How Do I Check My Car’s Power Steering Fluid and When Should I Change it?

If you currently own an older car with a hydraulic power steering system, then it’s a good idea to check the fluid from time to time. Most new cars on the market today utilize electric power steering systems that don’t require such a service, but many older cars do. Here is how to check your car’s power steering fluid and how often you should change it.

What does power steering fluid do?

The power steering fluid in your car’s hydraulic steering system assists with the steering effort when your turn the wheel. To get a little more technical, the power steering fluid creates the pressure on either side of the rack-mounted piston, which is what allows you to turn the steering wheel easier, according to Prestone. You can technically still drive the car without any power steering fluid present, but it will be very hard to turn the wheel.

Not only does the fluid assist with steering effort, but it also provides protection to the system from normal wear and tear. That being said, it’s important to top off and change your car’s power steering fluid in order to prevent any leaks, issues, or failures with the system later on.

An Uber driver drives through the West Side of Manhattan.
An Uber driver drives through the West Side of Manhattan. | (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

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Checking your car’s power steering fluid is a simple process

Checking your car’s power steering fluid is a simple process and can be done in just a couple of minutes.

  • Lift the hood and locate the power steering reservoir: The power steering reservoir is what holds the fluid. Check your car’s owner’s manual to find out where it is located.
  • Check the fluid level: After locating the reservoir, you should be able to see the power steering fluid if the cylinder is translucent. But if the cylinder is metal, then you should be able to undo the cap and check the fluid using the built-in dipstick.
  • Check the color of the fluid: In addition to the fluid level, pay attention to the color of the fluid. If it’s clear, amber, or pink, then it should be good, but if it’s dark brown or black, then it could need to be changed.
  • Top-off the fluid: If the power steering fluid looks like it’s in good shape, but could use a top-off, then fill the reservoir using the recommended fluid. Do not overfill it as the fluid expands as it heats up.

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When should you change your car’s power steering fluid?

Each car make and model will have different service intervals for different systems. As such, consult with your owner’s manual to see when the power steering fluid needs to be changed.

However, if your car’s power steering fluid looks dark and dirty, then you should change it or have it changed by a qualified auto mechanic. Fortunately, changing the car’s power steering fluid is typically a simple process and it can be done in less than 20 minutes. If needed, you can even flush the power steering system completely and then add the clean fluid, but that could require a few more tools and the help of a friend.  

A power steering reservoir on a Jeep
A power steering reservoir on a Jeep | Wikimedia Commons