A vehicle’s power steering system is one of the most important parts of your driving experience.
Remember the times when you struggle to make a turn just because your front wheels are too stiff? What happens when the power steering system is not optimum.
A part of the running system is dependent on the power steering fluid which, in colder weathers, can act differently.
Can power steering fluid freeze?
Power steering fluid in a vehicle is oil or petroleum-based. Hence, the power steering fluid would not freeze completely. However, in cold weather, the fluid could become thickened and turn into a viscous consistency. If water, air, or contaminants is added to the fluid, it could freeze.
If you see someone complaining of a frozen power steering fluid, you may want to correct them immediately. This is because, technically, the power steering fluid is incapable of freezing due to its chemical bonding. Power steering fluid is an oil-based product.
Moreover, the fluid can also be categorized as petroleum-based. Any oil or petroleum-based fluid would not freeze, but only become more viscous in cold weather.
In cold weather, there could be a possibility of a noisy power steering system as you attempt to steer your way out of the snow.
This is majorly a problem caused by the power steering fluid thickening up. Usually, the fluid would start to become more viscous when the temperature drops to -10 to -20 degrees Celsius.
However, if the power steering fluid is made with special additives and increases this threshold temperature, the fluid may start to become thick at about -30 degrees or more.
4 reasons why power steering fluid freeze
As we have mentioned previously, the power steering fluid is petroleum and oil-based and does not become frozen or hard, no matter how freezing the temperature outside is.
While this is a more logical way of explaining, there are endless complaints of frozen power steering fluid in the colder countries.
If your power steering fluid has frozen up, instead of thickening up, here are a few good possibilities:
Low-quality power steering fluid:
The power steering system often starts to falter due to the quality of the power steering fluid.
One of the problems of low-quality power steering fluid is that it would freeze quite easily. This could be because the components could include fluids that are water-based.
Air has entered the fluid:
If you are sure of the quality of the power steering fluid your engine uses, it is best to check if any of the engine’s hose or lines have cracks.
If there are cracks that could allow air to seep into the power steering fluid, the fluid could become mixed. This would cause the fluid to become frozen and hard when the temperature is too low outside.
The fluid includes additives:
Unfortunately, if the fluid has additives in the form of water or other contaminants, you can be assured that the power steering fluid would freeze in colder conditions.
Fluid has absorbed moisture:
Similar to brake fluids, the oil-based fluid can absorb moisture from the air.
If that’s the case, the absorption of moisture would tamper the oil balance and hence cause the fluid to become hard during dropping temperatures.
Does the cold affect power steering? What temperature does power steering fluid freeze?
The cold affects vehicles in several ways and unfortunately, the power steering of your vehicles becomes affected as well. One of the problems that power steering systems exhibit during the colder months is understeering.
Understeering deflects the car from the direction the driver has steered into. Other than that, the steering wheels become enormously rigid and difficult to turn. The front wheels, for instance, are a struggle to turn when it comes to taking tight corners.
The reason steering becomes a struggle has to do with a vicious power steering fluid. As the fluid thickens up, there is noise from the metal contact within the fluid line. You may have noticed how power steering is a lot noisier during the colder winters.
Power steering fluid would become thickened at about -30 degrees but it would take less than -50 to-60 degrees for the fluid to harden. If the fluid is purely oil or petroleum-based, you can expect it to warm up quickly as you start the engine.
Can power steer fluid freeze in your car?
Although the power steering fluid in your car is not supposed to freeze, it could become hard due to a few reasons. For one, the infiltration of water into the fluid could make it become contaminated in a way.
Since the fluid is oil, the addition of water or other water-based additives could make it freeze in the car’s engine. In weather conditions that are too cold, you can expect the power steering fluid to become viscose, intruding on the free flow of the oil.
If there are cracks in the line and air enters and mixes with the fluid, the power steering could also become frozen in the car. Though, in a car’s engine, the part of the power steering system usually takes minutes to warm up.
Hence even if the fluid becomes mushy and viscose or even hardened due to drastic weather conditions, it would warm up and melt to its free-flowing nature once the engine gets going.
How to unfreeze power steering fluid?
If you notice increased noise levels from your engine, you could be thinking of checking your power steering fluid. If you, one reason for the noise and hard steering is certainly frozen or viscous power steering fluid.
To unfreeze the fluid and get it back to flowing freely through the lines, here is what you need to do.
Turn steering wheel:
What’s good about hard and frozen power steering fluid is that you don’t have to lose time thinking of what to do to unfreeze it.
One easy way is to have your vehicle engine idle and turn the steering wheel. Turn the steering wheel a couple of times, from lock to lock. Repeat this for a few minutes before the steering becomes free again.
Refill and warm-up:
Using a hand pump, draw out the hardened fluid from the reservoir. Next, fill in the reservoir with fresh, good-quality power steering fluid.
Start the engine and warm it up by turning the steering a couple of times. Once done, change the fluid again and repeat.
This would make sure that the fluid is completely fresh and unfrozen.
Use Synthetic power steering fluid:
If you live in a country where chilly winters and harsh cold is what most days look like, you may want to switch to synthetic power steering fluid.
Synthetic power steering fluid has great efficiency that too with the befit of lower friction. Due to this, the power steering lines do not get clogged with deposits either.
How do you warm-up power steering?
Warming up power steering during cold winters is more than just about the power steering fluid.
It is normal for your power steering to act up and disfunction during the low-temperature days and hence it is vital to warm it up and prepare the system for the chilly days ahead. Here is what you’d need to follow:
Turn the steering wheel steadily:
At first you would need to take the engine to an idle state. Once the engine is idle, you would want to turn the steering wheel steadily in a momentary fashion.
One stop to another:
Turn the steering wheel from one stop to another. You can repeat this many times depending on how your power steering feels.
If you feel that the power steering needs a warmer up, turn the steering wheel till it loosens up and feels normal to the driving hands.
This would also ensure that any viscous fluid becomes warm and melts to allow a good oil flow.
Let the engine cool off:
Now, turn the engine off. Now let the engine cool off before the next step.
Check the fluid level:
After turning the engine off, you would also need to check the fluid level to make sure that the fluid level is adequate.
To check, remove the cap and check for the adequate level. You can also check if the fluid is flowing or vicious in the process.
Power steering fluid can become frozen if the fluid absorbs moisture from the air. It could also freeze if there are cracks in the pipe allowing air to infiltrate into the fluid. Power steering fluid can be warmed by turning the steering wheel and warming up the engine for a couple of minutes.