The short answer is yes. Power steering fluid does go bad over time. The longer the power steering is used in a vehicle, the worse this condition will be. This is why many mechanics are aware of the issue and can resolve it quickly when identified during routine service appointments.
What is a power steering fluid?
It is a type of hydraulic fluid that is responsible for transferring in modern vehicles with power steering. It’s not uncommon for many people who drive vehicles with power steering to ignore the recommended period between oil changes, and this neglect can lead to a breakdown of the power steering fluid over time.
What does power steering fluid do?
Power steering fluid is responsible for transferring energy from several components that allow for vehicle operation. The main function is powering the hydraulic steering rack, which converts the energy from the steering wheel into movement in the front wheels to turn and maneuver a car.
The pump that moves this fluid requires hydraulic pressure to work properly, and when a low power steering fluid causes issues with this component it can lead to failure.
Symptoms of bad power steering fluid
There may be several different signs of bad power steering fluid, including:
Vehicle pulling to one side when driving
This can be easily noticed when performing a test drive.
Burning smell coming from under the hood while driving
Often this is caused by components of the rack and pinion system which transfer energy from the vehicle to the front wheels burning or melting from failure.
Unusual noise when turning the steering wheel
This may be a telltale sign of wear and tear on the power steering rack and pinion system, with abnormal sounds emitting when the parts rub together in an un-lubricated environment.
The vehicle shakes or vibrates while driving at lower speeds than usual for no apparent reason
It is caused by the lack of power steering fluid which creates a hydraulic imbalance, leading to excessive wear on vehicle components.
Low power steering fluid due to neglecting fluid changes or delaying service appointments
Poor maintenance will also reduce the vehicle’s overall fuel economy. That’s because low steering fluid reduces stability during driving, requiring more effort from the engine to maintain speed.
Solutions for power steering fluid issues
If one or more of these symptoms are present, which is usually an indication that the vehicle has low fluid levels it may be time for a service appointment with a mechanic.
Many people assume they can bleed air bubbles themselves by running the engine and turning the wheels back and forth with their foot on the brake.
This is a hazardous practice that can further damage your vehicle and should never be attempted, as it creates high pressures inside the vehicle’s hydraulic system which can lead to an explosion if not handled properly.
Typically a service appointment will include draining all of the power steering fluid from the vehicle. Replacing any components that have been affected by low fluid levels, and checking the vehicle for leaks.
Replacing all of the power steering fluid in a vehicle is a relatively simple procedure that can be completed in approximately 20 minutes to an hour depending on how efficient the shop is at draining and refilling fluids.
Can power steering fluid get old?
Yes, it is recommended that all power steering fluid be replaced every two or three years. That ensures the smooth operation of the vehicle.
Running low on fluid can contribute towards burning out components of the rack and pinion system which transfers energy from the engine to the wheels.
Low power steering fluid levels also create conditions inside the hydraulic system where air bubbles become trapped, which can lead to major issues while the vehicle is in motion.
This fluid does not go bad or go stale if kept at proper levels and changed according to manufacturer specifications.
Do you ever need to replace the power steering fluid?
Yes, it is always advisable to replace the power steering fluid every 2 to 3 years. This will ensure that all components of the vehicle are working properly and that no damage has occurred over time.
Replacing the fluid does not remove or change any chemicals in the original formula, but only removes the fluid from the vehicle and replaces it with a fresh supply.
How long is the power steering fluid good after it’s opened?
Typically power steering fluid will remain good for up to 2 years, but this is highly dependent on the vehicle and how often it is used. Cars that are not driven regularly or get very little use should have their power steering fluid changed at least once per year.
Higher driving speeds also put more strain on the rack and pinion system which transfers energy from the engine to the wheels, using more power steering fluid in the process.
Can power steering fluid get low without a leak?
In most cases, no. You will usually see if the power steering is leaking. This can be due to issues such as corrosion or dried-up o-rings that create leaks that allow air to enter the hydraulic system.
The fluid should always be checked during vehicle service appointments. It should be refilled if needed, even if there are no apparent leaks present.
Replacing all of the power steering fluid in a vehicle is usually done during routine service appointments. It involves checking for any leaks and replacing worn-out components.
What happens if you run low on power steering fluid?
If replacement parts are not available for your vehicle, then it may be necessary to replace the rack and pinion system entirely. Replacing components requires that all of the power steering fluid be drained from the hydraulic system first, creating an environment where air bubbles can become trapped.
Air bubbles cause major issues while the vehicle is in motion because they affect how efficiently energy is transferred throughout the system.
Can I just add power steering fluid to complete it in the tank?
No, the power steering fluid should always be drained entirely from the hydraulic system before adding more. Adding fresh fluid without draining the old fluid puts pressure on internal components which can cause leaks or reduced performance due to partially clogged hoses and lines.
Always follow your vehicle’s service recommendations for checking for leaks and replacing worn-out parts before trying to determine if more power steering fluid is needed.
What should you do if there’s a leak?
If your vehicle has any leaks, even small ones, then it is best to check the entire hydraulic system. You may find other problems as well. After the fluid level has been returned to normal and all of the old fluid has been removed from the system, it should be safe to drive the vehicle until a service appointment is made.
Power steering fluid should be routinely checked by every driver. When low levels are found service appointments should be scheduled to ensure proper vehicle operation.
Power steering fluid can go bad if neglected, leading to serious damage in a vehicle’s hydraulic system that must be professionally serviced to prevent further problems.