My steering fluid is leaking. What now?
February 2, 2008 7:18 AM   Subscribe

I think my power steering fluid is leaking. What's this going to cost me? I've got a 2K Nissan Xterra. I think I overfilled it a few weeks ago and notice oil dripping a few days ago.
posted by atchafalaya to Travel & Transportation (8 answers total)
If you overfilled it, it is just overflowing. There is no problem at all.

Get the manual, and check the level according to the procedure. If it is low, it may be leaking, but there is every chance (if it is a small leak) that you can keep topping it up regularly and otherwise ignore it. If it is high, you overfilled it and it isn't 'leaking' rather than overflowing.

If it is leaking, where is it leaking from? That is fundamental to any cost of repair. Are you even sure it is power steering fluid leaking?

What made you decide to top it up? Did you check the procedure before you topped it up (Power assist reservoirs can look low when they are cold - the level rises when hot)? It is possible you topped it up unnecessarily and it is now pushing out the excess.

You have given nowhere near enough information for us to help you. No guess as to cause or cost is worth a damn thing without checking the above.
posted by Brockles at 7:24 AM on February 2, 2008

To add a little more ballpark information, I drive a totally different car from you, a Honda Accord. I had a bad power steering leak -- as in, I parked the car and the power steering fluid just all drained out the bottom, leaving me with none -- and took it to my mechanic. My mechanic said I'd need a whole new steering rack assembly and that the part combined with the time it took for him to install it would run me upwards of $700. The car was already old and poozly and needed all new tires so I decided to just donate it to the local tech school because I had a back-up car with AWD and it is winter here. Fast forward a month, I've gotten a nice tax credit for the donation (though have not done my taxes) and the auto shop teacher takes me aside and says that actually I do NOT need a new steering rack, that what I really need is a new pipe/tube in the steering rack and he can replace it for $100 or less. He wants to know, do I want my car back from the school?

So, I'm just seconding what Brockles says. It's possible you're just dripping fluid from overfilling and expansion of the fluid when you drive, or something has fallen apart. Checking the manual and peering around under the hood will help you figure out which. In the meantime put some fluid in your car and keep a close eye on it.
posted by jessamyn at 7:52 AM on February 2, 2008

Be careful, if power steering fluid gets on your hot exhaust manifold, it could catch fire.
posted by machaus at 8:15 AM on February 2, 2008

Man, that is enormously hysterical advice. Your exhaust manifold will not get hot enough to set fire to PAS fluid in normal running.

If a LOT of power steering fluid gets on your exhaust and your exhaust is REALLY hot (like at the catalytic converter hot) or you have a turbo, there is an (outside) chance that fire may be an outcome. It is, however, extremely unlikely.

PAS fluid really isn't all that flammable. Its flash point is 350F/180C, which is a fair bit hotter than the outside of your engine/exhaust will get in normal running (other than the Cat). As PAS systems are very rarely located over exhausts anyway, it is unlikely that any will get anywhere near any hot part of your engine that matters. It would need a lot of fluid to leak,and in the pressure side line so that it sprays, before a chance of a fire was even a possibility.

Please don't try and panic people with misguided advice.
posted by Brockles at 8:36 AM on February 2, 2008

I can confirm that hot power steering fluid on exhaust can indeed cause fire. I've worked several cases involving just such a thing. Also I was just doing muffler testing last week and our exhaust temperatures at the muffler inlet were well over 600 degrees, running at 2500 RPM.
posted by sanka at 8:51 AM on February 2, 2008

our exhaust temperatures at the muffler inlet were well over 600 degrees, running at 2500 RPM.

I'm assuming that either the engine was running incredibly lean, or those were gas temperatures, rather than exhaust itself? Even so, I'd expect that to have been an engine running at full load on a dyno with no airflow.

The air through the engine bay on a car being driven will keep the outside temperatures of the exhaust well below that. I imagine, if the exhaust temp was that high, that it was glowing red, and doing so that far from the engine is highly unusual. Getting something to happen, also, doesn't make it 'usual' or 'normal'.

I've worked several cases involving just such a thing

That's pretty interesting (although clearly a derail on my part to go after it), but were there no other factors? Like an accident? But you're implying that a car was just driving along with a PAS leak and burst into flames? I've never heard of anything of the sort, I have to say. I'd certainly have said it is no more dangerous a substance than engine oil or brake fluid.
posted by Brockles at 9:09 AM on February 2, 2008

Yeah, you probably just overfilled it. Check the level in a few days.

Anecdotal: I drive a 2002 Dodge Neon RT and had a bad power steering leak a few months ago. I was getting a high-pitch whining every time I started it and turned the steering wheel. It was spraying all over everything under the hood, and I was refilling the fluid every three days or so. Horrible leak. After a few months of this (yes, months, and I had no problem with fire) I finally got it to a mechanic expecting to have to replace the whole power steering assembly for $500 or so, but it ended up just being a leak in the hose. $100 and one day later everything was fine.
posted by rhapsodie at 3:11 PM on February 2, 2008

Please don't try and panic people with misguided advice.

Brockles, I've seen it happen in person. I wouldn't have mentioned it otherwise.
posted by machaus at 12:19 PM on February 6, 2008

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