcomes, which is why checking power steering fluid levels and getting flushes at the recommended time is so important.
How Power Steering Works
Similar to the brake system, power steering operates as a hydraulic system. More accurately described as power-assisted steering, because of the mechanical connection between the steering wheel and your actual wheels. The car’s engine power pumps power steering fluid from the reservoir to the rack and pinion utilizing a belt and pulley. As the steering wheel is turned, the power steering fluid flows through a piston that provides additional power to move the vehicle into the desired direction. When the steering wheel straightens, the valve closes to prevent the fluid from flowing and the piston retreats. Luckily, if the power to the system fails, the steering wheel is still able to turn although it is much more difficult.
What Power Steering Fluid Does
Power steering fluid plays a major role in the steering assist process. The power steering pump circulates the fluid under hydraulic pressure, allowing the piston in the steering gear to move, reducing the effort while turning the wheel. The rotary control valve delivers pressure to the piston, depending on the direction the wheel is turned, releasing from the opposite side. As pressure grows, the piston moves, turning the vehicle in the desired direction. Modern-day systems are so intuitive, they’re able to recognize the speed of the vehicle and slow the input from the steering wheel to the steering gear, reducing the sensitivity at higher speeds helping to prevent rollovers and other collisions.
Because power steering fluid is a hydraulic fluid and is needed to create steering assist, under extreme pressure, it produces a significant amount of heat. And because most power steering systems lack filtration, over time, the fluid becomes contaminated from dirt, debris, and weakened power steering components. Power steering flushes should be performed every 30,000 miles to keep power steering components lubricated and prevent system components from failure. Avoiding this service may place unnecessary strain on the pump making it work harder and may result in premature wear. In between flushes, be sure to check fluid levels. How do you know when to check power steering levels? Most reputable service centers will check fluid levels for you during each oil change service. However, you can also check for yourself any time. Follow our recommendation on how to check power steering fluid on your vehicle. Note: This fluid is best checked if the car has been running for a few minutes and has had time to warm up. Check levels with the engine off.
- Locate the power steering reservoir, confirm it’s the power steering fluid by looking at the label on the cap and remove the top.
- If made of clear plastic, the full and low indicators on the outside of the tank will indicate the current level of fluid. If the reservoir is metal or difficult to read, use the provided dipstick (often on the underside of the cap) to check the level. The dipstick has indicator lines to let you know if the fluid is high, low, or normal.
If your power steering fluid is low, it won’t take you long to realize something isn’t right. Often your vehicle will exhibit signs such as noisy steering, jerky feeling, and even difficulty when steering. Check your fluid levels if you notice changes in:
The act of steering is pretty quiet. Any time you hear a sound such as screeching or groaning sound, something may be wrong. Even a simple movement while stopped, such as turning your wheels from side to side produces an awful sound.
You may notice a jumpy feeling as you try to turn from one direction to another. This is often most noticeable when the vehicle is moving slowly, or not at all. As power steering fluid is depleted, the system struggles to work efficiently producing that jerky feeling. Difficulty or stiffness while turning is also a clear indicator that something is wrong.
Where the ground was once dry and clear of any fluid leaks, you notice puddles or stains under the vehicle. Although your vehicle is capable of leaking any fluid it uses, power steering fluid can leak from the pump, steering gear, or from the pressure lines.
Screeching sounds, stiffness while turning, slow response or groaning sounds are all symptoms of problems within the power steering system. Routine maintenance including a power steering flush can help prevent damage to components down the road. Contact a Service Consultant at Sun Devil Auto to review your maintenance schedule. If repairs are necessary, we can help with that, too. Our technicians are professionals and possess the knowledge and technique to repair your vehicle quickly and efficiently. When steering gets tough, turn your car or truck toward a Sun Devil Auto near you!