For years, power steering was a luxury option usually found only in high-end cars like Lincolns and Cadillacs, and little maintenance was required. Even as power steering became a more commonly equipped option, auto manufacturers didn't include any power steering services as recommended scheduled maintenance, as it was often an unnecessary procedure. It's only been relatively recently that servicing the power steering system has become an important procedure in preventing costly repairs in the future.

The reason for this is the fact that power steering systems operate under considerably more pressure than they did a generation ago. This is due to the much smaller rack & pinion units that are found in cars and trucks today. The smaller racks are great for manufacturers because of the reduced curb weight and lower production cost benefits, but these smaller units require up to 2500 psi of pressure to operate properly, as opposed to only 500 psi that was required by older systems.

While the new, smaller racks are great for efficiency and are essential due to space limitations of smaller, front-wheel-drive cars, the additional pressure on the system has some negative side effects. The additional pressure raises the operating temperature of the fluid to about 178 degrees Fahrenheit, which over time causes the fluid to become burnt, discolored & oxidized. Add to that the contaminants that naturally accrue over time in the system and the result is fluid that simply does not last forever.

Contaminated fluid is harmful to the power steering system in several ways. Dirty fluid is thicker than clean, fresh fluid, causing the components such as the pump and rack and pinion to have to work harder, which can lead to premature failure of those parts. Burnt, oxidized power steering fluid is also very stressful to seals, and is the leading cause of seal failure in pumps and steering racks today. Furthermore, burnt fluid also contributes to the failure of the high pressure lines, as it causes the rubber to deteriorate from the inside out.

Although power steering maintenance doesn't appear on a lot of manufacturers' recommendation lists, we strongly encourage this service after the vehicle odometer has reached 60,000 miles and every 30,000 miles thereafter.


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