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How to Check Your Vehicle’s Power Steering Fluid
After many tens of thousands of miles on the road, your car, truck, or SUV may run low on power steering fluid.
Symptoms of this common issue include a shrieking noise when you turn your steering wheel. Your vehicle may become difficult to steer, which can quickly turn into a safety issue. Read on to learn how to check and top off your power steering fluid.
Start by Locating Your Power Steering Fluid Reservoir
Your vehicle’s power steering rack is attached to its power steering pump with at least two hydraulic lines. The pump is often attached directly to the reservoir on the front of your engine, though it’s not uncommon for the reservoir to be mounted remotely.
The power steering fluid reservoir could be opaque or translucent. If it’s opaque, remove the cap and make sure there’s a dipstick attached. If it’s translucent, use a bright flashlight to determine where the “FULL” and “LOW” marks are printed on the reservoir. You can check the level when the system is cold, but you will get a more accurate reading if you warm the power steering system up first.
Start Your Vehicle and Go for a Short Drive
A 15-minute drive should be more than enough to put a little heat into the power steering system. If your vehicle is unsafe to drive in its present condition, simply start the engine and let it run for 5-10 minutes while turning the steering wheel from left to right and back again.
Your vehicle’s power steering fluid expands as it becomes hot. You will achieve the most accurate reading if you check your power steering fluid while the system is hot.
Using the Factory Dipstick to Check Your Power Steering Fluid Level
If your vehicle is equipped with a dipstick attached to the power steering reservoir cap, remove the cap, wipe the dipstick clean with a shop towel or rag, and then have a close look at the dipstick to determine where the “LOW” and “FULL” marks are printed or stamped into the metal or plastic. Now insert the dipstick back into the reservoir and pull it back out again, taking care not to drag the dipstick on the edges of the reservoir’s opening. Repeat this process of inserting and removing the dipstick until you get a consistent reading of the fluid level.
Checking the Power Steering Fluid Level in a Translucent Reservoir
If your vehicle is equipped with a translucent power steering fluid reservoir, use a bright flashlight to determine where the fluid level is compared to the “LOW” and “FULL” marks printed on the reservoir housing.
The level may be difficult to determine if your reservoir is dirty, corroded, or discolored. In a pinch, you can make your own “dipstick” using a clean zip-tie or a thin piece of steel. Be careful not to accidentally drop your homemade dipstick into the reservoir!
Topping Off Your Vehicle’s Power Steering Fluid
Any time you check or top off your vehicle’s fluids, be very careful not to lose or misplace any of the parts you may need to remove. Use a small parts tray to keep track of parts like caps and dipsticks to ensure you don’t lose or misplace them!
It’s important to use the recommended power steering fluid, as specified by your vehicle’s manufacturer. This information can be found on the Internet, in your owner’s manual, or in the workshop manual for your vehicle. Using the wrong fluid can result in costly repairs as the seals inside the system become damaged.
With the proper fluid in hand, along with a funnel, you’re ready to top off your vehicle’s power steering fluid. Use a steady hand and pour slowly, a little bit at a time. Check the level as you go and be careful not to overfill the power steering reservoir. If you do happen to overfill your reservoir, use a mechanic’s syringe equipped with a plastic tube to remove fluid until the fluid reaches the desired level.