Just like your engine needs oil to lubricate it and to keep internal components from wearing out sooner than they should, the power steering system also requires the assistance of a lubricant known as power steering fluid. Running low or out of power steering fluid could create some major issues with your steering system. That’s why checking power steering fluid levels and getting flushes at the recommended time is so important.
How Power Steering Works
Similar to the brake system, power steering operates as a hydraulic system. More accurately described as power-assisted steering, because of the mechanical connection between the steering wheel and your actual wheels. The vehicle’s engine power pumps power steering fluid from the reservoir to the rack and pinion utilizing a belt and pulley. As the steering wheel is turned, the power steering fluid flows through a piston that provides additional power to move the vehicle into the desired direction. When the steering wheel straightens, the valve closes to prevent the fluid from flowing and the piston retreats. Luckily, if the power to the system fails, the steering wheel is still able to turn although it is much more difficult.
What Power Steering Fluid Does
Power steering fluid plays a major role in the steering assist process. The power steering pump circulates the fluid under hydraulic pressure, allowing the piston in the steering gear to move, reducing the effort while turning the wheel. The rotary control valve delivers pressure to the piston, depending on the direction the wheel is turned, releasing from the opposite side. As pressure grows, the piston moves, turning the vehicle in the desired direction. Modern-day systems are so intuitive, they’re able to recognize the speed of the vehicle and slow the input from the steering wheel to the steering gear, reducing the sensitivity at higher speeds helping to prevent rollovers and other collisions.
Because power steering fluid is a hydraulic fluid and is needed to create steering assist, under extreme pressure, it produces a significant amount of heat. And because most power steering systems lack filtration, over time, the fluid becomes contaminated from dirt, debris, and weakened power steering components. Power steering flushes should be performed every 30,000 miles to keep power steering components lubricated and prevent system components from failure. Avoiding this service may place unnecessary strain on the pump making it work harder and may result in premature wear. In between flushes, be sure to check fluid levels. How do you know when to check power steering levels? Most reputable service centers will check fluid levels for you during each oil change service.
If your power steering fluid is low, it won’t take you long to realize something isn’t right. Often your vehicle will exhibit signs such as noisy steering, jerky feeling, and even difficulty when steering. Check your fluid levels if you notice changes in:
Your steering system should be pretty quiet. Any time you hear a sound such as a screeching or groaning sound, something may be wrong. Even a simple movement while stopped, such as turning your wheels from side to side produces an awful sound.
You may notice a jumpy feeling as you try to turn from one direction to another. This is often most noticeable when the vehicle is moving slowly, or not at all. As power steering fluid is depleted, the system struggles to work efficiently producing that jerky feeling. Difficulty or stiffness while turning is also a clear indicator that something is wrong.
Where the ground was once dry and clear of any fluid leaks, you notice puddles or stains under the vehicle. Although your vehicle is capable of leaking any fluid it uses, power steering fluid can leak from the pump, steering gear, or from the pressure lines.
If you’re experiencing issues with your steering system, we’re here to help! Simply stop by your neighborhood Chicagoland Jiffy Lube® Mulitcare location whenever it suits your schedule, no appointment necessary. Our ASE-certified technicians can inspect and diagnose your steering issue, and get your vehicle running right again!
Jiffy Lube® recommends following manufacturer recommendations, where applicable, for maintenance schedules and service intervals.
Not all services are offered at each Jiffy Lube® location. Please check with your local Jiffy Lube® service center for specific services offered.