12 Substitutes for Power Steering Fluid: Unexpected Choices

Substitutes for power steering fluid aren’t just a whim, but they’re sometimes a necessity when you’re in a jam. Ever been caught off guard by an empty reservoir and wondered if there’s something else lurking in your garage that could come to the rescue?

Power Steering Fluid ~ Ran When Parked
Well, you’re in for some revelations today. I promise, by the end of this read, you’ll not only know the unexpected alternatives, but you’ll also feel like an undercover car guru.

A List of Well-thought Substitutes of Power Steering Fluids

While nothing can replace the real power steering fluid, in emergencies, you can consider gear oil, hydraulic oil, or even engine lubricant. However, the fluid that is advised by the manufacturer should always take precedence, and you should only use alternatives temporarily.

1. Automatic Transmission Fluid (ATF)

  • Easily available
  • Suitable for many vehicles
  • Offers smooth operation
  • Transmission systems
  • Some power steering systems
Distinguishing Features
  • Reddish in color
  • Higher viscosity
  • Not always compatible with every system
  • Can lead to seal degradation if mismatched


This is a go-to for many when they run out of the recommended power-assisted steering oil. Auto Transmission Fluid, especially ATF power steering fluid, is often a suitable replacement due to its lubricating and hydraulic properties.

Automatic Transmission Fluid ~ Ran When Parked

It’s commonly used in auto transmission systems, ensuring smooth gear transitions. With certain car models, especially older ones, using ATF as a power-assisted steering oil is quite standard.

Thus, in some instances, can you substitute motor oil for power steering fluid? Not necessarily, but you can use ATF!

2. Hydraulic Fluid

  • Designed for high pressure
  • Resistant to temperature changes
  • Hydraulic brake systems
  • Elevators
Distinguishing Features
  • Can be petroleum or water-based
  • Often has anti-wear additives
  • May not be compatible with all PS systems
  • Can cause seal or pump damage in some cases

A primary component of hydraulic systems, hydraulic oil is designed to transfer power within hydraulic machinery. Many might wonder, “Can I use hydraulic fluid for power steering?” The answer is frequently yes.

Hydraulic oil is similar to power-assisted steering oil in its function and can often be found in hydraulic power steering systems. However, always refer to the power steering fluid compatibility chart to ensure a match for your specific vehicle.

Now, you can confidently talk about power steering fluid vs hydraulic fluid.

3. Motor Oil

  • Widely available
  • Lubricates well
  • Affordable
  • Engine lubrication
  • Some older power steering systems
Distinguishing Features
  • Ranges from light to dark amber
  • Thicker than ATF
  • Not designed for modern power steering
  • Can cause premature wear in pumps

Now, onto a tricky substitute – engine lubricant. Primarily designed for lubricating engine components, its use as a power-assisted steering oil alternate is a matter of debate. While it can lubricate the power steering pump, its properties differ significantly from ATFs.

Using Motor Oil ~ Ran When Parked

So, while it might be tempting to consider during an oil change, it’s vital to remember the primary function of motor and engine oil.

Moreover, if you ask, “Can I use water instead of power steering fluid?,” the answer would be a no.

4. Brake Fluid

  • Designed for high-pressure systems
  • Non-compressible
  • Hydraulic brake systems
  • Some older clutch systems
Distinguishing Features
  • Clear to light yellow
  • Very slick
  • Not designed for power steering
  • Can damage seals if used improperly

A critical component for safe driving, brake oil operates under high temperatures and pressures. When considering it as a power-assisted steering fluid alternative, think twice.

Although both brake oil and power-assisted steering oil are hydraulic oils, their chemical compositions are distinct. Using brake fluid in a power steering pump could lead to system damage.

A distinguishing characteristic of brake fluid is its hygroscopic nature, meaning it absorbs moisture. Over time, this can decrease its efficacy and can lead to brake system corrosion.

Moreover, there are different types of brake fluids, including DOT3, DOT4, DOT5, and DOT5.1. The differences between them lie in their boiling points and compatibility.

Note that due to its corrosive nature, it’s crucial to avoid spilling brake fluid on painted surfaces.

5. Diesel

  • Available everywhere
  • Affordable
  • Fuel for diesel engines
Distinguishing Features
  • Strong odor
  • Less flammable than gasoline
  • Not suitable for lubrication
  • Can damage power steering systems

Surprisingly, some might think of diesel as an option, primarily due to its lubricating properties. However, diesel is a fuel, not a lubricant. Using it as a steering fluid alternate could result in severe power steering pump damage and system malfunction. Always stick to the designated fluids for each vehicle component.

Unlike gasoline’s octane rating, diesel quality is measured by its cetane number. A higher cetane number indicates better fuel quality and more efficient combustion. Apart from vehicles, diesel is also used in various industrial machines and generators.

6. Synthetic Oil

  • Lasts longer than regular oil
  • Better at high temperatures
  • Engine lubrication
  • Certain high-performance applications
Distinguishing Features
  • Made from non-conventional, pure resources
  • Comes in various weights
  • More expensive than regular oil
  • Not all engines are compatible

As automotive technology evolves, synthetic oils, be it gear oil or engine oil, gain prominence. Their use as power-assisted steering fluid substitutes is debated, but it’s crucial to understand that these oils are designed primarily for lubrication and might not have the same hydraulic properties as power steering fluids.

Synthetic Engine Lubrication ~ Ran When Parked

Synthetic oil generally offers better viscosity at low temperatures and is more resistant to breakdown at high temperatures than a regular lubricant.

Vehicles using synthetic oil usually have longer intervals between oil replacements. While offering better performance, synthetic oils are usually more expensive than their conventional counterparts.

7. Power Steering Stop Leak

  • Stops small leaks
  • Rejuvenates seals
  • Fixing minor power steering oil leaks
Distinguishing Features
  • Thick formula
  • Often has a distinct color
  • Not a long-term solution
  • Not suitable as a primary fluid

This product aims to address leaks in power steering systems.

Power Steering Stop Leak ~ Ran When Parked While it’s not a direct substitute for power steering oil, it can be added to the existing fluid to plug minor leaks. However, it’s essential to monitor the fluid level to ensure it remains effective.

8. Marvel Mystery Oil

  • Multi-purpose
  • Cleans and lubricates
  • Fuel additive
  • Oil additive
Distinguishing Features
  • Reddish color
  • Distinctive smell
  • Not designed as a primary power steering oil
  • Extended use can cause damage

A multi-purpose product, Marvel Mystery Oil cleans and lubricates engine components.

Marvel Mystery Oil ~ Ran When ParkedWhile not a direct substitute for power steering oil, it can serve as a temporary solution in emergencies. However, always be cautious and ensure you eventually refill with the recommended power-assisted steering fluid.

9. Dexron Transmission Fluid

  • Specifically designed for GM transmissions
  • Provides smooth shifting
  • Auto transmission systems
  • Some power steering systems
Distinguishing Features
  • Reddish hue
  • Slick to touch
  • Not universally compatible
  • Incorrect use can cause transmission damage

A specific type of ATF, Dexron, is mainly used in GM vehicles. Being a gear oil, its properties align closely with power steering needs for certain vehicle models. But always verify against the power steering fluid compatibility table.

While most ATFs are red, Dexron’s specific tint allows mechanics and technicians to distinguish it from other fluids. Also, not all versions of Dexron are interchangeable. It’s crucial to use the ATF recommended by the vehicle manufacturer to ensure proper functioning and longevity.

Furthermore, you’ll be surprised to note that Dexron serves multiple roles, including lubrication, cooling, and transmitting power between the engine and transmission.

10. Mercon Transmission Oil

  • Suitable for Ford transmissions
  • Assists in smooth gear shifts
  • Ford automatic transmission systems
  • Some older power steering systems
Distinguishing Features
  • Pinkish-red in color
  • Distinct texture
  • Not suitable for all vehicles
  • Can lead to system failures if misused

Another gear oil variant, but primarily for Ford models. Its use in power steering systems is often based on the model’s specifications. So, if one wonders, “Can I use transmission fluid for power steering?” with Mercon in mind, the answer often leans towards yes.

Mercon Transmission Oil ~ Ran When Parked

Mercon gear oils contain specific friction modifiers that ensure the smooth operation of clutch packs inside the transmission. Also, modern Mercon fluids are formulated to resist oxidation, thus extending fluid life and preventing the build-up of harmful deposits.

11. Type F Geal Oil

  • No friction modifiers
  • Ensures firmer shifting in Ford transmissions
  • Older Ford automatic transmissions
Distinguishing Features
  • Unique additive composition
  • Different feel compared to other ATFs
  • Not ideal for newer vehicle models
  • Misapplication can result in transmission issues

Made for older Ford models, this gear oil stands out due to its unique additives. As a power steering fluid alternate, careful consideration is needed based on the vehicle’s specifications.

Type F Geal Oil ~ Ran When Parked

Like all gear oils, Type F offers a stable viscosity across a range of temperatures. It provides essential lubrication, preventing wear and tear, even under extreme conditions. While its dominance has waned with the introduction of newer fluid types, Type F is still used in some drag racing circuits.

Its specific frictional properties can offer certain performance advantages in specialized applications. Additionally, some classic cars and vintage models from the era when Type F was prevalent still require this particular fluid.

12. Manual Transmission Oil

  • Specifically designed for manual transmissions
  • Ensures smooth gear changes
  • Manual transmission systems
Distinguishing Features
  • Varies in color based on brand and type
  • Typically thicker than ATF
  • Not interchangeable with ATF
  • Incorrect usage can lead to gearbox damage

Different from ATFs, this fluid caters to manual transmissions. As for its role in power steering, one must remember it’s designed for gear systems. However, in specific scenarios, it might serve as a steering fluid alternate.

Manual Transmission Oil ~ Ran When Parked

Remember, unlike ATF, which tend to be thinner, manual transmission fluids can be slightly more viscous to cater to the different operational demands of a manual gearbox. They are often composed of a blend of base oils and performance-enhancing additives.

Furthermore, not all manual transmissions are the same, and neither are their fluids. Depending on the make and model of a vehicle, a specific MTF may be recommended.


Navigating the maze of substitutes for power steering fluid, I’ve stumbled upon a few gems that are worth the switch. Sometimes, the solution isn’t in the most obvious places but right under our nose or maybe on the next garage shelf.

  • Automatic Transmission Fluid (ATF): Ideal for many older vehicles, ATF can be a reliable go-to in a squeeze.
  • Hydraulic Oil: Known for its versatility, this one is an easy choice if you want consistency across multiple systems.
  • Synthetic Oil: If longevity and peak performance tickle your fancy, synthetic oil can be a stellar choice.
  • Dexron: For those of you with GM vehicles, this might be your new best friend.
  • Mercon Transmission Fluid: Ford enthusiasts, here’s a nod to you!

Remember, while these substitutes can be a lifesaver, always consult your vehicle’s manual or a trusted mechanic. While you might have known what is power steering fluid made of, you’ve got more knowledge – now drive with confidence!

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