I understand there are times when you can get tempted to put the brake fluid in the power steering pump thinking that they are all similar.
The fact is these two fluids (brake fluid and power steering fluid) are very different from each other due to their different compositions. This means you should never use one in place of the other.
If you use one for another by accident, it won’t perform well. So make sure you flush it immediately before the fluid makes the damages.
To get the best performance out of your car, you should always use the right fluids that are specifically designed for the different components.
In simple terms, brake fluid should only be used on the brakes, and if it’s power steering fluid always use it on the power steering and nothing else.
What is Brake Fluid?
Brake fluid is a glycol-based fluid that is designed to perform one ore task i.e., to absorb the excess moisture from your vehicle’s braking system.
The brake fluid also dispels heat from the system as the pressure is applied to the brake rotors for stopping your car.
Since brake fluids are not compressible, they help in maintaining brake pressure, specifically for static brakes with cylinders both on the primary and secondary sides
Unlike many other car fluids, brake fluid is not a good lubricant.
Plus, it comes with a high boiling point which ensures that the brakes won’t fail or get spongy.
What is Power Steering Fluid?
As in the name, a power steering fluid is a lubricant that is meant to provide lubrication between two metal surfaces of the power steering system.
Usually, it’s a thick brownish (or reddish liquid) that is used in the hydraulic elements of the power steering pump in a vehicle.
In simpler terms, it’s a kind of petroleum-based liquid that acts as a medium to transfer the pressure.
The oil is specifically designed for dynamic steering which is basically a steering wheel with a cylinder on the secondary side and a pump on the primary.
The Difference Between Both the Liquids
While power steering fluid and brake fluid may seem to be similar because of pressure maintaining properties, they are not the same and different.
Where brake fluid is good for removing moisture, dissipating heat, and lubricating; power steering fluid provides excellent lubrication and viscosity to the power steering pump system under cold and hot temperatures.
Both these fluids will only work best when used in their specific systems, and not in place of one another.
What Will Happen if You Put Brake Fluid in The Power Steering?
Unfortunately brake fluid lacks the lubrication property that is required to lubricate the metallic steering components.
So, if you have used the brake fluid in your power steering wheel, it will not function as intended.
Plus, there are a few other issues you may see if you happen to put brake fluid on the power steering. These include:
- Bad smell from steering area
- Swelling-up of steering rubber which may cause fluid leakage
- Permanent damage caused to your power steering because of lower lubrication
What to Do for Fixing the Mistake?
Even if you accidentally used brake fluid on the power steering system, flush of all the fluid from the reservoir – as soon as you realize the mistake.
You can easily empty the reservoir by detaching a return line from power steering through the primary side of the pump.
Next, put the line in an empty plastic bucket until the reservoir is empty.
Alternatively, you can use a turkey baster for getting rid of the brake fluid from your power steering system.
After the reservoir system is completely emptied, refill it with a good power steering fluid.
After you are done, consider turning your vehicle on for some time. This will remove any air that got stuck in the system.
What Can Be Substituted for Power Steering Fluid – Few Alternatives
Power steering fluid is an important element for any vehicle.
Therefore, as soon as the level gets low, it should be replenished.
Just in case you do not have power steering fluid available and you need to drive urgently, there are a few alternatives that can work.
Mostly these are the transmission fluids that do not damage your vehicle if you put them instead of power steering fluid.
1- Automatic Transmission Fluid
It’s usually a reddish or purplish color fluid that can be used in old vehicles (particularly the ones that are manufactured between the years 1980 and 2000).
If you are unsure about the manufacturing date of your car, better to look at your owner’s manual or consult a professional mechanic.
2- DEXRON Transmission Fluid
It’s usually a greenish, brownish, or grayish color liquid. If your vehicle doesn’t show any red or purple colorings (of ATF) in the power steering, most likely you can use this one.
3- MERCON Transmission Fluid
It’s very similar to DEXRON transmission fluid and you can use it as a substitute if DEXRON fluid is not available.
It’s not recommended to use brake fluid in the power steering.
However, in a pinch you can use the one in place of the other as both of them are hydraulic fluids that will get the job done in an emergency.
Be sure, you once the emergency situation is sorted out for you, you remove the brake fluid and replace it with the right type of fluid as it can damage your power steering system if left as such.
Based in Orem (Utah) John Paterson graduated from Utah Valley University and has begun writing in 2009. He has a large wealth of experience in writing articles related to cars, automotive repair, wheels, cleaning/maintenance, and much more. He has also written instructional articles in a similar niche for a few online publications as well. Currently, he works as a mechanic in his personal garage shop where he loves serving his countrymen from his heart.