Unlike vehicles of yesteryear that were hard to steer, virtually all vehicles on today’s roads have power steering.
However, since these steering systems rely on hydraulic fluid to keep them functioning, being low on fluid can make steering a vehicle much more interesting than we prefer.
If you’ve noticed some changes to your vehicle’s steering and think you may need power steering fluid, we’ve got some signs that indicate you’re probably right.
Common signs that you need power steering fluid include the following:
- Steering Wheel is Harder to Turn
- Stains or Puddles Under Your Vehicle
- Loud Screeching When You Turn the Wheel
- Noisy Steering
- Steering Wheel Feels Jerky or Jumpy
- Vibrating Steering Wheel
- Your Car Squeals Like a Pig
For a full explanation of each of these indicators that you need power steering fluid, just keep reading.
Signs You Need Power Steering Fluid
Steering Wheel is Harder to Turn
If you’ve been used to driving your vehicle and having a steering wheel that you could turn right or left with virtually no effort at all, getting behind the wheel and suddenly having a steering wheel that feels almost impossible to turn is a tell-tale sign your vehicle is in need of power steering fluid.
Fortunately, unless your vehicle experiences a major and sudden leak, most vehicles lose power steering fluid gradually.
As a result, while a harder to turn steering wheel may seem like something that just happened, we guarantee the problem has been creeping up on you for quite some time.
Stains or Puddles Under Your Vehicle
When you start to notice your steering wheel seems as if it is harder to turn, you may want to take a closer look underneath your vehicle.
If you move it a few feet and notice stains or puddles in your driveway or wherever you happen to be at that moment, this indicates you’ve got a power steering fluid leak.
Once you see stains or puddles under your vehicle, get it checked out as soon as possible. If you don’t, you may be experiencing even more problems later on.
Loud Screeching When You Turn the Wheel
Since the power steering fluid in your vehicle lubricates the steering system, a lack of fluid eventually means things underneath your hood start to get a bit too dry.
Should you turn your steering wheel and hear screeching noises that remind us of someone dragging their fingernails across a chalkboard, this also indicates low levels of power steering fluid.
If you’ve ever heard cats emitting their high-pitched screams when fighting, the sound you hear underneath your car’s hood can remind you of this as well.
Either way, these are sounds you definitely don’t want to hear when you are driving.
Even if you are not hearing screeching noises when turning your steering wheel, your car may be giving off all kinds of other odd noises that indicate your power steering fluid level is too low.
Common noises associated with this problem include knocking and banging, sounding almost like someone is hitting something underneath your hood.
Most of the time, you will notice these types of noises when you are driving your car at very low speeds, such as when you are searching for a parking spot.
Steering Wheel Feels Jerky or Jumpy
When you turn your steering wheel, you want it to feel smooth and effortless.
Should you turn it and have it instead feeling jerky or as if it wants to jump out of your hands, there’s a good chance this is due to your car having little if any power steering fluid in its reservoir.
Just as it is when you are hearing those odd knocking and banging noises, your steering wheel will jerk and jump the most when you are driving your car extremely slow, or when your car is at a complete standstill.
Since it can be very unnerving to have your steering wheel feeling like it’s about to lose control of itself, check your power steering fluid reservoir right away and top if off as needed.
Vibrating Steering Wheel
In addition to your car’s steering wheel jumping and jerking, it may also start to noticeably vibrate when you are driving down the highway.
If it does, your car can start to become harder to control safely at higher speeds.
When you notice such a problem, don’t procrastinate in having it checked out by a mechanic as soon as possible.
Since a vibrating steering wheel can also be caused by your car being out of alignment and other similar issues, getting it looked at quickly may save you from a much larger repair bill later on.
Your Car Squeals Like a Pig
Yes, if your car is low on power steering fluid, you may be driving a car down the road that sounds like a squealing pig.
When you turn your car’s wheels and notice loud squealing or whining noises, being low on power steering fluid is likely the reason why your car sounds so strange.
Since power steering systems use pumps to help fluid move through the system, a lack of fluid means more and more air begins to circulate through your car’s power steering system, leading to the strange sounds.
To stop your car from sounding like a pig, top off your power steering fluid reservoir.
If you do and you hear the same sounds later on, chances are your power steering system is experiencing a leak and needs to be looked at by a mechanic.
Does Power Steering Fluid Need to be Changed?
Just like oil and coolant, the time will come when your car’s power steering fluid will need to be changed.
The most obvious sign it may be time to change your car’s power steering fluid is a change in its color.
Generally, fluid that is in good shape is reddish in color. However, if your power steering fluid is grayish or black, this means it has oxidized and needs to be replaced.
Bubbles that are visible in your power steering fluid should also be addressed quickly, since these can indicate your power steering system has an air leak.
This can be dangerous when you are driving, since it can lead to your vehicle’s power steering system becoming unpredictable.
Is It Okay to Just Add Power Steering Fluid?
Yes, if your car is low on power steering fluid, it is okay to add fluid to the reservoir yourself.
When checking your power steering fluid, check to see if the fluid level is between the areas marked “minimum” and “maximum.” If it is, you won’t need to add additional power steering fluid.
If it’s below the “minimum” level, add fluid slowly and check to see how close it’s getting to the “maximum” level.
If you add fluid but your reservoir doesn’t seem to be getting filled up, this means a leak exists within the power steering system. If the reservoir is holding the fluid, don’t fill it beyond the “maximum” marking.
Is It Expensive to Replace Power Steering Fluid?
In most cases, replacing power steering fluid will not bust your automotive repair budget, even if you take it to a mechanic to have it done.
When power steering fluid is replaced by a mechanic, the cost is usually between $100-$125, which is comparable to a coolant flush and fill.
If you’re like us and are a DIY person when it comes to your car, the cost can go down dramatically, often costing no more than $20-$30.
Now that we’ve pointed out the seven signs indicating the need for power steering fluid, don’t continue fighting your steering wheel each day.
Instead, check your fluid level and take your car to a mechanic if necessary.