Power steering fluid is essential in Today’s vehicles — allowing drivers to easily and accurately maneuver. However, power steering fluid can become low, causing complications like hard steering and groaning noise when steering the wheel. The common reason for a low power steering fluid is leakage.
However, you may experience a power steering fluid low but no leaks situation. This will leave you scratching your head. But don’t panic. I’ll explain the reasons for a low power steering fluid with no visible leaks and how to address them.
What causes power steering fluid to disappear without a trace?
Power steering fluid suddenly empty or low without leaks is a frustrating and unnerving problem many drivers will face at one point or another. Trying to figure out the exact cause of this problem may be challenging, but it’s not impossible.
There are several reasons why your power steering fluid may be low, but there is no leak. Pressure and temperature change, corrosion, damaged bearings, a faulty power steering pump, and worn seals are the common reasons your power steering fluid is low.
Pressure and temperature change
During the cold winter months, especially if you live in an area with extreme temperatures, the power steering fluid will form a gel to protect against any harm to the engine and steering pump. The gel can turn into liquid when the temperature becomes warm and leak out of the system.
As your vehicle ages, the power steering pump, rack and pinion, and other metal steering components can create corrosion and accumulate inside the steering lines. This scenario is common on high-mileage cars. However, you may still experience it on newer cars, especially when you use the wrong steering fluid. If ignored, it can cause oil leaks from the steering hoses.
Worn seals and gaskets
Time can stress the seals and gaskets on your car. After covering several thousand miles, the seals and gasket in your steering system can begin to crack or wear off. This will invariably cause fluid leaks. Regular maintenance will help you discover the leak on time and fix it before it escalates.
Lousy power steering pump
If your engine uses a power steering pump, then there’s a high chance that the fluid leak is from the pump. However, steering fluid leaks from the pump are easily traceable with proper inspection. So, always inspect the power steering pump properly before saying the fluid leak is not traceable.
If you observe a whining or any vibration from the steering pump, it is a sign of low fluid and damaged bearing. If the bearing is damaged, the best solution is to replace the pump to avoid further damage.
Where is my power steering fluid going? Let’s get this right: the majority of the time, when you have low steering fluid with no visible leaks, the fluid is actually leaking from somewhere. For instance, a worn steering seal and gasket may cause a small leak that only occurs when turning the steering wheel while the engine is running.
The fluid may run under the hoses and drip off underneath the car. Another instance is where there is a tiny fluid leak from the rack and pinion, but the leaked oil gets trapped in the steering rack’s rubber boot.
In essence, there’s usually a leak whenever your power steering fluid is empty. Have an experienced mechanic inspect the system properly.
How to diagnose and repair power steering fluid leaks that are not visible
As I have pointed out, power steering fluid can leak from several areas. The leaks are mostly invisible without proper inspection.
But with proper inspection, you can pinpoint where the leak is coming from. Here is a simplified guide on how to diagnose and repair steering fluid leaks that are not obvious.
Inspect and change hoses.
The steering fluid hoses are essential steering components that most mechanics and car owners often overlook. If you notice your car is losing steering fluid without any visible leaks, check the hose for any signs of leaks, cracks, and protrusions. Check their connecting point to the pump and rack and pinion and ensure they are properly torqued.
Start the vehicle and have an assistant turn the steering wheel. While your assistant is turning the wheel, hold the hose firmly and slowly move your hand from one end to the other or at least as far as you can. This lets you know if there’s any fluid leak traveling along with the hose. After the inspection, tighten the hose clamps or replace the hose as needed.
Inspect and replace worn seals.
If you suspect you have worn seals and gaskets, locate and inspect them. There are seals on the power steering pump and the steering gear or rack and pinion. Start by inspecting the seals on the pump and ensure there are no signs of leaks. Mind you, the leak we are tracking is not clearly visible, so you must pay close attention during the inspection.
If there are no leaks on the steering pump seals, inspect the ones on the rack and pinion. Don’t worry, I’m not asking you to dismantle the rack and pinion. Take off the front tires and suspend the vehicle. Lose the clamp holding the rack and pinion boot. Check if there’s fluid inside the boot and if there’s a sign of leaks from the pinion.
If the leak is from the rack and pinion or steering gear, have your mechanic fix it. Power steering fluid leak from rack and pinion is not a DIYer fix.
Inspect the power steering pump.
Locate the steering pump and inspect it thoroughly. Check for cracks and any sign of damage. Small leaks will not be visible if you do not pay close attention. Hence, I advise you to wash the steering pump with petrol and allow it to dry before starting the car. Do not pour petrol on the drive belt so it won’t expand and break.
After washing the pump, start the vehicle and let it idle. Have your assistant turn the steering while the vehicle is stationary. If the leak is from the pump, you can easily pinpoint it. You can also do this to the steering gear or rack and pinion if you suspect them.
The hidden dangers of low power steering fluid and how to prevent them
The power steering fluid allows you to turn the steering wheel with ease. In the hydraulic power steering system, the steering mechanism receives power through the steering fluid. If the steering fluid gets low, the steering wheel will be hard to turn.
Here are the dangers of driving with low power steering fluid.
The most common danger of low power steering fluid is hard steering. If your steering wheel becomes hard to turn, you should first inspect the power steering fluid and ensure it is at the right level. If the fluid is empty, the steering wheel will become stiff.
The main problem is that it will be difficult to control your car the way you want. Thus, increasing the chances of road accidents.
Jumpy or Jerky power steering
Another danger of a low steering fluid is jerky or jumpy steering. If you observe your steering jumps around when making a turn, check the steering fluid. For example, if you steer your wheel to the right, the steering may jerk to the left before turning to the right.
Believe it or not, this is a frustrating and unnerving situation. With some learners, this problem can lead to a road accident. However, this is not a common issue with a low steering fluid.
Guide to maintaining your power steering system without fluid loss
The common ways of maintaining your power steering system are by checking the fluid levels regularly, having a power steering system flush when necessary, occasionally inspecting the power steering pump, and changing the power steering filter when necessary.
Change the power steering filter every year.
The steering fluid passes through a filter as the pump circulates it to the rack and pinion. The filter removes metal shavings and other particles from the fluid to keep it clean and prevent any damage. As the filter removes these contaminants, it’ll become clogged over time and must be changed to keep the system working as it should.
Ideally, I recommend changing the steering filter every year to prevent it from clogging up and causing issues in the system.
Flushing power steering system
Power steering fluid gets dirty over time, and changing the steering filter is not enough to remove the dirt and other contaminants. You need to keep the steering fluid clean — and the best way to do that is to flush the system.
To flush the system, disconnect the bottom hose that connects to the reservoir to drain the fluid. Remove the reservoir and wash it. After that, force out the remaining fluid with an air compressor. The reason for the flush is to ensure you have 100% clean and fresh steering fluid.
Regularly check the steering fluid level.
One of the easiest steering system maintenance is regularly checking the fluid level. Open the hood, locate the steering fluid reservoir, which is usually mounted on top of the steering pump, and check the fluid level. Always check the fluid level whenever checking your radiator and engine oil levels in the morning.
Is it normal to lose a little power steering fluid?
Why am I losing power steering fluid? The power steering system is designed in such a way that fluid should remain in the system. If the fluid level gets low, it means there’s a leak somewhere in the system.
You have seen several causes of low fluid levels, preventions, and how to diagnose and address them. To sum it up, if you are still wondering, does power steering fluid get low over time? The short answer is no.
The steering fluid does not evaporate or burn off. If the fluid gets low for any reason, it means there’s a leak somewhere. Hence, do not say my power steering fluid is low but there’s no leak. For a steering fluid to get low there must be a leak, though it may be challenging to find the leak.