When puddles of fluid start showing up underneath your vehicle, it’s only normal to get a little bit concerned. But when it’s a power steering fluid leak, it only leads to a bit more confusion.
Drivers often misdiagnose a power steering fluid leak as a transmission leak, which can send you down a rabbit hole that’s hard to get out of. But just because it’s not as big as the transmission or engine doesn’t mean it isn’t just as important.
So, how do you identify a power steering leak, what are some common causes, and how much will it cost you to fix the problem? We’ll answer all those questions and more for you here.
Power Steering Fluid Leak Symptoms
Before we dive into everything else in our guide here, let’s dive into what you need to identify a power steering fluid leak in the first place. We’ve highlighted the five most common symptoms of a power steering fluid leak for you here.
1. Fluid on the Ground
If you have a system leaking fluid, it only makes sense that gravity will pull that fluid to the ground. Typically, the power steering fluid is red, so it might make you think there’s a transmission problem.
If you notice a fluid forming underneath your vehicle after it sits for a while, there’s a good chance something is leaking.
Simply follow the leak up, and you should see wetness around one of the power steering components where the leak is coming from. Finally, keep in mind that while power steering fluid typically starts out red, eventually, it can turn a tannish color as it ages.
2. Low Power Steering Fluid
If the power steering fluid is leaking, take a look at the reservoir. Your vehicle can’t make its own fluid, so if it’s leaking out, the reservoir for that fluid will be a little low. If the fluid is low, it’s going somewhere, and it’s likely a power steering fluid leak.
3. Odd Ignition Noises
The power steering pump itself is belt-driven, which means when you start up the engine it starts spinning. Typically, this isn’t a problem, but if there’s not enough fluid in the power steering pump because it’s leaking out, it will squeal a bit.
If you leave it running long enough without enough fluid this squealing will overheat the power steering pump, and you’ll need to replace that too.
4. Grinding or Whining Noises
The power steering pump uses hydraulic fluid to help you move the rack and pinion, and it uses it to lubricate the interior of the pump. So, if there’s not enough fluid in the system, this can make for a pretty noisy operation.
Sometimes this noise will become much louder and worse when you turn the steering wheel, and other times it’s just noisy all the time.
5. Decreased Steering Performance
Since the power steering pump uses power steering fluid to help you move the rack and pinion, if there’s not enough power steering fluid in the system, this can lead to problems steering the vehicle.
The first way this problem can manifest itself is by giving you a slow response time when you turn the steering wheel. If this happens, it will feel like the steering of your vehicle lags behind you turning the wheel.
The other problem that can arise is that it can become much more challenging for you to turn the steering wheel. Since it’s the power steering system’s job to make it easier for you to turn the wheel, it makes sense that if something isn’t working the way it should that you’ll need to supply the extra force yourself.
Power Steering Fluid Leak Causes and Fixes
Now that you know how to identify a power steering fluid leak in your vehicle, it’s time to look at the potential causes. There are a few potential causes of power steering fluid leaks, which can be a little more frustrating to diagnose and repair.
1. Worn Hoses or Fittings
If you have a power steering fluid leak, this is the best-case scenario. That’s because while it can be a pain to reach these components to replace them, they’re far less expensive than the entire power steering pump.
Typically, these power steering systems use reinforced steel-braided hoses that can withstand the pressure the power steering pump puts on them to move the rack and pinion. However, over time these hoses can wear out, especially around the fittings.
If you have a worn hose or fitting, you’ll need to replace the line, top off the fluid, then bleed the power steering system.
2. Leaking Rack and Pinion
The power steering pump pushes power steering fluid to the rack and pinion to move it around, and if the seals in the rack and pinion give out, then the power steering pump could be pushing power steering fluid right out of the vehicle every time you turn the wheel.
A typical rack and pinion will last you about 100,000 miles though, so it’s not a problem you should have all that often.
3. Faulty Power Steering Pump Seals
If all the hoses on your vehicle’s power steering system and the rack and pinion check out, then there’s a pretty good chance the leak is coming from the power steering pump itself. Over time the seals on the power steering pump wear down, and while you might think that you can get in there and replace just the seals, that’s not how it works.
The kits to replace the seals simply don’t exist, and that leaves you replacing the entire power steering pump when the seals start to wear down. There’s no rebuilding the pump like you could with older vehicles!
Just like a rack and pinion should last about 100,000 miles, so should a power steering pump. In fact, if you’re around that mileage and have to replace one, you should really consider replacing both so you have a fresh new system and won’t have to take your vehicle back into the shop for a similar problem any time soon.
Cost to Repair Power Steering Fluid Leaks
If your power steering system is leaking, it’s the cost that everyone wants an answer to – how much is it going to cost me to fix this?
Well, the exact answer comes down to the source of your leak, but we’ll give you some good estimates to go off of here, but the bad news is that power steering repairs tend to be on the pricier side of things.
If you’re dealing with a leaking power steering hose, you should expect to spend between $500 and $600 for repairs using OEM parts. Most of the price is for parts, but if you’re willing to do the work yourself, you can often save between $100 and $150.
But if you’re doing the work yourself and using aftermarket parts, you might be able to get the job done for between $100 and $200, depending on what you drive.
Meanwhile, if you need to replace the power steering pump, you should expect a professional shop to charge you between $500 and $750 with OEM parts.
Once again, most of this cost comes down to parts, but you can save yourself about $150 to $200 on labor if you do it yourself. Finally, with aftermarket parts, you might be able to complete the entire job for about $150 or $200.
The most expensive component you might need to replace with a power steering fluid leak is the rack and pinion. A professional shop will charge you between $1,500 and $1,900 for a new rack and pinion.
While the labor costs are a little higher here too, the $350 to $450 you’ll save by doing the work yourself still makes for an expensive repair. It’s also worth noting that a rack and pinion replacement is a lot more work, so it might not be the best option for you if you don’t have the necessary mechanical expertise.
Finally, you can cut costs a little bit further by using aftermarket parts instead of OEM. Depending on what you drive, you can use aftermarket parts and spend about $250 to $750 on parts alone.
Tips For Caring For Your Power Steering System
If you want any system in your car to keep working, you need to put in the necessary TLC for your vehicle. Your power steering system is no different, and it’s why we wanted to highlight a few things you can do to keep it in tip-top shape and help avoid future power steering fluid leaks.
1. Keep Up With Fluid Flushes
How often you should flush the power steering system all comes down to the type of vehicle you’re driving and the manufacturer’s requirements. Look up the maintenance schedule from the manufacturer, and they’ll tell you the recommended interval.
However, as a general rule, most manufacturers recommend power steering fluid flushes anywhere between 40,000 and 80,000 miles. But keep in mind this is only a guide and you should always check with your vehicle manufacturer to ensure you’re using the proper intervals.
2. Inspect Components Regularly
If you’re trying to keep everything in good working order, one of the best things you can do is get your eyes on each component as often as possible. This allows you to get a general health check of each component and potentially catch problems early.
If you catch a problem early enough, you might even be able to fix it before it gets to the point where you need to replace the entire component.
3. Using Additives
This is probably the most controversial piece of advice on our list. In fact, it’s not something that we recommend for most vehicles. However, sometimes you have a vehicle you don’t plan on driving forever and don’t want to pump a ton of money into it.
In those cases, we recommend trying an additive to help prevent or stop leaks. It’s not the best for the system and eventually you’ll need to replace everything, but sometimes they can keep your vehicle going for just a little while longer before you’re ready to move on.
If you’re looking for a great additive to help prevent and stop power steering fluid leaks, we highly recommend this product from Bar’s Leaks.
Now that you know a little more about power steering leaks, it’s up to you to put in the necessary work to keep your vehicle in working order and turning as it should.
The power steering system might not be quite as prominent as the engine or transmission, but that doesn’t make it any less important. So, if you’re dealing with a power steering fluid leak, address it as soon as possible before the problem gets even worse!