Can You Use Brake Fluid for Power Steering Fluid? A Guide

If you’ve ever asked “Can you use brake fluid for power steering fluid in an emergency?” then you should know that the answer is no. Even though both brake fluid and power steering fluid are hydraulic fluids, using them incorrectly can cause irreparable damage to your vehicle or lead to accidents.

Can You Use Brake Fluid for Power Steering Fluid A Guide

Besides, both fluids vary in chemical composition and function, informing their use for their respective system. This article takes an extensive look at brake and power steering fluid to identify the vital distinctions between them and why you cannot use them interchangeably.

Is It Safe To Use Brake Fluid as Power Steering Fluid?

No, it is unsafe to use brake fluid as power steering fluid because both are only meant to be used for their respective systems. When you add brake fluid into the power steering fluid reservoir, it remains vital to drain the fluid and refill it with the proper fluid immediately.

Read this setion to comprehend why you shouldn’t use brake fluid for power steering fluid.

– Potential Damages of Using Brake Fluid as Power Steering Fluid

Generally, using brake fluid for power steering fluid will damage your vehicle. But then, the extent of the damage from applying the wrong fluid depends mainly on the distance you’ve put the vehicle through after topping up. For instance, if you’ve accidentally poured the brake fluid into the power steering reservoir and recognized it before even starting the engine, your power steering pump will not be at risk of damage once you drain the fluid completely. 

However, driving the vehicle with the misplaced fluid for an extended period may cause irreversible heavy damage to the power steering pump. The farther the brake fluid circulates through the system, the greater the potential damage. At first, the brake fluid swells the rubber hoses in your vehicle’s power steering system, causing a leak. Other parts that may get damaged include the gaskets, seals, and the pump system. 

If left unchecked for an extended period, the driver may lose control of the vehicle’s steering system while in motion, leading to unwanted outcomes. Aside from this, it gets more complex and costlier at this stage to drain the fluid and repair the vehicle’s power steering system. In most cases, the best action is to completely drain the wrong fluid from the system and replace it with the correct fluid.

– What To Do if You Use Brake Fluid for Power Steering Fluid

If you accidentally add the brake fluid into the power steering reservoir, you can quickly prevent substantial damage by taking immediate action. Check the tips below to avoid significant damage:

  • Do not turn on the vehicle or drive it. This will help prevent the brake fluid from flowing through the power steering system as all the fluid poured stays in the reservoir. 
  • Open the reservoir to the power steering fluid.
  • Start removing the fluid from the container with a baster. 
  • Jack up and secure the vehicle on the front wheel.
  • Move the steering wheel sideways. This should make more fluid come into the reservoir.
  • Continue removing the fluid that appears.
  • If you can disable the system’s low-pressure line, this is an added advantage to empty the whole system.
  • Continue moving the wheel so more fluid can be flushed out.
  • Add some new compatible power steering fluid and drain it again. This helps to drain out any brake fluid remaining in the system. You can repeat this step several times.
  • Assemble the system and lower the vehicle gently back to the ground.
  • And finally, fill up the power steering system with the right fluid type.

If you don’t want to perform these steps or are worried about making mistakes while draining, you should seek help from a car expert. But take note that you can’t drive the car, instead, you would need to have the car towed to the repair shop. An expert mechanic can provide professional drainage, ensuring there’s no brake fluid left in the system.

– Alternative to Power Steering Fluid

So what can you use instead of power steering fluid? The automatic transmission fluid (ATF) has a similar chemical composition to the power steering fluid. As a result, you’ll find that some manufacturers recommended this fluid as an alternative to power steering fluid.

– Using Transmission Fluid for Brake Fluid

Can you use transmission fluid for brake fluid? This depends on the brake system. If the rubber seals in the brake system are designed to work with automatic transmission fluid, then you can use the fluid. Nevertheless, you should check the owner’s manual to know the brake fluid type that is suitable for your automobile. 

– Brake Fluid Alternative

What can you use for brake fluid? If you have a brake fluid emergency, you can use radiator water. However, you must ensure you use the brakes lightly to prevent overheating the brake system. But once you’re out of the emergency, drain the reservoir completely and replace it with the recommended brake fluid to reduce potential internal corrosion in the brake lines.

– How Brake Fluid Works

Brake fluids operate in a sealed hydraulic system of hoses and pipes as a lubricant to support the movement of the brake pedal, thus activating the brake pads at the wheels to stop your vehicle. It works based on the principle of non-compressible liquids in the transfer of force to the wheels. This means that whenever you apply your brakes, the brake fluid moving through the vehicle’s brake line amplifies the pressure to compress and clamp the brake rotors.

This is because the master cylinder suspending the brake fluid obtains the pressure and transfers this through the entire braking system. As a result, the pistons in the rotors or drum brakes apply brakes to slow down the car. The heat generated from the resulting friction in this movement is usually high. As such, it remains essential that the brake fluid maintains its incompressible qualities without evaporating or boiling due to the high temperature. 

On the flip side, when you discharge the pedal, the braking system rapidly decompresses to release the brakes, thus allowing the wheels to turn again easily. Aside from providing some form of lubrication, brake fluids also absorb moisture to protect the braking system from corrosion, thus ensuring that the brake system works optimally. This mechanism of the braking system has remained the same for decades, aside from a few technological inventions that use electrical components.

– How Power Steering Fluid Works

Power steering fluid works as a hydraulic fluid pressurized by the pump driven off the engine, thus providing a medium for transferring pressure to the piston. As such, when you turn your steering wheel, the hydraulic pressure transmitted through the power fluid enables you to turn the wheels easily. You’ve probably heard or experienced that older vehicles devoid of the power steering pump require a substantial amount of force to turn the steering wheel, especially when the vehicle is static.

Nowadays, most modern vehicle models use hydraulic power steering assistance, comprising a valve between the steering column and the rack’s pinion. The rotary valve controls the pressure distribution in the hydraulic cylinder enclosing the steering rack. Thus, these pressure differences in each region or chamber produce the force that causes easy navigation as the driver turns the steering wheel.

What Are the Main Differences Between Brake Fluid vs Power Steering Fluid?

The main differences between brake fluid vs power steering fluid are their chemical composition, heat resistance and viscosity, and compatibility, as each of these fluids are only compatible for their respective vehicles. Power steering fluids are petroleum-based, while brake fluids are usually glycol based.

So is power steering fluid the same as brake fluid? No, power steering fluid and brake fluid are not the same. There are vital distinctions between brake fluid and power steering fluid, and these differences are duly highlighted as follows:

– Chemical Composition

Power steering fluids are petroleum-based, while brake fluids are usually glycol based. Also, these fluids comprise some antifreeze, synthetic lubricants and anti-corrosive additives or mixtures that make it corrosive. This mainly justifies the reason why brake fluids and power steering fluids are not interchangeable.

– Heat Resistance and Viscosity

Brake fluids’ viscosity and heat resistance play a pivotal role in their effectiveness. To function properly, a typical brake fluid must retain the same viscosity under extreme cold and heat conditions. Meanwhile, power steering fluid is not subjected to extreme temperature conditions but absorbs heat and retains viscosity to ensure all around-performance. 

– Compatibility

Power steering fluid is needed for the vehicle steering system for its more potent lubricating properties. On the other hand, the brake fluid has lesser lubricating properties with higher anti-corrosive properties. So, if this fluid is used in the power steering system, the crucial component will not get the protection needed, which may cause irreparable damage. 

How Do You Identify the Right Brake Fluid For Your Vehicle?

To identify the right brake fluid for your vehicle, start by locating the brake fluid reservoir and checking for the brake fluid type that is shown on the cap. Using the right brake fluid type compatible with your automobile would be best to avoid unwanted complications. 

Generally, brake fluid is light yellow when it is new. For instance, the most used brake fluid is DOT 4. Figuring out the right brake fluid is easier said than done. Below are important steps that would guide you in identifying the right brake fluid for your vehicle. 

  1. Open your hood and locate the brake fluid reservoir. Often, it is a relatively small plastic container with a colored cap. 
  2. Check for the required brake fluid type inscribed on this reservoir cap.
  3. You can also search for this information in the vehicle manufacturer’s manual.
  4. Better still, you can go to an auto part store where you can consult an expert to double-check the proper brake fluid for your automobile before you purchase some. 

– Topping Up Your Vehicle’s Brake Fluid

After opening, lifting your hood, and locating your brake fluid reservoir, you should be able to see through the translucent sides of the reservoir to see the brake fluid level. Like every other automotive liquid, you must keep the brake fluid level above the minimum mark on the reservoir and slightly below the maximum mark. In other words, the brake fluid level between these points is perfect, although you may like to top it up occasionally. 

When servicing and refilling your vehicle fluids, you can instantly detect a drop and keep the level above the minimum. Over time, brake fluids turn darker and become dark brown. Observing this color indicates it’s time to drain the braking system and restore it with a new and compatible fluid. But take note that you can still top it up if it showcases a reddish shade. 

If you want to top up your brake fluid, follow the steps below:

  1. Locate the brake fluid reservoir.
  2. You’ll find a small filter after you loosen the reservoir cap, and you might need to remove this filter when checking the fluid’s level and condition.
  3. After affixing the filter back in place, pour the correct brake fluid into the reservoir, ensuring it does not exceed the maximum mark.

How Do You Identify the Right Power Steering Fluid for Your Vehicle?

To identify the right power steering fluid for your vehicle, you must first confirm if your automobile requires a hydraulic power steering assist. This is because many newer car models use electric types that require no fluid input, but a lot of older automobiles do.

Hence, if your car uses the electrical form, you don’t have to worry about purchasing or refilling the power steering fluid. However, most slightly older automobile models require power steering fluid. There are diverse power steering fluid types; the widely used ones include the Acdelco power steering fluid and the Red line power steering fluid

Choosing the right power steering fluid for your vehicle can be tricky for many. However, the steps below will guide you in making the right decision.

  1. Check for information on power steering fluid in your owner’s manual. Sometimes, it may be stated under regular maintenance, power steering, or steering assist.
  2. Locate the power steering fluid reservoir. Like the brake fluid, the required power steering fluid type will be inscribed on the cap.
  3. Alternatively, you can head out to an auto part store where you can input your car’s registration number. The system should automatically filter the suitable fluid results for your vehicle, although you may need to confirm these details with an expert.

– Topping Up Your Vehicle’s Power Steering Fluid

Once you’ve seen the fluid reservoir, check the fluid level and condition. If the fluid looks good and is below the required level, you’ll need to refill with the recommended power steering fluid into the reservoir. Pour the fluid up to the specified mark to ensure it doesn’t exceed the required level. 

Similarly, the power steering fluid degrades over time. The usual color is pink, amber, or clear, but it turns black or brown over time, so ensure you check the condition of the fluid regularly. If you notice an unusual problem, call for an expert mechanic to identify the source of the problem.

While some assert that driving without power steering fluid is technically possible, keep in mind that controlling the car will be more complicated. Sometimes, you’ll also find that the pump and steering rack wears out much faster than expected. Above all, it’s best to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations and refill your power steering fluid regularly.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Is Using a Mixture of Brake Fluid and Power Steering Fluid Safe?

No, using a mixture of brake fluid and power steering fluid is not safe. You must avoid mixing brake and power steering fluid to prevent damage and other technical problems. You should expect a complete breakdown if you use their mixture on the brake or power steering fluid.

2. What Happens When Cars Run Out of Power Steering Fluid?

When cars run out of power steering fluid and is driven for prolonged periods of time, it will cause damage to the steering pump. Furthermore, as the pump produces more heat with no lubricating fluid, this causes fusion and increases the risk of destroying the drive belt.

Moreover, the rack and shaft seal will also break down in the absence of power steering fluid.

Conclusion

Brake fluid cannot be used as power steering fluid, and using them interchangeably would be pointless because you’d incur the unavoidable cost of removing the wrong fluid and replacing it with the correct one. Here are some important points we mentioned in this article:

  • It is not safe to use brake fluid as power steering fluid because they are only meant to be used for their respective systems.
  • Power steering fluid is petroleum-based, while brake fluids are usually glycol based.
  • You can use automatic transmission fluid as an alternative to power steering fluid.
  • You can use radiator water to replace the brake fluid in an emergency.
  • An expert mechanic can provide a professional flush when you accidentally use brake fluid as power steering fluid.

In any case, we suggest you head into any store (physical or online) to purchase the right transmission, brake, power steering fluid or engine oil for your vehicle. This ensures you have a reserve supply in case of emergencies.

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