To keep the steering of modern vehicles in tip-top shape, the power steering is protected by power steering fluid. This is a special kind of fluid that is somewhat similar to auto transmission fluid that protects the steering system to keep the mechanism smooth, safe, and secure. You need to use pure, high-quality power steering fluid at all costs and check power steering fluid color regularly. Low-grade and contaminated fluids will only harm your steering system and affect the way your vehicle performs on the road.
Power steering fluid is available in different grades, brands, and colors. Usually, the kind of steering fluid will depend on the brand or make of your vehicle such as Genuine Honda Power Steering Fluid made, especially for Honda cars. But there are all-around high-performance power steering fluids as well as Lucas Oil Power Steering Fluid.
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What is power steering fluid made of?
Power steering fluid is made from natural oils and additives. Usually, steering fluid makers will never reveal the ingredient of their fluid additives and this is where the difference lies. Some power steering fluid brands are more popular and more efficient because these contain quality additives while some, may only contain natural oils or synthetic oils.
Overall, there are four power steering fluid types according to their composition: mineral fluids, semi-synthetic fluids, synthetic fluids, and universal fluids. Each of these will be explained in detail.
- Mineral-based fluids
Mineral-based power steering fluids are made from refined-petroleum with certain additives. These additives can improve the lubricating and protective properties of the oil. Many use mineral-based oils because these do not affect rubber components. This type is also the most widely used as it is the least expensive type. However, mineral-based fluids are only good for a short time and will usually foam up quickly compared to other types of power steering fluids.
- Semi-synthetic fluids
The semi-synthetic fluid is a hybrid of a synthetic fluid and mineral fluid. This kind of power steering fluid is not too viscous, lubricates well, and is resistant to foaming. But despite these great qualities, many are not too keen on using semi-synthetic fluids as these easily destroy rubber components of most steering systems. You should check your car's manual before using this type of power steering fluid.
- Synthetic fluids
Synthetic power steering fluids are deemed as the best kind and most modern car manufacturers trust it. This is made from only a small amount of well-developed petroleum-based oils, polyesters as well as polyhydric alcohol. This kind has unique additives that can stop their effects on rubber components. And in cold temperatures, this kind of fluid will flow without any friction and thus, will lubricate the entire steering system very well.
Synthetic fluids also extend the life of steering systems. This is why most top European car makers depend on synthetic power steering fluids than other types of fluids. This type has very low viscosity, will never foam up, and can work even when the car temperature is at the extremes (very hot and very cold). Expect longer steering fluid changes when you use synthetic power steering fluids.
- Universal fluids
This kind of steering fluid is called universal fluid as this may be used in all types of steering systems as this fluid has unique additives which can provide a variety of benefits. Universal fluids will minimize friction as it can massively enhance the performance of the various power steering components.
Universal power steering fluid can also prevent corrosion, control tiny leaks, and avoid wear on the power steering components. Usually, the benefits of the universal fluid must complement the old steering fluid used.
Related: Brake Fluid Vs Power Steering Fluid
What are the different power steering fluid colors?
The natural color of the steering fluid is red. Normal color ranges from brighter red to red or red to a darker shade of red. It’s important to quickly identify the color of a leak from your vehicle because any steering fluid leak may lead to poor steering performance and affect your safety on the road.
The most common power steering fluid colors are described below:
- Shades of red
Red is the most common color of power steering fluid. The most popular and high-quality steering fluids are red or in varying shades of red. Dexron II fluid is red and also works as an auto transmission fluid. You can also find other types of Dexron fluids so check out the one that will match your vehicle.
- Brown to black
Brown to black steering fluid color means that contaminants and dirt are building-up on the steering fluid and thus, it needs to be drained and replaced.
When the power steering fluid is yellow, this means that the liquid may be been exposed to air. It is common for power steering fluid to turn yellow so don’t be alarmed.
- Milky color
If the fluid is milky or it has foamed up, air or water may have mixed with the fluid and thus, forms bubbles or foam.
- Gold or amber
Honda power steering fluid color is gold color. The manufacturer has dyed its fluid so it is different from other steering fluids. Another brand called Maxlife Valvoline is a power steering fluid that's an amber color. This high-quality, high-performance power steering fluid has an impressive stop-leak quality that will stop the power steering fluid from leaking. However, the Maxlife power steering fluid is not good for all vehicles and is not recommended for a Honda.
How to tell if your car is leaking power steering fluid? - By checking the color
Checking for power steering fluid leaks is done by checking the color as well as the consistency and smell of the leak. As you may have known by now, steering fluid comes in different colors depending on the grade and the manufacturer. Therefore, it’s a must to check the power steering fluid color, the consistency as well as all other properties of the fluid before you conclude.
- If the leak is light brown to black
If there is light brown or black fluid leaking from your vehicle, your power steering fluid may be leaking or it may be from other areas. Sometimes, engine oil may also be light brown or black which depends on how long this fluid is inside your engine. Also, motor oil leaks are found in the center portion of a vehicle.
If the leak is brown and smells like rotten eggs, then the liquid may be lubricating oil. Lube oil leaks are often located in the middle of the car or near the rear axle.
- If the leak is light yellow to brown
Brake fluids are yellow and thus, a yellow leak is from your braking system. If you notice yellow liquid leaking from your vehicle then check your brakes as it is dangerous to drive when your brakes are not functioning well.
Brake liquid and motor oil may look similar but have different consistencies. The oily or slippery liquid is brake fluid as motor oil is more viscous than brake liquid.
- If the leak is red or different shades of red
Red leaks are mostly due to a leak on your power steering system. But how to distinguish this kind of fluid from other liquids with the same color? Power steering liquid leaks drip along the front area of your vehicle while all other fluids are at the center or the back of the car. If the liquid is smeared on the steering pump or below the reservoir, then check the consistency of the fluid. If it is very thin and very slippery, then this is from your power steering.
- If the leak is orange
If the leak is orange, then this is transmission fluid. This kind of fluid is usually light to very dark orange or sometimes reddish-brown. Also, this kind of leak is usually found along the center part of your vehicle. Consider that leaking anti-freeze when combined with rust may also turn orange.
- If the leak is green, pink, or yellow
The pink liquid may also be power steering liquid as some manufacturers dye their products this color, however, some coolants are also pink. But you can tell that this is liquid coolant when the leaks are found along with the water pump system; from the bearings to the gasket. In some cases, power steering fluid color green and yellow leaks are also from the water-cooling system.
- If the leak is clear
When you see clear liquid or clear leaks, then this could be plain water or power steering liquid. Your car air conditioner may also drip water due to the condensation inside the unit. You can tell water and steering fluid apart by touching the liquid. Water is just, water while steering fluid is a sticker or oilier. Water does not smell while steering fluid has a motor oil smell.
How To Check Your Power Steering Fluid YouTube Video:
James is a certified auto technician specializing in commercial vehicles. With 30 years of experience under his belt, James has encountered almost every type of automotive issue there is! Besides his day job at the repair shop, he is also an amateur race car driver.