Before automakers introduced power steering in the 1950s, drivers had to work a lot harder to keep their vehicles straight or just turn. The simple driving mechanisms of over half a century ago have fortunately been replaced with more complex driving systems that allow vehicles to be maneuvered with less effort.
Hydraulic power steering is an integral part of a safe and efficient driving system, and keeping it in good condition by regularly checking fluids and observing for leaks can help ensure your car is running as efficiently as possible.
Welcome to this short journey to discover how hydraulic power steering works, how to identify problems, and what you can do to get the system working properly.
Table of Contents
What is power steering?
Power steering is an automotive system that uses a separate engine or engine power to reduce the effort required to turn the front wheels. The assistance helps drivers to drive the car and facilitates maneuvering at lower speeds. This is a welcome feature when cornering at low speed and when parking.
There are three types of power steering in modern vehicles.
• Electro-hydraulic hybrid
All three power steering systems perform the same function but use different methods. Each variety adds more energy to help drive a vehicle, allowing the driver to use fewer muscles to turn the steering wheel. What interests us, however, is the first, the most widespread.
Hydraulic power steering
For more than 50 years, hydraulic assistance has been the prevailing type of power steering. The system consists primarily of an assembly that consists of a hydraulic pump that allows the power steering fluid to exert force on the vehicle’s steering to turn the tires.
The belt pump draws power from the rotation of the motor to do this job. A disadvantage of this system is the amount of wasted energy. The pump always works, even when the car does not need steering assistance while moving on a straight stretch of road.
Power steering oil
A power steering fluid is a hydraulic fluid that transmits engine power into a power steering system. The pressurized fluid reduces the amount of effort required to turn the steering wheel. It also keeps the moving parts of the system lubricated and ensures proper operation of the hoses, pistons, valves, and power steering pump.
Types of power steering oil
Always refer to the manufacturer’s manual to find out which type of power steering fluid to use. Basically, power steering oil is divided into:
• automatic transmission fluid (ATF). The same fluid used for automatic transmissions can be used in some power steering systems.
• Synthetic power steering fluid. Most newer vehicles use a synthetic fluid created in the laboratory. These varieties are generally designed for specific types of cars or steering systems.
• Non-synthetic mineral power steering fluid. Mineral hydraulic fluid can be used in some cases that accept ATF.
But remember choosing an incompatible fluid can cause damage. Be sure to select a replacement steering fluid appropriate for your vehicle.
How to check the power steering fluid
If you start to hear a whining sound coming from under the hood when you make a turn, or it’s getting harder to turn the steering wheel, your car may be running out of power steering oil. Check your car’s power steering fluid in a few simple steps. First, it warms up the engine to a normal operating temperature. Bring the fluid to temperature by turning the steering wheel in one direction until it stops. Then turn it completely in the opposite direction. Repeat this process back and forth several times. Now comes the important part.
Turn off the engine
- Locate the power steering reservoir under the hood and wipe it with a cloth.
- Check the fluid level by looking at the dipstick attached to the cap.
- Remove, clean, and reinsert the dipstick.
- Remove the dipstick again and observe where the level goes. If it is below the MIN line, add new fluid not exceeding the MAX line.
Examine the quality of the fluid
The suitable fluid will have a clear appearance and show no debris. The contaminated liquid will appear dark, cloudy, or frothy.
When to replace the power steering oil
In general, the power steering fluid should be changed every five years.
Always follow the guidelines in the manual, but they may indicate a different program. Changing the fluid or flushing the steering system can help extend the life of other steering components that would cost a lot if they were to be replaced!