Car Experts - Power Steering Fluid

How can you tell that PSF needs to be changed?

My dealer is claiming that my PSF is “dirty” and needs to be changed. The car has about 23K miles on it (2008 Honda Civic).

The owner’s manual doesn’t give any requirements, other than to check the level periodically. I think the Honda website somewhere says to go by the dealer recommendation.

Until this car, I’ve avoided power steering, so I’m not very familiar with it. The online research I’ve done certainly sounds like it shouldn’t need to be changed for a long time yet.

What do I need to know to talk to the service department?

Thanks much!

If your power steering fluid is “dirty” you have bigger problems than just having to change the fluid.

If you have to change the P.A.S fluid at 23000 then I would suggest that it is contaminated, rather than “dirty”, and as such a good mechanic should be advising you that you have a fault somewhere and he will be searching for it right now as per warranty agreement thank you very much.

What is the dealer actually saying? Is he saying that somebody has contaminated the reservoir by putting brake fluid/oil/coolant in the wrong spot? Has he just come out after a service and said “its dirty, you need to change it”?

If one of my fitters came to me saying the car they were working at had dirty PAS fluid, my first question would be why? I advise you do the same.

OK, that’s one of the things I was wondering about.

Yes, after a routine oil change, they came out and said that the PSF was dirty and should be changed. No mention of any problems or any further checking needed.

It seemed to me that either they were just trying to sell me something I didn’t need cuz they thought they could, or they should have been talking about checking into what problem would have caused this.

So what should PSF look like at this point? I guess that might help me tell which of the above is more likely.

Thanks all!

Your dealer has invented a new way to get another $100 out of you. I have never changed power steering fluid on any car I’ve owned (although one had enough of a leak that the fluid in it was never more than about three months old :wink: )

Ask to speak to their boss and tell them you feel this is nothing more than a scam.

Why pull punches?

So far, in 35 years of working on cars professionally and looking at God-knows-how-many factory maintenance schedules, I’ve seen power steering fluid replacement listed for exactly one vehicle (it was an Isuzu). For decades, power steering fluid was rarely replaced other than as an adjunct to a related repair (e.g., replace steering rack). Over the last several years, however, several equipment companies have offered machines to do a power steering fluid flush, and many shops have bought these in hopes of selling the flushes as maintenance. The majority of higher-quality shops view them as wallet flushes.

On a tangential note, be aware that Honda products use a different type of PS fluid than most cars, and putting the wrong fluid in will deteriorate the seals. Be sure to use Honda-type fluid in your car.

ETA: Note that unlike with engine oil, automatic transmission fluid, and engine coolant, there is little to no evidence that deteriorated PS fluid causes failure of other PS system parts.

I am not a technician, so I won’t comment on what the fluid should look like, but I have worked as either service advisor, or warranty administrator for multiple dealers/brands, and I have NEVER seen PAS fluid changed at what I guess is your second service.

I have heard of power steering pumps giving bother, which could put debris into the fluid requiring a system flush, but you would surely have been told if this was the case.

To be honest, as a service advisor, this rings alarm bells. As I said, it is possible (though stupid) for owners/drivers to top up fluids into the wrong reservoir which could cause these types of problems, but assuming that you know your owners manual (which you imply), then my initial reaction is scam, followed by scram!

Oh, I’m planning to ask to speak to the manager about this. I’m just trying to figure out exactly what I want to say.

My first thought was that they were just scamming me. Unless there’s actually something wrong - hence this thread.

Yep, that’s one of the few major annoyances I’ve had with Honda. Everything on the frigging maintenance list requires Honda-specific stuff.

I would just go somewhere else, but this is the only Honda dealer in town. I can go to another one if I have to, but it’s much further and a real PITA.

I haven’t put any fluids in. That’s what I pay them to do.

I’ve seen power steering fluid turn black and smell vaguely burnt after about 100,000 miles before. This was on a Ford Ranger pickup that specified MERCON ATF in the power steering system. I decided to replace it just because I had too much time on my hands, apparently - I’ve no real evidence to suggest that it was actually doing harm.

Anyway, used the turkey-baster method of sucking fluid out of the reservoir and refilling with fresh. Do this, drive around for a week, and repeat until the fluid looks new (a nice red in this case, since the fluid was ATF). Easy and cheap, but possibly pointless, too.

The pump and entire PS system were still working fine when I got rid of the truck at 250,000 miles…

Power steering fluid does deteriorate, typically acquiring a burnt smell. You could compare the odor of your fluid with fresh fluid to see if there’s a significant difference.

On an older car, I could see the fluid condition being such that one could make a case that it is deteriorating (though that doesn’t necessarily mean the fluid requires service). But a two-year old car with less than 30K on the clock? Ridiculous.

ETA: If you want to pursue it, you could challenge them to show you any evidence from knowledgeable, reliable sources – including Honda – that there’s a real benefit to the service they’re recommending. I’ll be very surprised if they have any such evidence. My bet is that someone was sold on the idea by an equipment salesman.

Hmmm, I like that idea. Ask them to show me the fluid and explain why they want to change it. Then talk to the manager and ask why they’re not following up if there’s a problem with the PS.

So the fluid should just be clear amber, right? And if it actually looks dirty or smells funny, then there’s something probably wrong?

Most likely they’ll show you that it has a bit of a burnt smell and/or looks dirty. (If it has neither of those conditions, they’ll have to claim “preventive maintenance.”) The real question, though, is how does that justify replacing the fluid? Jillions of cars have gone the last 50+ years without having the fluid changed and have not demonstrably suffered from “bad” fluid.

The color can vary by the fluid manufacturer. It might be clearish when new, but it’s not at all unusual for it to become somewhat murky in normal use.

No. It will become “dirty” and acquire odor in normal use, with nothing wrong. I maintain that (to a point – a point that’s virtually impossible to reach at your car’s age and mileage --) such minor deterioration of the fluid does warrant its replacement. I challenge them to show authoritative information to the contrary. Their opinion and sales brochures from the flushing machine manufacturer don’t count.

Terrific, that’s what I was trying to understand. So if they show me some cloudy fluid, unless they tell me it’s been contaminated with something (in which case they should be working to figure out what and how), then they need to explain their rationale for it needing to be changed at something like 1/5 (or less) the normal time frame.

By Jove, I think I’ve got it!

Thanks ever so much, y’all!

If you decide to use the turkey baster method, before you replace it, put a drop of the fluid on an index card or business card, wait 36 hours and then scan the business card.

If the scan looks like this:

then maybe they had a case.
But it won’t.

On edit:
Oh yeah, PS fluid is generally pretty close to ATF fluid chemically. Both of them generally smell kinda’ burnt to begin with (even a supposedly synthetic kind like Mercon V), so you gotta’ get a baseline before you take the results of a sniff test.

Excellent anser by GaryT, as always, including detailed explanations.

I have seven years’ experience in installing car alarms, remote starters, and other electronics at various car dealerships. I’ve come to know many service writers, managers, and mechanics.

Once I was at the local Infiniti dealership just after closing time, and the rep from BG Products was there showing the technicians how to use their newly-acquired power steering fluid flush machine. I walked over and took a look at what was going on.

The rep actually did quite a good and detailed job of showing how to use the machine and how to perform the service.

The next day, the service writers all had sales literature on their desks, including vials of clean and “dirty” fluid, and a place mat showing someone having difficulty steering their car.

Interestingly, the generic car dashboard pictured in the place mat was that of a 2004-2006 Chevrolet Malibu, one of the few cars equipped with electric power steering, and therefore no hydraulic fluid to replace!

It’s clear that the companies who sell and set up these machines are well-run, what with the literature, the trainings, the fancy machine and whatnot.

Here’s what I think you’ll encounter if you complain about this sales pitch at the dealership:

–The service writers might know more about cars than the average person, but they’re salespeople, not mechanics. They’ve seen the slick presentations from the company that makes the machine, and probably believe them. They’re also happy to make a good commission selling the service.

–Some of the mechanics might believe the service is worthwhile, while the sharper ones won’t fall for it. Regardless, they’re not going to admit that to the customers and get in trouble with the boss.

–The service manager will certainly know that the whole thing has been brought on board as something to make extra money, but he also might not see it as an unneccessary repair.

–Surely everyone at the dealership will stick to the story that their customers drive under more severe conditions than other Honda owners, or live in a harsher climate, or something like that. They’ll tell you that they’ve come up with their own service and maintence schedule that’s somehow “better” than what the factory specifies. They’ll point out that many of their customers opt for this service and rarely have power steering problems. (That last phrase would be true, except they wouldn’t have had problems even without the treatment.)

–They’re far too clever to do anything so foolish that you could outright call it a “scam” and get them in some kind of trouble. Like Gary said, it’s unneccessary, costly, sold with scare tactics…it may be hard for an honest person to say it with a straight face, but it is technically still “preventive maintenance.”

You might choose to speak with, or write to, either the general manager or the owner of the dealership. You could remind them that you bought your Honda in part because it was supposed to both reliable and inexpensive to maintain, and that you don’t appreciate being pressured to purchase unnecessary services. Remind them that if this “service” were so important, Honda would have included it in the maintenance schedule in your owner’s manual.

Link to the BG Products site: Link:

Was it a mechanic that suggested this service, or a technician in the quick-lube department? I’m not sure of how a Honda dealership is setup, but I worked for for a fairly large dealer that sold GM products. It had a separate department for oil changes. The technicians who work in this area didn’t make much unless they sold additional services, such as system flushes, fuel filter replacement, etc. Some of these services were not recommended by GM as part of the regular maintenance schedule. Some of the technicians I worked with had no problem with selling extra services that weren’t needed if they thought they had a “live one” on the hook. Just something to keep in mind.

Even BMW dealers pressure their reps/techs to sell sell sell. They love the over-the-phone sale to the guy who has like 90 seconds at work to make a decision to spend another 29.95 on his precious 335i. Of course he is going to say “yes” often enough to make the 90 second investment in the call worth it. They know the math: If 8% say ‘yes’, then it’s worth investing a little time to make the sale.

The big move now is to just offer a bunch of consumers a bunch of stuff… and if a small percentage of them buy it, even though it has no actual value, it looks better on paper to the dealers’ bottom lines. They really do add the fluid, or flush this, or do that, so you get what you paid for, but whether it was needed is another story.

*Sir, your Jonson rod is dry. We can lube it for 34.95. Would you like us to take care of that so you don’t have to?

Well… I guess… ok.*

End of the week: Hey, Frank, that was nice. You sold 11 Johnson rod lubes, and another dozen oil flushes. You are on pace for the month, but they want us to push flux capacitor resets. Call all your pendings and offer them a flux capacitor flush for 40 bucks and tell them that if they wait until spring for it the price will be 99.95.