Problems caused by low power steering fluid

Written by jason medina
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Power steering systems require a special type of hydraulic fluid. Housed in a vehicle's power steering pump unit, power steering fluid performs a variety of critical roles necessary to ensure the proper function of a vehicle's power steering system. Many problems can result, however, if a vehicle's power steering fluid is not maintained at proper levels.

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Hard Vehicle Steering

A low power steering fluid level can often times cause a vehicle's steering to become hard and laboured. Adequate amounts of power steering fluid are necessary to enable a vehicle's power steering system to function and operate at optimum levels. A lack of power steering fluid in a vehicle's power steering system reduces the amount of hydraulic fluid pressure necessary to efficiently operating the various parts of the entire power steering system. Power steering fluid supplies the fluid force needed to operate the power steering gears and to enable power steering gearbox operation. Low power steering fluid levels reduce this hydraulic pressure, which commonly results in hard vehicle steering.

Pump Noise

It is very common for a low power steering fluid level to cause significant power steering pump noise. An adequate amount of power steering fluid is required to ensure the proper function and longevity of a power steering pump unit, which is a belt-driven pump responsible for housing and circulating power steering pump fluid. A low level of power steering fluid results in increased power steering pump friction, heat, and wear, all of which can significantly reduce the operational life of the power steering pump while at the same time cause excessive power steering pump noise.

Fluid Boiling

Many times a low power steering fluid level can result in excessive heating of power steering fluid, a condition that can seriously degrade the fluid and cause it to boil. A low power steering fluid level results in less available fluid to both lubricate and cool a power steering pump unit. A lack of power steering pump lubrication and cooling leads to excessive heat being generated within the power steering pump unit itself, a condition that translates into the available level of power steering fluid becoming superheated and degraded. When this happens it is common for the power steering fluid to boil and lose all of its lubricating and heat-reducing capabilities.

Gearbox Wear

The power steering gearbox is a set of gears within a vehicle's power steering system designed to facilitate movement of a vehicle's front wheels. The power steering gearbox is connected to the power steering pump by hydraulic fluid lines that deliver a constant supply of power steering fluid to the power steering gearbox. A low power steering fluid level, especially a chronic and severe low power steering fluid level, can lead to increased friction and wear within the power steering gearbox assembly, a condition that can significantly shorten the operational life of the power steering gearbox and negatively affect its operation.

Prevention/Solution

Regularly checking the level and condition of a vehicle's power steering fluid is recommended as part of a good preventive vehicle maintenance program. Although power steering fluid is unlike motor oil and transmission fluid, both fluids that require frequent changing, it does require periodic inspection to ensure adequate fluid levels and to ensure that the fluid is in good condition. Rarely, power steering fluid can become contaminated and/or degrade in quality and require draining and refill with clean, fresh fluid. Inspection of the power steering pump assembly as well as the power steering pump drive belt are recommended as part of a good power steering system maintenance program.

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