Car Oils And Fluids

What Causes a Power Steering Fluid Leak And What To Do

Mike Cross
Updated Mar 30, 2022

Have you noticed your steering wheel is becoming progressively harder to steer?

I’ve dealt with this before with my car. When it happened, I had to use more muscle power to get the steering wheel to turn. It felt like I was getting an arm workout every time I drove. It turns out my car was leaking power steering fluid.

If your car is leaking power steering fluid, you’ll want to check out my guide. Let’s examine this issue in-depth and what you can do about it.

What Is Power Steering?

If you have ever driven an older vehicle, perhaps a 90s model, you may notice the steering takes more effort. By contrast, moving a steering wheel in a modern vehicle feels effortless. Contemporary automobiles contain enhanced power steering.

Older cars do have power steering in the form of a hydraulic pump assembly. This assembly enables the power steering fluid to exert power against the steering assembly. It makes steering manageable, although it requires more significant physical effort, especially when making sharp turns at low speeds.

The steering assembly connects to an electric motor and control module in modern vehicles. The latter computes the car speed and turning speed. It uses the calculation to control the flow of the power steering fluid.

Besides more effortless steering, power steering also absorbs road shocks and improves vehicle response time.

What Causes a Power Steering Fluid Leak?

If the power steering fluid begins leaking, then you have a problem. What causes a leak to occur in the first place? Here are the common causes.

Power Steering Fluid Leak
Power Steering Fluid Leak

Incompatible Fluid

You should replace the power steering fluid every 50,000 miles or every four years. However, it’s possible to use an incompatible fluid. The fluid can be too thin or thick. It may also not have the essential additives that offset wear. Refer to your vehicle user manual to identify the compatible fluid type.

You can also speak to a mechanic about synthetic power steering fluid. These come with unique formulations that keep the fluid consistent under temperature fluctuations. Inquire whether synthetic fluid is compatible with your vehicle model.

Worn Power Steering Hose

Due to heat, humidity, and corrosion, the power hose wears over time. Wear and tear commonly occurs in the hose’s valve or O-ring. When these components wear, small chunks break loose and get into the fluid. This breakage significantly erodes the fluid’s efficacy.

Steering Pump Damage

The steering pump drives the power steering fluid into the gearbox. The pump works by creating pressure. Too much pressure can lead to the gasket becoming loose, leading to a leak. If the issue lies with the steering pump, you may hear a whining noise that gets progressively louder as you pick up speed.


Rough Driving Conditions

Driving under challenging conditions, such as off-road terrain or roads with potholes, can stress the belts, pump, and steering system. If you must drive under these conditions, it’s best to switch to an all-terrain or 4x4 truck or SUV. These vehicles have far more robust suspension systems that can withstand formidable terrain.

Signs of a Power Steering Fluid Leak

Your car will give you indicators that it may have a power steering fluid leak. Be on the lookout for these signs.

  • Difficulty steering: This is the most apparent sign since power steering is supposed to make steering effortless. It will take more muscling to move the steering wheel.
  • Fluid puddles: Is there a fluid buildup on the floor where you park your car? If the fluid is reddish, then it’s most likely a power steering fluid leak.
  • Ignition noise: You may hear a squealing sound when you turn the ignition.
  • Delayed steering response: There may be a lag in steering response, especially when making tight turns or U-turns.
  • Whining noise: You may hear a whining or whirring noise, especially when making turns.
  • Fluid below fill line: Power steering fluid is way below the fill line in the reservoir.

How to Stop a Power Steering Fluid Leak

If you notice one or more of the above symptoms, it’s best to bring your vehicle to an auto shop. However, you may be able to stop the leak on your own if you know your way under the hood of a vehicle. One possible remedy is to perform a power steering fluid flush. This flush removes contaminants from the system and prevents wear to the hose and associated parts.

If the cause is a cracked steering pump case, you can replace this part at a relatively low cost. Some cases come with internal seals that you can replace individually. It’s also possible to have a cracked reservoir, which you will also need to replace.

How to Prevent a Power Steering Fluid Leak

Your driving habits may be contributing to a leak. One way to preserve the power steering system is by refraining from turning your steering wheel all the way.

When you constantly turn the wheel until it hits the stopper. It strains the pump and lines. If you must turn the wheel all the way, such as when making a U-turn, immediately turn the wheel back slightly when you hit the stopper. Do not continue to hold the steering wheel against the stopper.

Power Steering Leak Stopper

When you bring your car to the shop for maintenance, you should also ask the technician about applying power steering leak stoppers. This stopper is a substance that recoats the O-rings and other parts where the leak tends to occur.

Serpentine Belt Inspection

Routine maintenance should also include a checkup of the serpentine belt. If the belt snaps or slips, it places enormous strain on the steering pump and may render it inoperable altogether. You should replace the serpentine belt every 90,000 miles.

Summing It Up

A power steering fluid leak is a significant nuisance, and you need to address the issue immediately. The problem doesn’t go away on its own. Ignoring it only leads to more significant problems down the line.

Whether you attempt a self-fix or go to a mechanic, take some form of action. The ensuing issues go way beyond a stiffer steering wheel.

Mike Cross
Life is too short to drive with stock audio

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