Home Transmission & Drivetrain Can You Use Transmission Fluid For Power Steering Fluid – Yes, Or No?

Can You Use Transmission Fluid For Power Steering Fluid – Yes, Or No?

by Kelvin Yates

Have you noticed that your power steering fluid is running low and you have a quart of transmission fluid laying around? And you are asking yourself can you use transmission fluid for power steering fluid? Are these fluids interchangeable? These are some big questions that need to be elaborated on in detail and you shouldn’t worry because we have you covered. We are going to explain everything.

The most important thing is that all of the fluids in your car need to be topped off and you should always track the level of fluid in your systems. It doesn’t mean that it’s the engine oil, the coolant in the cooling system, brake fluid, or power steering fluid.

All these fluids are important and they guarantee the proper work of your car. That’s why you shouldn’t avoid opening up your hood and checking these fluids out every once in a while. Doing this will guarantee that your vehicle is running properly and is not thirsty.

Running the car on low fluid will make the components prematurely fail or develop issues. Remember, fluids are there for a reason and this reason is to make sure that your engine or other systems are running properly. But you shouldn’t worry because we are going to explain everything.

In this article, we will learn what is a transmission and what is power steering. Then we will see what is the transmission fluid and also the power steering fluid. We will learn what are the differences among them and how should they be used. Then we will see can you use transmission fluid for power steering fluid.

What Is Transmission?

The transmission or also called gearbox is a key component in our vehicles that allows us to change gears and enjoy our cars.

Without a transmission, there would be no proper torque delivery and no cars basically. This is because the transmission plays a vital role in transferring the rotational energy of the crankshaft and converting it into torque.

Then the torque is transferred to the driveshaft and to the rear differential if you are running an RWD car or the transfer case if you are running an FWD car.

Can You Use Transmission Fluid For Power Steering Fluid

There are manual transmissions where the driver is going through the gears and there are automatic transmissions where all the shifts are done automatically. We are going to focus on the latter.

The important bit for this article when it comes to automatic transmissions is that they are using transmission fluid or ATF. This fluid is key in delivering proper performance based on the driver’s input. This fluid travels throughout the system and makes sure that gears are changed when there is enough input from the driver.

But enough on the transmission, since we only need the basics. The core point is the transmission fluid that we are going to cover in great detail.

What Is Transmission Fluid?

Transmission fluid is also known as ATF or hydraulic fluid. This fluid is specifically designed for automatic transmissions. This fluid is designed to carry a big load and to deliver perfectly smooth shifts every time.

The transmission fluid is red in color and this helps to differentiate the transmission fluid from other fluids that are used in cars.

The transmission fluid has a special formula that has implemented detergents and no friction modifiers that help in delivering proper performance every time. But what does no friction additives mean?

This means that the transmission fluid is quite a lot different compared to oil and other lubricants. If you put oil on the manual transmission clutch it will slip and will burn.

If you put a transmission fluid, the clutch will not slip. That’s why inside every automatic there are clutches that do not slip. Although the transmission is a lubricant. It doesn’t allow components to slip. That’s why transmission fluid should only be used for this specific purpose and nothing else.

Transmission fluid is designed to be long lasting but it has to be replaced at some point and this fluid if not replaced on time could damage your transmission. Making it slip gears and produce other noises that could be permanent if you do not address the issue on time and replace the fluid on your car.

The average lifetime for the transmission fluid is somewhere between 30,000 to 50,000 miles. Even though constantly checking the fluid condition is going to tell you a lot about your fluid and see if you need to replace it or not.

But can you use transmission fluid for power steering fluid? We are going to learn that in the next chapters. First, let’s see what is power steering and power steering fluid.

What Is Power Steering?

The power steering pump or power steering unit is a mechanical device that is installed on internal combustion and electric vehicles.

The power steering has a task to ease the operation of turning the steering wheel. Steering wheels without power steering are extremely difficult to maneuver and driving without a power steering system on your car can become tiring after a while.

Cars in the old days were not particularly easy to maneuver and control on the road. That’s why engineers saw this problem and focused to invent something that will aid the driver to steer the car. And this invention was power steering.

Power steering was invented in the ’50s but was a luxury item until recent years when it became the standard. And with a reason, because nobody wanted to drive cars without power steering.

How this system works is pretty simple. This system uses a hydraulic pump or electric in more modern cars. Then there is the fluid which is pushed by the steering pump and this fluid makes steering much easier than it actually is without using the power steering pump.

This is the power steering fluid is crucial. But can you use transmission fluid for power steering fluid? To answer this question, we need to learn what is the power steering fluid. Because if we don’t know what power steering fluid is and its characteristics we cannot know if these two fluids are interchangeable.

What Is Power Steering Fluid?

Power steering fluid is also a hydraulic fluid. But unlike transmission fluid or ATF, this fluid was designed for a specific purpose and that is to serve power steering systems. The core of the fluid is the same, but the purpose of the fluid is different which makes the formula that this fluid is based on quite different compared to regular ATF fluid.

The power steering fluid is also different in color and the power steering fluid is usually clear or pinkish or even amber in color. Unlike the transmission fluid which is red. That’s why you must not confuse these two fluids and use them interchangeably. This is bad practice and you could damage the components either in your power steering pump or in the transmission.

The power steering fluid also lacks the additives that are used in the transmission fluid. So, this means no friction modifiers and no detergents that are usually inside of the transmission fluid.

This is the case because, for the power steering task, you don’t need these types of modifiers to aid the work of the power steering pump. These modifiers in the ATF do harm when added to the power steering pump and will damage the pump permanently.

In the worst case, you will have to get a new power steering pump that could cost even thousands of dollars in some cases.

Are They Both The Same Fluid?

So, to sum this up really quick. Both of these fluids are based on the same principles and their goal is to function as hydraulic fluids and help components that need hydraulic fluid to work properly.

What is different is that they have different formulas. One of them which is the transmission fluid has some modifiers which are needed for that specific application. And when this fluid is used on power steering systems could only harm the power steering pump because of these modifiers.

That’s why when you are asking yourself can I use transmission fluid for power steering fluid? The way to go is to use the specific fluid for the specific application and not mix these fluids together.

Can You Use Transmission Fluid For Power Steering Fluid?

So, if you are asking yourself the question of can you use transmission fluid for power steering fluid? The answer is, yes. But this practice is not recommended and you need to make sure that in your owner’s manual this is approved. If not, you should never do it. Take note that using transmission fluid in the power steering pump could damage the pump internals and make a lot of problems in the long run.

You can replace the power steering fluid with ATF but you are not sure what could go wrong and your power steering pump may soon go off and start to malfunction. That’s why it is an excellent idea to check your owner’s manual and see if your steering pump tolerates power steering fluid.

When you change your power steering fluid. Make sure that you read the owner’s manual and see the exact specification of fluid that your car takes. Because there are a ton of power steering fluids designed for specific vehicles. You need to learn what is the right power steering fluid for your vehicle.

This way, you will be sure that you will avoid any possible damage that could be done to your power steering system. Cars should always use the fluids that they were intended to be used from the factory and this way, you will be sure that nothing bad goes down with your car.

We have answered the question of can you use transmission fluid for power steering fluid and the answer was yes, but only on some occasions. This is a poor practice. And you shouldn’t do it.

Can You Use Power Steering Fluid Instead Of Transmission Fluid?

No, because the clutches inside of the transmission will start to slip. This will be the case because there are no friction modifiers and other detergents in the power steering fluid which are essential for the work of the automatic transmission.

Adding power steering fluid instead of transmission fluid will also harm your transmission and cause it to overheat and make it slip gears. This will potentially damage the transmission in the long run and make it unusable. The only way around it would be to get a new transmission or do a rebuild which could cost thousands of dollars.

Can You Use Transmission Fluid For Power Steering Fluid

That’s why you should never add power steering fluid or any other fluid inside of your transmission if you don’t want to damage the transmission and possibly ruin it.

Going cheap sometimes isn’t worth it and small mistakes like this could cost you a lot of money to fix. Every car has recommended spec of fluids that need to be used.

Even if you use thicker instead of thinner engine oil could affect your engine life. So will the power steering fluid if you pour some of it into the transmission. That’s why you should never do it if you don’t want to spend a lot of money on new transmission in the near future.

We have covered the issue if you can use transmission fluid for power steering fluid and now let’s discuss some other topics. More precisely how to change the power steering fluid and also the cost to replace the power steering fluid on your car.

How To Change Power Steering Fluid DIY?

We have covered the question of can you use transmission fluid for power steering fluid and now let’s see how you can replace your power steering fluid on your car.

Changing your power steering fluid is one of the perfect small DIY jobs that you could perform as a novice mechanic. This job is fairly simple and will not take you more than 2 hours to perform on your car. And all this work with common tools and a turkey baster. But how this work is done? Let’s find out.

We are going to cover all of the steps that are involved in performing this work in great detail. Along with a video at the end of the tutorial for you to have a better idea of how this work is done quickly and effectively.

Step 1

The first thing you need to do when it comes to changing the power steering fluid on your car is to jack the car in the air. Get jack stands on which you can secure the car and make sure that it doesn’t move at all. The important bit is that the wheels are free in the air. After doing this step, you can now move on to the next step and learn more about flushing the fluid.

Step 2

Open your power steering fluid reservoir and get a turkey baster, big syringe, or a vacuum hose. Either of these tools will work. The important bit is that you suck all of the fluid out of the reservoir.

Step 3

The next thing you want to do is to remove as much fluid from the reservoir as you can. Once you removed all of the fluid. The next thing you need to do is to rotate the wheel all the way and the power steering reservoir should again suck new fluid that is inside of the system. Suck this fluid with the syringe as well. Make sure that there is nothing left in the reservoir no matter which way you turn the steering wheel.

Step 4

Now it’s time to locate the return line of the power steering. This line is located somewhere between the engine and the radiator on the bottom end of the car. This line is low pressure. Which means that is secured by clamps. You need to find these clamps and make sure that they are the ones that you are looking after.

Step 5

Once you found the clamps that are holding the return line. Now it’s time to remove the line from its position. And you can do this by loosening up the clamp. Before doing this, place a bucket at the bottom of the car. This bucket will collect all of the fluid that will leak. You don’t want a puddle of fluid in your garage. Once you secured this, remove the clamp and let the fluid leak completely.

Step 6

This step is crucial when making this process perfect and all of the fluid in your system is new. Once the line is open, pour some new fluid inside of the power steering fluid reservoir. This fluid will make the old fluid leak out. And as soon you start seeing new fluid coming from the line means that you are done with flushing.

Step 7

The last step involves connecting everything back together and making sure that there are no leaks around on the line. Make sure that you secure the line with the clamp and no fluid leaks out from the line.

Step 8

Once you secured the line. Now it’s time to fill up the power steering reservoir and start the car. Rotate the steering wheel left and right. Make sure that all of the air in the lines is released.

The final thing you need to do is to fill up the reservoir and make sure that is at the recommended level. Doing this will guarantee that you are not running low on fluid and everything you did well and the car is running perfectly smooth.

Cost To Replace Power Steering Fluid

But what about the cost to replace the power steering fluid with new fluid? Power steering fluid is fairly inexpensive and will cost you somewhere between $15 to $30. Also, the system does not require a lot of fluid to be used. A quart will be enough for most power steering systems installed on regular cars. For the right amount, you need to open your service manual and make sure which is the right amount of fluid that your system needs.

Also, some cars can use ATF or transmission fluid instead of proper power steering fluid. These are usually old cars that are running on a hydraulic pump that are not that sensitive when it comes to the fluid that is used to run these pumps.

If you are running a modern vehicle with an electric pump. Using ATF fluid will probably mess up your pump and possibly damage it. That’s why you should avoid this practice and use the proper power steering solution that was intended for your vehicle. Power steering pumps are quite expensive and if you possibly damage the pump. It’s going to cost you quite a lot of money to fix it up and replace it with a new one.

Also, if you are not into mechanics. The best thing will be to take your car to a shop where technicians will replace this fluid for you. You will not need to make your hands dirty. And the work would be done professionally. The costs for this are somewhere between $200 to $400. Depending on the shop and the labor cost they require.

When Should Power Steering Fluid Be Replaced?

Also, this work should be done roughly every 60,000 miles. To be sure that your steering system is always in perfect working order.

Delaying this service and running your car with dirty fluid. Will possibly damage your power steering pump. And you will end up paying thousands on repairs if you do not maintain it properly.

Can You Use Transmission Fluid for Power Steering Pump?

  1. Regular maintenance of a car includes flushing the fluid of transmission, radiator, brake, and engine.
  2. Power steering fluid is necessary for any automobile with a hydraulic power-steering system as it makes turning the steering wheel smoother.
  3. Over time, the fluid in the power steering system collects metal particles and sludge that can damage the pump and steering rack’s hydraulic valves.
  4. The owner’s manual does not list flushing the power steering fluid as routine maintenance, but it is necessary to keep the car in good condition.
  5. Power steering fluid and Automatic Transmission Fluid (ATF) are both hydraulic fluids, but ATF contains detergents and friction modifiers that PS fluid does not have.
  6. ATF is a red color liquid that smells sweet, while PS fluid is clear, amber, or pinkish and smells like burnt marshmallow.
  7. The PS fluid reduces friction between various components in the system and provides hydraulic pressure to the system’s components.
  8. Using transmission fluid for power steering pump can deteriorate and destroy the parts of a system.
  9. The use of ATF for power steering pump is only safe for vehicles manufactured in the late ‘70s or earlier that don’t have sophisticated and lightweight materials used in modern cars.
  10. The best way to determine whether a car needs standard power steering fluid or can run with ATF is to check the owner’s manual, as some models may require specific types of hydraulic fluid.

Conclusion – Can You Use Transmission Fluid For Power Steering Fluid

In this article, we have covered a lot when it comes to power steering fluid vs transmission fluid. We learned what are the applications of these fluids and also their differences.

Then we have answered the question of if you can use transmission fluid for power steering fluid. We learned that in some situations this is possible. That’s why you need to consult with your owner’s manual and see what is the recommended fluid to use in your vehicle.

Lastly, we have covered the process of replacing the power steering fluid. Also, the costs that are involved in this work. Also, the frequency of these power steering flushes. Because this is key in the longevity of your power steering system.

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