Power Steering Leak

I live in Ohio and recently (about a month and a half ago) my '95 Dodge Stratus (142,000 miles) started to burn fluid from behind the intake. It took me a day or so to identify the problem as a power-steering leak. My car is leaking excessive amounts of power steering fluid, but here’s the catch: It only leaks power-steering fluid when it is approximately less than 32-40 degrees F (outside temperature). The simple fix has been to add more power-steering fluid each time i get into the car, sometimes over-filling it in anticipation that a few corners and the fluid level will already have dropped enough to cause that ear-shattering high pitch noise that occurs when the pump is not getting enough fluid (i.e. it is cavitating).

My question is, do I have a bad pump, or more likely could it be that its time to replace the high-pressure hose? My thought is that the hose is on it’s way out, and in these freezing temperatures the hose / seals are shrinking enough that it isn’t making a seal to the lines and allowing air into the line causing cavitation. I hesitate to fix this the right way, as there is only another month or so of winter left and I am quite positive it only occurs in freezing/sub-freezing temperatures (which I verified at least on 4-5 different occasions when the outside temperature was 40-50+ on some recent weekends, on one occurrence for three days in a row it maintained the fluid level) and I intend on trading it in for a new car later this summer / august. I have about reached my breaking point, as this morning it was 9 degrees outside and I topped off the fluid level in the resevoir and started my car, and before i even backed out of my garage it was ‘whining’ again. I stopped and topped it off again, and again it nearly instantly drained out of the system. What is wrong, and what action should I take (keeping in mind that I intend to get a new / used car later this year!).

Yes, it is most likely the high pressure hose or one of its O-ring seals. Also, there are O-ring seals on the pipes that pass the fluid from the steering valve to the power piston that could be leaking.

Usually low pressure leaks will not empty the reservoir as quickly as you are describing; the leakage will not spray; and the fluid will drip from the ends of the rack or the pump seal.

Have a mechanic look at the system and s/he can determine what is actually leaking. The fact that the leak stops in warm conditions indicates it is probably an O-ring shrinking in the cold. But, replacing O-rings can be as labor intensive as replacing the high pressure hose.

Hope this helps.