Checking Your Power Steering Fluid Level

power steering fluid reservoir
The power steering fluid reservoir should be clearly labeled to check the level. Serge Phatanapherom/Flickr

Power steering may seem like a luxury you could live without, but if you have it and it fails you could be putting yourself in danger. Usually, a power steering fluid leak can be the cause of the failure. Luckily, it's easy to check the fluid, whether the car is hot or cold.

Advantages of Power Steering

Traditional power steering works by a series of hydraulic mechanisms, and it's designed to make steering and parking much easier.

In fact, a car designed to have power steering can be very hard to steer without it. If it goes suddenly, you could lose control of the vehicle and end up in a very bad place. Pay attention to symptoms of power steering problems to avoid serious problems.

When to Check Your Levels

Usually, your mechanic will check your power steering fluid at tune-up time or when you change your oil, but you can also do it yourself, especially if you experience any symptoms of impending failure. It only takes about five minutes, and while it's best to check power steering fluid when the engine is cold, some cars do have markings for checking it hot or cold. Consult your manual to figure out what's best for your vehicle.

Locating Your Reservoir

The reservoir that holds your power steering fluid can be found under the hood. It is usually located at the passenger's side of the vehicle, where the belts in a smaller or transverse-mount engine are located, but you will also sometimes find the reservoir on the driver's side.

In either case, the word "Steering" will likely be embossed on the top. Most cars these days have a heavy-duty plastic reservoir, which easily allows you to check the fluid level without opening the container. Wipe it off for a clear view of the markings, then check the level.

If your vehicle's reservoir is too opaque to see through, you'll need to remove the cap to check the level.

Before you open it—and this goes for transparent reservoirs as well—take a rag and clean the cap and the area around it. Dirt can really irritate the system. The cap will have a dipstick built into it. Wipe the stick off, screw the cap on, then remove it again and check the level.

Adding Power Steering Liquid

If you've checked the level of your power steering fluid and found it to be low, it's time to add a little. You should also take a look around the reservoir and pump to be sure you don't have a power steering fluid leak. If there are no signs of a leak, remove the cap and use a clean rag to wipe the inside and outside of the cap and the opening. Again, you don't want to get any dirt or other types of grime in the reservoir.

Once you are sure that the opening is free of dirt, slowly begin to fill the reservoir. It will rise quickly since the system holds very little fluid. Fill it to the MAX or FULL mark that corresponds to the engine temp (hot or cold).

Be sure to replace the cap and tighten it up before you hit the road.