We all love the smooth, effortless steering experience our vehicles offer — thanks to the power steering system.
Ride along as we decode the power steering fluid symbol, how to fix it, and more.
This Article Contains
- What Does the Power Steering Fluid Symbol Mean?
- 4 Tell-Tale Signs of Low Power Steering Fluid
- How To Check and Top Up Power Steering Fluid? (Step-By-Step)
- 3 FAQs About Power Steering Fluid
Let’s steer right in!
What Does the Power Steering Fluid Symbol Mean?
If your car features a hydraulic power steering system, the power steering fluid symbol on your dashboard usually indicates low power steering fluid. This warning light looks like a steering wheel with waves under it.
However, in most cars, you’ll see a steering wheel symbol with an exclamation mark, indicating a power steering system fault (including low fluid). The steering wheel may look slightly different depending on your car or truck model.
But if your car has an electric power steering system, the light could also say “EPS” instead of the steering wheel symbol, both indicating a steering component malfunction.
This steering system warning light is usually bright orange. But different car manufacturers may use different colors.
Now, as we said, if your car has a hydraulic power steering system, a low fluid level is the most common reason for an illuminated power steering light. However, there are other signs to confirm this.
4 Tell-Tale Signs of Low Power Steering Fluid
If you’re experiencing any of the following power steering problems, it’s time to check your fluid level:
1. Groaning Noise from the Steering
The hydraulic power steering pump circulates the hydraulic fluid into the steering mechanism. But if there’s low fluid and more air inside the pump, you may hear a strange groaning noise while trying to turn the steering wheel.
A simple fluid top-up should fix it. But if the noise persists, it could indicate a faulty power steering pump.
2. Hard to Turn or Locking Steering Wheel
This is perhaps the most obvious sign of low hydraulic fluid in your steering system. Your steering wheel will become very stiff and difficult to rotate. In some cases, it might even lock up.
You shouldn’t ignore this at any cost, as a lack of steering control can lead to accidents.
3. Jerky or Jumpy Power Steering
Any jerking or jumping sensation in your steering wheel, especially on turns, indicates a low power steering fluid level. If you ignore this sign and don’t top up your power steering fluid reservoir soon, the issue will only worsen, endangering your road safety.
4. Fluid Stains Under the Vehicle
Leaking power steering fluid could lead to low levels in the reservoir, triggering the warning light. You might notice stains or a pink-colored puddle under your car. If ignored, fluid leaks can give way to the symptoms mentioned above.
Next, let’s understand how to check your power steering fluid and bring it back to safe levels.
How To Check and Top-Up Power Steering Fluid? (Step-By-Step)
If you’re unsure of your car parts, it’s best to get a professional mechanic like RepairSmith to do this job. But if you want to attempt it yourself, here’s how to check and refill your power steering fluid reservoir.
Step 1: Locate the Power Steering Fluid Reservoir
The power steering fluid reservoir is a clear plastic container with a cap having a steering wheel symbol with waves beneath it. Some cars may also have “power steering” or “steering fluid” printed on the reservoir cap. The reservoir is usually present on the passenger side of the engine bay. However, check your owners manual to find its exact location.
Step 2: Check the Fluid Level
If the reservoir is made of translucent plastic, you may find “MAX” or “MIN” marks on the outside of the reservoir to indicate the power steering fluid level. You should keep the fluid above the “MIN” mark. But, if the reservoir is made of metal or opaque plastic, you’ll need to perform the dipstick test.
Note: Some car manufacturers recommend checking the fluid level after the engine has run for a short period. Others may also require you to turn the steering wheel in either direction as the car idles. Check your owners manual for specific instructions.
Here’s how to perform the dipstick test:
- Remove the reservoir cap to find the dipstick attached to it.
- Wipe it clean with a rag.
- Reinsert the dipstick as far as it will go and pull it out again.
- The dipstick may have gradations for hot and cold levels or “Min” and “Max” lines for recommended levels. Compare the fluid level against the required mark.
Step 3: Examine the Power Steering Fluid Color
In addition to the fluid level, you also need to check the fluid health.
Good power steering fluid is clear, amber, or pinkish in color. If the old fluid is brown or black, smells burnt, or has traces of rubber and metal, you must drain the steering system first.
In this case, you should take your car to a mechanic as these traces could indicate worn connecting hoses, seals, or O-rings. You’ll need to get these components inspected and replaced along with the old power steering fluid.
Step 4: Add New Power Steering Fluid
If the steering fluid looks fine, top it up with new fluid to the required level. Use only the manufacturer-recommended power-steering fluid, as it will have the correct viscosity your car’s power steering system needs. Also, remember not to overfill the power steering reservoir as the fluid expands on heating, and fluid spills can damage other components.
IMPORTANT: Never refill the power steering reservoir with engine oil, windshield washer fluid, or brake fluid, as it can damage the power steering system and its seals. Finally, push or screw back the reservoir cap firmly into place.
Turn on your car, and the power steering warning light should have disappeared from your dash. If not, you need to get your steering system checked for another fault.
Next, let’s answer some related questions you may have.
3 FAQs About Power Steering Fluid
Here are answers to commonly asked questions about power steering fluid:
1. What Does the Power Steering Fluid Do?
The power steering fluid is a hydraulic fluid used to transfer hydraulic pressure from the steering wheel to the front wheels. The hydraulic pressure reduces the driver’s effort in turning the car’s wheels. The power steering fluid also lubricates all moving parts in the steering system and prevents corrosion in steering components.
However, many modern vehicles now use electric power steering to help improve fuel economy.
2. What Causes Low Power Steering Fluid?
Power steering fluid is not “used up” like engine oil or washer fluid. So, the most obvious cause of low fluid is a leak.
Certain steering system components can degrade or malfunction over time, giving way to a sneaky leak. These could include:
- Power steering lines and hoses
- Power steering pump
- Steering gear
In other rare cases, you or the mechanic may not have put enough new fluid during a top-up or fluid flush.
Solution: Adding certain power steering fluid additives could help slow down a leak. They might also be able to stop a leak temporarily. It’s also a good idea to have your power steering system inspected during routine maintenance to avoid low levels and leaks.
3. What Type of Power Steering Fluid Do I Need?
Your car manufacturer will recommend one of the following fluid types:
- Universal power steering fluid: Commonly found type, compatible with most vehicle makes and models.
- Automatic transmission fluid: Some power steering systems allow substituting power steering fluid with automatic transmission fluid like Type F, Dexron, etc.
- Synthetic power steering fluid: High-performance, long-lasting fluid engineered in labs for specific steering systems and vehicle types.
- Non-synthetic mineral power steering fluid: All-purpose hydraulic fluid formulated for central hydraulic systems. It can be used in place of automatic transmission fluid. Usually green in color.
As a car owner, always stick to the recommended fluid type or consult an expert technician if unsure.
Understanding the power steering light on your car or truck is crucial for maintaining the health and performance of a vehicle’s hydraulic power steering system. If you’re still facing difficulty steering your vehicle and your power steering warning light is also on, it’s time to contact a mechanic like RepairSmith.
Whether brake fluid, transmission fluid, washer fluid, or engine oil, our mobile mechanics can do a top-up and perform other auto repairs right in your driveway!
Contact us for any power steering problems, routine maintenance, and repairs!