Replacing power steering fluid will prolong the life of system components, especially if fluid deteriorates, or becomes contaminated. Fluids may be replaced either totally or gradually, depending on the mechanical abilities of the car owner. While some modern fluids may last for the lifetime of the car, periodically checking the fluid quality on the dipstick is always a good idea.
System components inevitably begin to degrade, over time. Metal may rust, and o-rings may deteriorate, releasing contaminants into fluid. These tiny contaminants may begin to clog the power steering pump, causing components to corrode. A visual inspection of the fluid’s color will help car owners to determine whether changing fluid is necessary. Clean fluids are red, orange, pink, or somewhat transparent, while dirty fluids are black, brown, or impossible to see through. Car owners should check their owner’s manual, for the appropriate maintenance interval.
Before flushing a system, the integrity of all parts should be checked. Checking for hose leaks, either from faulty hoses or faulty clamps, will protect the integrity of the newly replaced fluids. Also, if the car utilizes a cooling coil or return line, which is exposed to road salts or debris, the line should be replaced, if significant damage or corrosion is noted.
The simple flush method does not require the use of a jack. Using a syringe or gear oil pump, as much liquid as possible should be removed from the reservoir. Some mechanics recommend using a turkey baster, but the baster may not seal well, causing liquid to drip all over the engine. Once old liquid is cleared out, the reservoir should be filled to a level between the maximum and minimum line. Then, car owners should start the car, and let it run for approximately two minutes. This process should be repeated about six times, until about two quarts of liquid have been cycled through the system. While this system is easy, old fluid is never entirely removed from the system, increasing the number of times that fluids may become contaminated.
Flushing old liquid completely is more complicated, but also more effective. Car owners should start by removing their power steering filter, and then detaching the overflow tank from the radiator. Then, car owners should remove the reservoir hose, and replace with another hose, which should lead to an empty container. Next, after jacking up the front of the car, new lubricant should be poured into the system, which will force the old lubricant out, through the hose, and into the container. When the liquid from the hose runs clear, all of the old lubricant has been removed from the system.
The replacement hose should be disconnected from the reservoir. Then, car owners should replace the original hose, and pour clean lubricant into the reservoir. Racking the steering wheel a couple of times will squeeze out any air which may have become trapped in the system. After air has been removed, the overflow tank and filter should be put back into place.
A generic lubricant should never be used in a power steering system. A generic lubricant may be less expensive, but may also damage the rubber inside the car’s steering mechanism. Some power steering fluids on the market are substandard, and may not contain enough anti-foaming agents, friction modifiers, or viscosity improvers. Using substandard fluids may overheat the system, causing breakdown of bushing and failure to hold pressure. Consulting the car’s owners manual, or an original equipment data system, will let owners know which lubricant is right for a particular car’s system.
Disposing of used lubricant properly protects the environment. Pouring old liquid into storm drains, or onto the ground, is not only environmentally irresponsible; it’s also illegal, in many communities. Car owners should consult their town or county’s Department of Works, to see if a recycling center will accept old lubricant. Old lubricant should be kept in sealed bottles, until it is transported to a recycling facility. If fluids are inadvertently spilled on the ground, drizzling kitty litter over the spill, and then sweeping it up, once the liquid is absorbed, will clean the affected area.
The steering mechanism is one of the car’s most important components. Therefore, if car owners doubt their mechanical expertise, they should consider hiring a professional to flush the old lubricant from their system. While replacing power steering fluid is not one of the most frequent maintenance procedures, replacing dirty lubricant will extend the life of the steering system, and keep the car driving normally for years to come.