Signs of a Power Steering Fluid Leak

The power steering system in your vehicle is meant to be nearly unnoticeable while driving, quietly assisting your steering inputs behind the scenes, decreasing the effort you need to put in each time you turn the wheel. When your power steering begins to make itself known, whether through whining noises, visible leaks, or difficulty turning the steering wheel, the system is likely experiencing an issue disrupting the hydraulic properties of your fluid.

What is Power Steering Fluid?

Your power steering fluid is what allows your steering inputs to transfer and amplify forces to the tie rods rather than relying on pure elbow grease to turn the vehicle. Steering fluid is hydraulic, meaning it’s an incompressible fluid (similar to brake fluid). When force is applied to this enclosed fluid, the pressure will transfer through where it reaches a larger surface area (the power steering piston in this case), increasing the force.

Power steering fluid resevoir

What Causes Power Steering Leaks

Since your power steering pump and system see constant use while driving, the hoses, seals, and gaskets that keep fluid from leaking will begin to degrade. Running old fluid that has been contaminated will also increase the rate of degradation, which is why fluid flushes are important for maintaining the entire system. 

Signs of Leaking Power Steering Fluid

Visible Leakage/Puddles

This one is quite self-explanatory, but if you notice the leakage of red/reddish-brown fluid under your vehicle or around the steering/suspension components, you may be looking at the power steering fluid. Alternatively, it may instead be transmission fluid, as it can have a similar red hue.

Smell can also tip you off to the origin of your fluid, since power steering fluid may carry a faint fishy smell combined with that of burnt sugar.

Whirring/Whining When Turning

If you hear an obnoxious whining noise as you turn your steering wheel, it could be a result of leaking power steering fluid. Without an adequate amount of fluid, your pump will be running dry at certain points, causing it to overwork itself and produce the subsequent noises. This sound is due to the friction within the pump as it attempts to function without proper lubrication. 

Not only does this reduce the performance of your steering system, but it also causes a large deal of unnecessary wear to the pump, which may lead to premature failure and an expensive replacement. 

Vibrations in Steering Wheel

Similar to the whining sound, vibrations felt through your steering wheel could originate from an overworked pump and lack of fluid. As the pump tries to keep up, it can cause vibrations that may transmit through the steering system to the steering wheel. 

Man holding Audi steering wheel while driving

Change in Steering Feel

As the system does not have enough fluid for an uninterrupted transfer of force, you may experience some odd sensations when turning your vehicle such as the wheel suddenly tightening up. Disruptions in your steering system are not only annoying, they can become dangerous in certain situations. 

Steering System Services in Austin, TX

If your steering system is acting unusually, don’t delay scheduling an inspection! The experienced technicians at Edgestone Automotive in Austin, Texas have decades of combined experience working on steering and suspension systems of various makes and models. Give us a call or schedule online today to speak with our friendly service advisors!