It’s important to perform a monthly check of your power steering fluid to ensure it’s at the correct level and the power steering system is functioning properly without any leaks. Leaks can potentially cause significant damage to the entire system. Fortunately, many vehicles have transparent reservoirs, making it easy to inspect.
When considering a substitute for power steering fluid, exercise caution, as using an incompatible fluid can result in damage. Incompatible fluids may harm seals, plastic components, and rubber parts, and they could also react unfavorably with any residual original fluid, potentially generating acidic substances.
Power steering fluid typically appears as a thick, reddish or brownish liquid. The majority of power steering fluids are either silicone-based or mineral oil-based, although some vehicles use automatic transmission fluid (ATF), which is derived from synthetic base oil. In case of an emergency, there are alternative power steering fluid options available for temporary use until you can obtain the appropriate fluid for your specific vehicle.
Safe Power Steering Fluid Options
It’s important to note that just because you have the option to use a certain fluid, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best choice for your vehicle. For instance, utilizing brake fluid for your power steering system would likely result in more harm than good due to its distinct chemical composition. Brake fluid typically consists of:
- 60-90% solvent
- 5-30% lubricant
- 2-5% additives
Modern brake fluids are primarily glycol-ether based, although mineral oil and silicone-based alternatives are also available.
The most commonly employed substitute for power steering fluid is automatic transmission fluid (ATF). In fact, many manufacturers use ATF in lieu of traditional power steering fluid. ATF typically comprises:
- 85-90% base oil
- 10-15% additives
However, the process of selecting the appropriate automatic transmission fluid can be intricate. Using an incompatible type can lead to transmission damage since each ATF variant possesses specific viscosity, friction coefficients, and additives that can vary. These fluids are produced by petroleum companies following precise recipes that determine the composition of base oils and additives.
Automatic Transmission Fluids
This transmission fluid exhibits hues ranging from greenish to greyish or brownish. Originally, Dexron fluid incorporated sperm whale oil as a friction modifier. However, due to the subsequent ban on importing sperm whale oil, it necessitated a reformulation. As a result, it now carries a color spectrum of green, grey, or brown, distinguishing it from the red and purple hues of typical automatic transmission fluids (ATF). There have been subsequent iterations and variations of Dexron transmission fluid, including Dexron II, Dexron IID, Dexron IIE, Dexron G, Dexron III G, Dexron III H, Dexron IV, and Dexron VI.
Additionally, there exist variations of this type of fluid, such as Mercon CJ, Mercon H, Mercon Ford, Mercon V, and Mercon SP.
Several automobile manufacturers have adopted Mercon and Dexron specifications for their automatic transmissions, and their similarities make them interchangeable. Over time, various versions of these two fluids have been introduced.
However, a common issue has emerged, as some oil companies began to assert that these fluids could be applied to a wide range of vehicles produced by manufacturers other than Ford and General Motors. It’s important to exercise caution when considering multi-vehicle automatic transmission fluids, as their compatibility may not be as universal as claimed.
Various other automatic transmission fluids were in use prior to Dexron and Mercon:
➡️ Introduced in the 1950s, Type A was the standard for all GM vehicle automatic transmissions. It remained in use through the mid-1960s.
➡️ This older fluid was specifically designed for Fords with bronze clutches. It is primarily suitable for classic or antique cars.
HFM Fluids (Highly Friction Modified):
These fluids, unlike Dexron and Mercon, exhibit distinct characteristics related to friction.
In conclusion, the most recommended and safest substitute for power steering fluid is automatic transmission fluid (ATF). When in need of power steering fluid, ATF is the most reliable option. However, it’s important to keep in mind that nothing surpasses the performance of the fluid explicitly designed for power steering systems. Fortunately, most, if not all, power steering fluids are generally affordable.