How Often You Should Change Your Power Steering Fluid

As a responsible vehicle owner and driver, you know how important it is to properly maintain your car. Regular tune-ups and essential replacements will keep your vehicle running longer and more efficiently. Perhaps more critically, paying attention to these needs will help ensure your safety and that of other people on the road. You shouldn't overlook the fluid level, either. While you may pay close attention to oil changes, you may not know how often to change power steering fluid. This isn't something you should ignore. Regulating this fluid will make your job behind the wheel a lot easier.

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Power Steering Fluid’s Purpose

Anyone who has ever experienced difficulty turning the wheel of a car with no power steering knows how frustrating it can be. Making a tight turn or trying to turn the wheel quickly (in the case of making a left-hand turn at a traffic light in front of traffic, for example) can especially be a pain.

Keeping the power steering fluid in your vehicle will simplify turning the wheel in these situations. Absence of power steering fluid prevents your power steering from working and could make it difficult to sufficiently turn the wheel in a moment of need.

It’s also important for the health of the steering system and the vehicle as a whole. Power steering fluid keeps components such as pistons, valves, hoses, and the power steering pumps functioning seamlessly and effectively. This hydraulic fluid protects O-rings and seals as well.

What Happens if You Neglect It?

If your vehicle runs out of fluid and you don’t replace it, other parts and areas of the car can suffer. Pieces of the steering system may wear out or corrode. This could leave broken parts and debris moving around in the vehicle.

If you fail to replace the fluid regularly, it could eventually lead to a total break-down of your car. The last thing you want is to find yourself in the middle of nowhere with an inoperable vehicle because you never changed the power steering fluid.

Time Isn’t Kind

As with any other car part, system, or component, power steering fluid won’t function well forever. Over time, the fluid will break down and become contaminated with particles. This could harm the pump and other parts of the steering system. Replacing the fluid and getting a power steering flush will help prevent these issues from occurring and affecting the car’s performance.

Signs That Your Car Needs a Fluid Change: You Hear Noises

Knowing when to change power steering fluid doesn’t have to be guesswork. Like other car issues, you can sometimes detect power steering problems by using your ears. The power steering pump could be the biggest indicator that the vehicle needs more fluid in this area, as the pump controls the fluid.

As the fluid starts to break down, the pump will let you know about it. Low fluid makes it more difficult for the pump to do its job efficiently. As it works hard, it will begin to make strange sounds. Of course, odd noises coming from the car could indicate many problems. Your best bet is to head to a mechanic you trust for an inspection.

A Tug at the Wheel

If a sound doesn’t clue you in that it’s time to change the fluid, a feeling could. If you drive and notice that the wheel tugs, it’s probably time to do a power steering flush. This symptom may present as difficulty turning the wheel. A well-regulated power steering system should make operating the wheel almost effortless. If you have to put forth more effort than usual, there’s likely a problem with the fluid levels. Take your vehicle to a mechanic to top off the fluid or flush the system.

Take a Look at It

You shouldn’t have to rely solely on sounds or feelings to decide whether you need more power steering fluid in the vehicle. Deciding a replacement or flush is right could be as simple as checking the fluid yourself.

Open the hood of the vehicle and locate the power steering fluid reservoir. Open the cap and check out the level and color of the fluid. If it is low, top it off. If it is dark, it can mean the fluid is wearing out and getting to the end of its life. You should also inspect the fluid for particles or debris, as these could mean you need to replace the fluid. Also, if the fluid has a burning smell, you should replace it right away.

Consult the Owner’s Manual

Find our vehicle owner’s manual (always the best source for vehicle info) and learn more about the power steering system of your model. All vehicles have different guidelines and recommendations of when to change the fluid and what type is right. The manual will indicate how frequently to do this. Never use a brand or formulation that the manual doesn’t recommend. This could harm the steering components and the entire vehicle.

In general, it is good to remember to change the fluid at least every two years, if not more often. This equates to about every 50,000 miles. Again, take a look at the owner’s manual, as some manufacturers may suggest doing this more or less frequently.

Save Money in the Long Run

Some car owners may put off changing the power steering fluid because of the cost. However, paying for a power steering flush or adding new fluid will be much less of a hit to your pocketbook than having to replace the pump, O-rings, or any other parts. You’ll pay somewhere in the neighborhood of $100 for a flush or just a couple of bucks for a quart of fluid. If it is time to replace the power steering fluid in your vehicle, don’t want any longer to take care of it.

If you think about how often to change power steering fluid, it will be at the forefront of your mind. Don’t neglect this important bit of maintenance for your vehicle. If you stay on top of this task, you’ll have an easier time at the wheel. You can get the parts you need at your local AutoZone Store. If the job is too big for you, seek out one of our Preferred Shops to help you do the job.

Advice, how-to guides, and car care information featured on and AutoZone Advice & How-To’s are presented as helpful resources for general maintenance and automotive repairs from a general perspective only and should be used at your own risk. Information is accurate and true to the best of AutoZone’s knowledge, however, there may be omissions, errors or mistakes.

Be sure to consult your owner’s manual, a repair guide, an AutoZoner at a store near you, or a licensed, professional mechanic for vehicle-specific repair information. Refer to the service manual for specific diagnostic, repair and tool information for your particular vehicle. Always chock your wheels prior to lifting a vehicle. Always disconnect the negative battery cable before servicing an electrical application on the vehicle to protect its electrical circuits in the event that a wire is accidentally pierced or grounded. Use caution when working with automotive batteries. Sulfuric acid is caustic and can burn clothing and skin or cause blindness. Always wear gloves and safety glasses and other personal protection equipment, and work in a well-ventilated area. Should electrolyte get on your body or clothing, neutralize it immediately with a solution of baking soda and water. Do not wear ties or loose clothing when working on your vehicle.

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