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Power steering fluid freezing

I recently bought a 1993 Ford Areostar van from a used car dealer. It was presented to me as a reliable vehicle. But soon realized it is not reliable at all. I have stuck $1000 in it so far trying to get it in shape.

Here is my main problem now.

What is causing my power steering not to work during freezing weather? The power steering fluid turns to mush and my steering wheel locks up. When the weather gets above freezing the steering is ok again. Is the power steering fluid freezing or has someone added water to it before I bought it? What is the best and an easy way to fix this problem? I thought air had gotten in from a cracked hose or brake line or something, but everything seems to be fine in warmer weather. Do power steering fluids often freeze up? Help
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Comments

  • edited January 2008
    The fluid can't freeze but someone may have added some wrong type of fluid to top it off when it got down a bit. If this is truly the cause of your problem you can probably fix it by replacing the fluid.
  • edited January 2008
    Power steering fluid is made from the same stuff as brake fluid. And as with brake fluid, it absorbs moisture from the air. So the power steering fluid has probably absorbed enough moisture to where it's effected by low temperatures.

    Have the power steering system flushed of the old fluid and replaced with fresh power steering fluid.

    Tester
  • edited January 2008
    Change the power steering fluid. Use a hand pump, or turkey baster (really!) to draw the p/s fluid from the p/s reservoir. Refill the p/s reservoir. Run the engine a few seconds, while turning the wheels full left and full right. Draw the p/s fluid out (again) and refill with fresh p/s fluid. You could do this once, or twice, more, if you wished to ensure the greatest amount of fresh p/s fluid in the system.
  • edited January 2008

    Does your power steering fluid really turn to mush? Have you seen this? Or is this just a picturesque way of describing the feel of the steering when cold? Please respond; either case reveals a different problem, each with its own solution.

  • edited January 2008
    Fords of this age use Mercon transmission fluid, I wouldn't call that brake fluid by any stretch of the imagination. Use a turkey baster once a day for a week to get it clean.
  • edited January 2008
    Thank you winarth. I was thinking the same thing. Someone probably still thinks automatic transmission fluid is the same as p/s and brake fluid. It was true years ago but not now with the newer vehicles. Whatever they put in the p/s reservoir will eventually ruin the hydraulics for the p/s.
  • edited January 2008
    Yes the p/s fluid actually thickens in freezing weather to where I can't even turn the steering wheel. I have no garage so I'm trying to think of the best way I can unthaw it to drain it.
  • edited January 2008

    In that case, I will confirm what the others have already said. You need to replace your fluid, all of it, with the right stuff. Letting the car's engine run for a while might be the best way to warm everything up.

  • edited January 2008
    Thanks for your reply Tester, however, see my reply to Winarth.
  • edited January 2008
    When I start the engine there is a humming noise coming from inside the p/s unit and I am afraid that if I let it run it will ruin the hydraulics. The noise increases when I give it gas and when I push on the brakes.
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