Power steering fluid is a vital component of your car’s power steering system. It keeps the steering system lubricated and cooled, resulting in better responsiveness from your vehicle’s steering wheel when driving. However, for the fluid to keep your car’s power steering pump, it mustn’t have degraded.
Power steering fluid does expire and can go bad. When unopened, this fluid degrades within 3 to 5 years. Over time the ingredients in the fluid can break down, reducing this fluid’s effectiveness. Therefore, it’s always best to read the expiration date before purchasing this hydraulic fluid.
The rest of this article will cover how long power steering fluid lasts, what happens when it gets old, and how often you need to change your vehicle’s fluids, along with proper disposal procedures.
How Long Should Power Steering Fluid Last?
The power steering fluid is the hydraulic fluid used in cars (or other vehicles) to reduce wear on the steering system and keep it running smoothly. It’s a vital component of a car’s power steering system and should be regularly changed to improve its life.
Power steering fluid will last for 3-5 years if the container hasn’t been opened. In contrast, the fluid’s shelf life may reduce to less than 2 years once opened. However, where and how the fluid is stored may significantly reduce or increase its lifespan.
For example, if you keep the fluid in a cool and dry place in your garage, the fluid may last longer. On the other hand, if you store it next to a radiator or in direct sunlight, the power steering fluid may lose its effectiveness much faster.
What Happens When Power Steering Fluid Gets Old?
When power steering fluid gets old, it becomes thick and can cause problems with how smoothly the car turns. The fluid may also corrode metal parts in the power steering system, causing leaks. Additionally, it loses lubricating property, increasing the risks of wear and tear on the steering system.
Therefore, it’s essential to check your power steering fluid color and level frequently. If the fluid has turned brown, rubber parts become brittle, or you find metal shavings in the container, you’ll need to replace it.
Additionally, if you notice any signs of wear and tear on your vehicle’s power steering pump while driving at high speeds, you should have a mechanic check out why this part isn’t working correctly.
How Often Should You Replace Power Steering Fluid?
You should replace the power steering fluid every 2 years or 27,000 miles (43,452.29 km), whichever comes first. Additionally, you should replace the fluid if you experience unusual noises from your steering system. Also, you should change this fluid if you notice any rust in the system.
While it’s best to check your power steering fluid level and color annually, some people don’t get around to doing this until the car has experienced problems with the system. If you notice metal shavings or brown fluid, you should have a mechanic check this out right away.
Also, note that your manual will likely state more specific information on how often to change the power steering fluid in your car. The more frequently you drive, the faster the water in these fluids evaporates and must be replaced.
For example, someone who drives 50 miles (80.47 km) a day will need to check their power steering fluid much more frequently than someone who drives 3 miles (4.83 km) per day. Additionally, you’ll need to change this fluid more regularly if your car experiences a lot of wear and tear from driving in stop-and-go traffic.
How Do You Know When Power Steering Fluid Is Bad?
Now that you know how long the power steering fluid lasts, what happens when it gets old, and how often you should change this fluid, let’s look at how to tell if your power steering fluid is bad.
Here are a few ways to tell that power steering fluid is bad:
- The fluid is brown or black.
- Unusual noises from the steering system.
- The presence of metal shavings in the fluid.
- Corrosion of metallic parts of the steering system.
I’ll describe these symptoms in detail below:
The Fluid Is Brown or Black
Generally, power steering fluid comes in three colors: clear, pink, or red. However, it turns brown, black, or yellow when contaminated. Therefore, it’s advisable to regularly check the color of the fluid by looking at the container.
Suppose you notice that the fluid has changed color. In that case, the chances are that your power steering fluid has expired and needs to be replaced.
Unusual Noises From the Steering System
Unusual noises coming from the power steering system indicate a problem with your car. For example, growling noises mean that the power steering fluid no longer works as expected. Suppose you notice one of these problems. In that case, it’d be best to take your vehicle to a mechanic to get an assessment of what has gone wrong and how severe this problem might be.
The Presence of Metal Shavings in the Fluid
Metal shavings in the power steering system mean something is wrong with your car’s power steering system, such as a broken belt or severe damage to the pump itself. Have your vehicle checked out immediately since this problem could affect how well your car turns and the effort required to steer it.
Remember: If the fluid has metal shavings in it, this indicates that severe damage has already been done to the system even before you notice noises or unusual wear.
Corrosion of Metallic Parts of the Steering System
When power steering fluid goes bad, it becomes acidic. One common property of acidic substances is that they corrode any metal objects they come into contact with.
If your car’s power steering fluid has become acidic, it’ll start corroding the metal parts of the system as well. This causes rust and corrosion that can further damage the parts inside the system and cause leaks.
What Color Is Bad Power Steering Fluid?
Bad power steering fluid typically appears brown, black, yellow, or milky. Generally, this fluid is discolored due to contamination by metal shavings, dirt, water, or other fluids. On the contrary, fresh power steering fluid is pink, red, or clear in color.
Suppose you notice a change in the fluid’s color. In that case, it’d be best to drain the fluid and replace it with a new batch. However, if you’re unsure of the steps to follow, give a mechanic a call and have them take a look at your car.
What Makes Power Steering Fluid Go Bad?
The main cause of power steering fluid going bad is contamination from water and other fluids such as oil, gasoline, and brake fluid. When these contaminants mix with the fluid, they degrade the chemicals in the fluid and make it acidic. As a result, the bad fluid corrodes the power steering system.
In addition, the contaminants make the power steering fluid viscous (thick) and difficult to flow at low temperatures.
In addition to contaminating molecules from outside sources, older power steering fluid becomes overheated by friction within the system. This overheating becomes acidic and corrodes the inner components of the power steering pump over time.
Is It Bad To Drive With Low Power Steering Fluid?
It’s bad to drive with low power steering fluid. Generally, it results in unresponsive steering, a damaged power steering pump, noisy steering, steering wheel locks, and jumpy steering. These conditions make driving riskier and can cause you to lose control of the car.
Here are detailed descriptions of the consequences of driving with low power steering fluid:
Unresponsive or Hard Steering
Driving a car with a low power steering fluid is risky for your safety since it can cause the power steering pump not to work sufficiently. This reduces the responsiveness of the car’s steering wheel when you turn it left or right.
In other words, if there isn’t enough fluid in your power steering system, then the engine will have to work harder when you try to turn the wheel for it to move at all. This makes driving an arduous task in itself if you’re forced to constantly fight your vehicle’s wheel because there isn’t enough pressure being generated by the booster.
Damaged Power Steering Pump
Power steering pumps run on a belt. If the belt that powers the pump is worn out or broken, it won’t function properly and can’t increase the fluid pressure when you turn your wheel. This means that your vehicle’s wheel will be difficult to turn for both manual and power steering cars alike.
Suppose your power steering pump gets damaged due to low fluid while on a journey. In that case, it becomes more difficult for you to steer the car, and you may find yourself stranded in an isolated area if something goes wrong.
Driving with low power steering fluid also causes noises when you turn your steering wheel left and right since there isn’t enough lubricant to prevent metal parts from rubbing together. These sounds are usually evident in squeaky or creaking noises that can distract drivers who need to pay attention at all times when behind the wheel.
If you hear your steering making any unusual sounds, it’s best to shut off the engine and get out of the car to check for possible problems. This will help prevent further damage to the power steering system and avoid accidents.
Steering Wheel Locks
When you have low power steering fluid, the vehicle’s steering wheel will feel stiff and hard to turn. This can be extremely dangerous if you’re driving at high speed or on an interstate.
If your car’s power steering fluid gets too low, then it won’t be able to actuate the power steering pump enough to turn the wheel. The engine will still try to push fluid through the lines, but it just won’t be enough.
The car will still steer, but the wheel will lock. This can cause you to lose control of your vehicle and make it harder to drive.
When there isn’t enough lubrication for metal parts of your car’s power steering pump, they grind against each other when turning corners due to a lack of slippery oil between them. This makes steering jump erratically as opposed to smoothly turning your wheel side-to-side.
A jumpy steering wheel can be hazardous since it prevents you from having complete control of your car while driving, a problem that gets worse the faster you go.
Here’s an excellent YouTube video that describes the signs and symptoms of low fluid in your car’s power steering system:
Does Power Steering Fluid Evaporate?
Power steering fluid doesn’t evaporate. It comprises mineral oil or silicone fluids, which have negligible evaporation rates. If you see evidence of power steering fluid loss, there’s likely a leak somewhere in the system, which should be fixed immediately.
In other words, you can’t lose power steering through evaporation. Instead, fluid loss is usually due to a leak in the hydraulic system, which may result from leaky power steering hoses, damaged O rings, or a damaged power steering pump or rack.
How To Dispose of Power Steering Fluid
To dispose of power steering fluid, you must pour it into a sealed container and ship it to your local recycling center. You should wear rubber gloves when disposing of power steering fluid, and it’s recommended that you label the container with a hazard label.
Now that you know how long power steering fluid lasts and what happens when it goes bad, it’s time to learn about the proper way to dispose of any leftover fluids you might have.
Here are the tools needed:
- A sealable bottle. I recommend these plastic bottles (available on Amazon). In my experience, they are about the perfect size for this task.
- Gloves. I recommend these work gloves. They’re comfortable to wear, impact-resistant, and provide excellent grip.
- Safety glasses. I recommend the safety glasses. They’re scratch-resistant, incredibly light, and provide full eye protection.
Here’s how to dispose of power steering fluid in 4 steps:
- Put on your gloves and safety glasses. This will shield you from harmful chemicals in the power steering fluid.
- Pour the used power steering fluid into a sealable bottle. Make sure to use a funnel if the bottle’s opening is too small.
- Once you’ve transferred the power steering fluid into the container, seal it tightly and mark it with a warning label to prevent accidents.
- Check your local waste authority to see if you can drop off your used power steering fluid in a designated location. Some cities and towns have free fluid recycling facilities that accept old power steering fluids from commercial and personal vehicles.
Note: If you can’t find a recycling center, you can drop off your old fluid at any automotive parts store. They may help you dispose of the used fluid properly.
In summary, power steering fluid can go bad. This can happen if the power steering fluid is exposed to sunlight for a long time or if it gets contaminated with other liquids or chemicals. When that happens, the color will change to brown, black, or yellow.
In addition, it’s best to have your car’s power steering fluid changed every 2 years or 27,000 miles. Finally, if your hydraulic system is leaking, it’s best to get that fixed as soon as possible to avoid losing any more of the lubricant.
For more, check out How Long Does Oil Last in a Car?
Hey, I’m Jim, and I’m the author of this website. I have been teaching people a wide variety of survivalism topics for over five years and have a lifetime of experience fishing, camping, general survivalism, and anything in nature. In fact, while growing up, I spent more time on the water than on land! I am also a best-selling author and have a degree in History, Anthropology, and Music. I hope you find value in the articles on this website. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or input!