Power steering fluid in Sub Zero Temps

Wednesday Morning in Northern MN was a cold one (-27) and I needed to snow blow. Got in the Buick started it and immediately turned to back it up 10 feet for the snow blowing. When I turned the wheel it was real stiff and it let out an loud groan. 2 hours later, I warmed it up and started down the road… groaned at every turn and was kind of shuddering at the turns. Went to Kmart and got some steering fluid, topped it off…drove great afterwards but noticed foam when I filled it. took a whole bottle… I betcha it was supposed to be synthetic, because the next morn it shuddered when I backed it out then the power steering growled and stopped… No power steering now.

Question, if it had synthetic in it and I topped it off with non-synthetic, what do I do now?

By the way… we moved up a year ago and most of my tools and auto stuff is in storage. Went there yesterday and found 3 things of Power Steering Fluid. All of it poured like honey.

First you need to determine what failed. In sub zero temps lots of things can fail, including seals (did the fluid disappear?). PS pumps’ bearings scan give up he ghost in those temps too.

What year is the Buick? How many miles?

The good news is that the system is pretty simple. It’s simply a pump driven by the crankshaft via a belt, a fluid reservoir, hydraulic lines, and a proportional valve (called a “spool valve” because of the way it’s made) that directs the fluid to one or the other side of a two-way piston to help you move the steering rod back and forth (the steering rack assembly). The bad news is that one thing that often goes in those temperatures is the seals in the steering rack. Replacing the rack can be expensive. Sub zero temps are hard on pump bearings too. Hopefully it’ll be the pump, 'cause they’re a whole lot less expensive to replaced.

Someone needs to take a look at it. Post back with the results.

2006 Buick Lucerne with 216,000miles

Most cars today don’t use “power steering fluid”. check your owners manual, a lot of cars use a very specific transmission fluid. If this is the case with yours, you need at least a drain and refilln.

My '64 Fairlane also used ATF. That ain’t new. Automatic trannys and power steering are, after all, both hydraulic systems.

And my '64 Fairlane also blew its seal on a North Dakota day that was well below zero. The '64 had the old “one finger” PS system with an anchored hydraulic actuator attached to the steering link and the spool valve built into the recirculating-ball steering box, but a seal is a seal.

Yeah, with the sub-zero temps we’ve been having in my neck of the woods, I’ve noticed my steering is pretty sluggish and requires more effort until the fluid warms. My car and others I’ve noticed make an unpleasant kind of a “Vipp!” noise on the first cold start of the day as well. (my manual even mentions this as being possible) The key is definitely to be gentle on your car until it warms a bit and starts behaving more normally when temps are that cold. I have an oil temperature monitor and the oil was at 4 degrees when I started yesterday. I will typically not give the car a lot of throttle until the oil gets to 100 degrees or so.

For the OP, it sounds like the system should be flushed and refilled with the correct fluid, maybe a synthetic version of the fluid it takes, if available. Hopefully there is no major damage done.


I’ve worked on plenty of cars which use power steering fluid, although the fluid is sometimes brand specific

Recent model Benz and Honda come to mind

I’ve even seen some cars where it specifically says to not use atf

Then again, you’re not wrong, either, because a lot of Ford products still call for mercon for the power steering, but sometimes not the same mercon as used for the auto transmssion

I’d say we’re both right

If the fluid is foamy, then air is getting into the system. Often this is because a gasket at a hose connection isn’t sealing properly and is letting air past. I recommend having a power steering fluid service done, and make sure the gaskets, especially the inlet hose gasket, get replaced in the process - the gaskets themselves are dirt cheap and they have to disconnect the hose anyway, so it won’t add much to the cost.

I talked to a Buick tech today - friend of my uncle. He said to get it in a warm garage, set it up on jack stands with the engine off, run the steering to the far right, wait 2 minutes, far left, wait 2 minutes - do that 6 times, topping off the fluid each time… He said my car does NOT take synthetic, regular should be fine.

I put some warm fluid in and ran it in place turning the steering and there appears to be no leaks and it is working with a whine. He said I could just have gotten air in the system by turning it so hard when it was cold.

So, tomorrow I have a neighbor who is going to let me use his garage… Will let you all know how it goes.

“Went there yesterday and found 3 things of Power Steering Fluid. All of it poured like honey.”

You need synthetic for those temperatures.

ok… did all the things my uncle’s friend asked. Got it in a garage and got all the air out of it. Ran super for 2 days. Now starting to grind again. This time though it’s been above zero. Fluid is low again.

One interesting thing (Could be because of warmup)… When I remove the cap it releases pressure, is that normal?

Where is the leak? It’s a hose, rack or pump. You need to repir the leak, bleed it again.