Questions about power steering leak

Got a power steering fluid leak. Three questions:

  1. Is there a problem mixing brands of power steering fluid (not types but brands)? My owner’s manual tells me I need "Dexron-III or “Dexron-IIe” types but specifically warns “Do not mix brands of power steering fluid.”

  2. Do the power steering fluids with sealant (“stop leak” brands, etc) work? Can they end up doing damage instead of helping?

  3. Am I playing games with the safety of me and my 3 year old here - can the steering just suddenly quit on me?

Here’s the story: I own a '99 Subaru Forester and about 6 month ago I discovered that I have a ripped rack and pinion boot. It was going to cost almost $500 to fix, and at the time I needed the car to last only 1 more year before donating or selling it. So my trusty mechanic told me “well, I wouldn’t fix it if I were you - it just keeps dirt from getting in there so it’s not be big issue”.

Now I have about 6 months left before I can get a new car. Unfortunately I discovered yesterday that my rack and pinion has a leak. Apparently it’s a common thing - if you don’t fix the boot, then one of the first things that happens is that the rack and pinion seal start leaking. Now it’s going to cost three times more to fix - almost $1,500.

So the recommendation from the mechanic is to buy some power steering fluid with a sealant in it, and try that first. If that doesn’t work, then he said for a period of time I can just keep adding power steering fluid.

To be honest if that allows me to get 3 more months out of the car just doing that I would be happy. I’ll probably have to give it away after that, but not concerned about it. Just need it to last at least 3 more months. So thus I’m seriously considering the option of just adding fluid. I just need to be sure that I’m not endangering the safety of my 3 year old!


Just my humble opinion, but you might need to consider finding another mechanic.
He seems to have a pretty ill-informed and casual attitude about destruction of a steering rack.
If you’re going to get rid of the car soon then just keep the fluid topped off. No sense is going into it at this point.

The rack boot should have been replaced when torn; pure and simple. Once dirt gets inside those boots it doesn’t take long for the rack itself to get scratched. Once it’s scratched there is no fix.
Fluid with sealer may, or may not help. That’s generally for a leak due to a faulty seal but will not cure a scratched rack or a torn seal due to a scratch.

“it just keeps dirt from getting in there so it’s not a big issue”. Jeez.

By the way, changing a rack boot is normally not a 500 dollar job and changing a steering rack is not normally a 1500 dollar job.
Is there something in this customer/mechanic relationship that has not been said or does he just not like you and wants to brush you off?

At this point, I would not worry about mixing brands. If you want to try sealant, that is OK. It is not good for seals, but at this point it won’t hurt anything that doesn’t need replacing anyway.

ATF is cheap. Just toss some old cardboard on the garage floor to catch the drips and keep adding fluid until you are ready to get rid of the car. I would not worry too much about a catastrophic failure. It is unlikely, and I once drove a Corvette with failed power steering from Omaha to Denver.

FYI, a remanufactured rack and pinion for your car is about $350. If you need all new hoses (likely) that is another $250, plus about $300 labor, a few odds and ends, and you should be looking at not much more than $1000 total if you were to fix it.

Go get a bottle of this:

and start using it to top off when the fluid gets low. It won’t hurt anything (especially since the “hurt” is already done), and if anything is going to help it would be this. Its a little expensive but I’ve been using it to control a PS leak for quite a while now. It won’t “fix” anything and probably won’t “stop” any leaks. But it normally will at least slow them down a lot.

OK4450 hit it right on the head…AS USUAL…Damn he’s sharp…

YEAH MAN…your mechanic should have replaced that dust boot when he saw it…It would have saved you the cost of a VERY EXPENSIVE Rack and pinion Job…and the dust boot costs like 10 bucks… All he had to do was detatch your outer tie rod end and slip the old boot off and the new one on… Would have taken less than an hour. WTF…why did he let you RUIN your Rack? Thats REALLY LAX BEHAVIOR… SHameful really.

Yes stop leak works a little bit…but its for old racks that have dried up or hardened seals… It acts like Brake Fluid would if you put it in the PS resevoir…Brake Fluid will re-elmusify the hardened rubber seals…It makes them “Swell” also…this stops the leak …usually temporarily. So there you have it… Your “mechanic” sat Idly by and watched you destroy an expensive part of your steering system.

No you will not lose your ability to steer your vehicle…YOu may lose POWER steering, but not the ability to steer… It just wont be power assisted, but will function just fine…just need more effort to turn

Thanks, guys! I appreciate the knowledge and advices very much.

I should try to explain something about the prices: I live in Hawaii, and it appears that car repairs are more costly here. I checked with 3 different places, one of them being the Subaru dealership, and they all quoted me the same price: ~ $1,500.

Apparently getting a rebuilt and warrantied rack and pinion, plus auxiliary parts etc. costs $1,000 here. Labor here costs anywhere between $80 and $100 per hour, and in the case of Subaru the fix also requires wheel re-alignment. Apparently even replacing the boot(s) alone requires wheel re-alignment. In all cases (my mechanic and even the dealership) they have to send the car for re-alignment. It boggles my mind that even the dealership can’t do re-alignment onsite. The places that can are the tire shops and my local Midas… but not the dealership or my (now former) mechanic.

I’m now considering finding the parts myself (either online or from a mainland dealership) so I can get them cheaper. So far I’m getting prices in the $350 - $400 range for warrantied rack and pinion assemblies.