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Steering fluid leak a bad sign

Jun. 17, 2024

Steering fluid leak a bad sign

BRAD BERGHOLDT

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Q: Recently, I&#;ve needed to refill my power-steering fluid regularly to keep the power steering from making noises and becoming stiff. There&#;s also a puddle beneath the car where I park; I assume it&#;s leaking fluid.

How difficult would this be to fix? Is it the type of repair I would be able to do myself?

A: I wish I had good news for you, but this will likely be a pro-level repair. There are four, perhaps five possible places for the fluid to come from. Let&#;s look at each.

Most vehicles use a belt-driven power-steering pump to create hydraulic force to assist steering effort. Power-steering fluid comes in a variety of colors &#; clear, amber, pink, red &#; and darkens with age, becoming brown to black when it&#;s time to flush it. Fluid is pumped at pressures as high as psi to the steering rack or gear box.

Most passenger cars employ rack-and-pinion steering, which is a large transverse cylinder mounted low or centered in the engine bay, either slightly ahead of or behind the wheels. Trucks and older or larger cars use a steering gearbox, which mounts low or forward in the engine compartment on the driver&#;s side. The steering rack steers the wheels directly, via tie rods, while the steering box utilizes a drag link and idler arm to connect to the tie rods.

A rubber high-pressure hose connects between the pump and the steering rack or box. A low-pressure return hose brings fluid back, sometimes via a power-steering cooler, to the pump. Also, some vehicles employ a length of hose between a remotely mounted fluid reservoir and the pump.

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Your best scenario &#; and most likely cause of leakage &#; is a fault related to one of these hoses. Usually it&#;s the high-pressure hose. Snugging the clamps on the reservoir and return-line hoses might be worth a try. The pressure hose end-fitting clamps are typically crimped and are not repairable.

Fluid leaks can also occur from a faulty seal in the pump or faulty seals in the steering rack or gear box. A leaking seal might be temporarily fixed by using a seal-swelling fluid additive, but this probably will not be a lasting fix.

On rare occasions, a power-steering cooler might spring a leak, probably from a crack caused by vibration.

Try to get a look beneath the vehicle to determine the general area of leakage. Use ramps or a pair of solidly placed jack stands on firm, level ground &#; never trust a single jack. With the engine not running and parts cool, wipe down as much lingering fluid mess as possible, then run the engine for a few moments while slowly sawing the steering wheel back and forth perhaps five times. Again with the engine off and parts cool, look for the specific site of leakage.

A hose replacement might be within the skill level of a home mechanic, but some are difficult to access. Replacement of a faulty pump or the steering rack or box can be a miserable job and is best left to a pro.

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