CARS.COM — Power-steering fluid is a type of hydraulic fluid that transfers power in modern vehicles with power steering. It is an important part of your steering system, and it makes turning your steering wheel easy. Replacing power-steering fluid generally is not listed among the regular maintenance items that should be performed, so on most vehicles, replacing it is at the owner’s discretion.
However, there are some manufacturers that recommend you have a mechanic flush the system from time to time. As always, it is best to check your owner’s manual.
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Why Change Your Power-Steering Fluid?
When you take your car in for routine service, you may hear an urgent pitch for having your power-steering pump flushed and filled with fresh fluid because the current fluid has turned dark. Bear in mind that engine oil and transmission fluid also become darker after a while, so a deeper shade of red doesn’t mean the power-steering fluid is bad. Before you jump at paying to have someone flush your pump, see what your owner’s manual or maintenance schedule says. It probably will not say that you need to change the fluid or flush the pump at any particular intervals.
You should check the power-steering fluid reservoir monthly to make sure it has the proper amount and that the power-steering system isn’t leaking. Over time, O-rings, seals and other internal power steering components can deteriorate and result in a leak. Such a leak could cause serious damage to the rest of the system, including the pump. If you notice that it is more difficult to turn your steering wheel when steering or your power steering makes a whining sound when cornering, it could indicate that reservoir does not have enough fluid.
Reservoirs on many vehicles are the see-through plastic type, so you don’t even have to remove a cap to check the level. Consult your owner’s manual for the location of the reservoir in the engine compartment for help. You also should check the manual for the type of power-steering fluid that is required. The manufacturer may call for a specific type of fluid instead of a generic type found at parts stores. If you need to add more fluid, be sure not to overfill it with new fluid as this can also cause problems with your power-steering system.
The Bottom Line: Do You Need to Change Your Car’s Power Steering Fluid?
Losing sleep worrying about the power-steering fluid in your vehicle because of its appearance or age? Unless your car’s manufacturer says that you need to change it, you are probably okay. If you would feel better doing a fluid change, though, doing so will not hurt anything. You could refresh the fluid without draining all the fluid and flushing the system, but that may be more complicated than you’re comfortable doing yourself (or paying for).
Instead, find a turkey baster that will fit inside the reservoir and drain as much old fluid as you can; then you can refill it with fresh fluid to the proper level. You won’t get all the old fluid, but do this a few times and you should be able to replace most of it.
For more on your car’s power-steering fluid and other fluids to keep an eye on, check the video below.