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Power Steering Problems; How To Eliminate Them

Everything we do centers around maintenance of some kind. When we discuss health the discussion usually centers on eating right, exercising, and controlling our intake of alcohol, etc. When we discuss home maintenance we think cut the grass, rake the leaves, painting or that ever annoying “honey do list”. Your automobile is no different, it needs maintenance too.

When it comes to the power steering you can choose whether to believe those that advocate zero maintenance because their 1978 Olds Cutlass did not require it or some other reason. Or you can choose to think about facts like automobiles have changed and how to eliminate or at the very least mitigate the costs of repair.

In the automotive industry we have always had one enemy that is constant. That enemy is heat. Let’s compare that 1978 Olds Cutlass to today’s automobiles in the terms of heat and its effects on power steering.

The 1978 Olds Cutlass  has a worm gear design steering gearbox made of cast iron and mounted out front on the chassis (frame) away from the engine in the cool airflow for maximum cooling of the fluid and the box.

Today’s automobiles are smaller and have less air flow thus more heat in a smaller space. The steering is a rack and pinion design made of aluminum or sheet steel is usually mounted near the firewall, just above the exhaust where the heat from the engine and the exhaust both thermally conduct into the rack and pinion and the fluid.

The fluid rarely gets enough cooling because of this and tends to break down. Yes it still performs the service of a hydraulic fluid, but it does not retain its protective, cleaning and lubricating qualities. This break down of the fluid starts damaging components like the seals and the aluminum of the rack and pinion.

When the breakdown becomes severe enough the aluminum particles start flaking away from the rack and pinion and turn the fluid almost black. The fluid becomes abrasive enough to physically destroy the components, and retain heat which makes the nylon seals in the rack so hard that they start cutting grooves into the aluminum components. 

If you choose to believe the zero maintenance philosophy and are lucky enough what happens is a pressure line fails and leaks slowly, you loose power assist. Then you have the automobile repaired. The fluid gets replaced with the new hose. If you are unlucky, you also loose the power steering pump, the accessory belt, and maybe damage the rack and pinion. This is quite costly and time consuming to repair.

If you choose the philosophy of maintenance you can lessen the possibilities of this happening by inspecting the accessory belt and tensioner, replace as necessary and change or flush the power steering fluid. If you are uncomfortable with performing the maintenance then take the automobile to your professional for service. There is a machine that was built to flush the fluid, but you really do not have to have one.

For the professional

Remember to check that accessory belt and tensioner closely as the heat from a slipping belt can undo all the good of a flush.

If you have the PS flush machine, remember to add the proper safe cleaner and allow sufficient time for it to work. If you do not own that expensive piece of equipment here is how to do it. Do not use the cleaner with this method for your own safety.

Obtain a 3 foot (1 meter) length of 3/8 inch EEC (fuel) hose, a 4 inch long 3/8 inch diameter piece of steel tubing, a 3/8 diameter bolt, 1 qt of PS fluid, 2 quarts ATF, a 4 or 5 quart empty oil bottle, a bungee cord, plus a couple small clamps.

Cut about 5 inches off the hose, insert the bolt to use as a stopper. Remove the return line from the pump, install the stopper onto the pump return port, friction fit is fine. Connect the return line to the remaining hose with the steel tubing and clamps. Insert the hose into the empty oil bottle and clamp it so not to make a mess.

Momentarily start the vehicle to empty the reservoir of fluid. Tie the steering wheel in a slightly turned position, refill the power steering with fresh fluid, start the automobile and keep adding fluid as it flushes out. As the fluid starts to flow clear, start adding the PS fluid into the system.  When most or all the ATF has been removed, shut the automobile off, and reattach everything as it was originally. Start the automobile and top off the PS fluid. Check for leaks. Test drive the automobile to eliminate the air bubbles. Do not add and conditioners or treatments as most only soften rubber and can cause more harm than good.

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All above information is based on published information as of 01/2015 or products purchsed to confirm
 

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