Simply put, power-steering fluid is the hydraulic fluid that transmits the power in power steering. Servicing it involves draining or flushing out your car's old power-steering fluid and then adding fresh power steering fluid.
Should I do this service when it's recommended?
Absolutely. The fluid is the cheapest component of your power-steering system. Changing it can help to prolong the life of other, more expensive power-steering components such as the power-steering pump and the stratospherically expensive power-steering rack.
Why do I have to do this?
Over time, the seals, O-rings and internal power-steering components will wear out. When they break apart, they contaminate the power-steering fluid, which forces the power-steering pump to work harder (having to pump little chunks instead of just fluid) and eventually break down.
What happens if I don't do this?
You'll eventually chew up your power-steering pump. It'll have to be replaced at a cost of several hundred dollars, or you'll have no power steering and you can't easily drive a car that's equipped with power steering when the power-steering system fails. You also may damage the rack, which will require you to take out a small home-equity loan to replace.
|Can I Do This Myself?|
|It depends on where you rank on the Car Talk do-it-yourself scale:|
|There are two kinds of screwdrivers?|
|I've successfully hung pictures around the house.|
|I've changed my own oil.|
|I've fixed things on my car that involve removing more than five bolts.|
|I've built a working nuclear reactor out of wood.|
Is there any maintenance required between intervals?
If you hear a whining or moaning noise when you turn the steering wheel, you should have your power-steering system checked. Your power-steering pump may be about to fail.
Also, if you notice a leak of any kind, you should definitely check your power-steering fluid level and make sure you keep it topped up. Running out of fluid will cook the pump, too.
Car Talk Tip: If you do a lot of your own car maintenance, and you feel like servicing the power-steering fluid yourself, you'll still need to dispose of the old fluid properly. To find out how to dispose of hazardous materials where you live, check out the 1-800-CleanUp/Earth's 911 Web site.