Signs You May be Low on Power Steering Fluid

steering wheel
Is your steering feeling a little wrong?. Getty

There are a number of symptoms that can be caused by lower power steering fluid. If you are experiencing any of the following problems with your car's power steering, you should check your power steering fluid, it may simply be low! It's easy to add power steering fluid, too.

Your power steering system relies on principles of hydraulics to work. Without getting too technical, I'll try to give a short explanation.

Similar to the way your brake system works, you have a pusher on one end of a hose and something you want to happen on the other end. The hose is filled with fluid, in this case it's power steering fluid, for your brakes it would be (hopefully) brake fluid. When you push on the control end (that's where you sit), the fluid is pushed all the way through the system, until the action on the other end of the hose is pushed, too. Ok, that's super basic, and maybe even confusing, but it's the gist of it, anyway. Maybe check out this better explanation of hydraulics if you're still curious.

If you check your fluid, and it is low, keep in mind that your power steering fluid level needs to be monitored, because if it continues to lose power steering fluid, you may have a serious leak, and these should be fixed as soon as possible. In the case of most vehicles, you won't actually lose ALL steering control if your power steering goes down, but it can be so hard to turn the steering wheel that safe driving becomes an emergency procedure.

 

Symptoms of Low Power Steering Fluid:

  • Noisy steering. If your power steering is making all kinds of noise, especially when you are moving slowly, like in a parking lot, check the fluid. 
  • Jerky or jumpy power steering. Sometimes your steering wheel will feel jerky as you try to turn it smoothly from one direction to the other. This will be most noticeable in a parking lot moving slowly or not at all. 
  • Hard to turn power steering. As power steering systems lose fluid, they work less efficiently. Eventually, you'll start to feel the difference on the steering wheel end, making it much harder than you remember to turn the wheel. 
  • Screeching steering. If it sounds like cat fighting (or cat mating) under your hood when you turn the steering wheel, you may need to check your power steering fluid. 
  • Puddle or stains under vehicle. If you notice a puddle under the vehicle in your usual parking spot, it could be power steering fluid. Check out this Guide to Leaky Fluids for help determining what type of fluid is leaking under your car. 

One more tip. Sometimes your steering can become more difficult or just weird when you have one or more tires that are really low on air. Check your tire pressure to see if that's your cause!