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Is it time to change your power steering fluid? Chances are, even if you’re on top of oil changes and tire rotations, you probably haven’t given much thought to this particular aspect of automotive maintenance.

There are a few reasons why this might be the case. Not every mechanic — or owner’s manual — agrees on the exact change interval for power steering fluid. Since it’s largely out of sight and out of mind, many drivers don’t swap in new fluid until a problem arises. To further complicate things, different fluids can also have different service lives. Considering all this, it’s hard to know for sure when it’s time to change your power steering fluid. Here are three ways to tell.

1. Read the Manual

This might seem like an obvious tip, but your vehicle’s owner’s manual likely has a recommendation for when to change your power steering fluid. That being said, the interval is often different from one vehicle to the next. Your vehicle may also require a unique formulation of fluid to achieve proper performance. It’s a mistake to assume that the change interval or fluid type for one vehicle will also work for another — even if it’s the same brand — so crack those spines and get reading.

2. Inspect the Fluid

A universal rule when dealing with underhood fluids — including oil, coolant and brake fluids — is that the darker it looks, the closer it is to being spent. You can inspect your fluid by opening the cap on the reservoir under the hood.

When deciding whether to change your power steering fluid, the same rule applies. A dark color isn’t the only indicator that the fluid might be worn out, however. You should also look for any particles or debris suspended in the fluid and give it a quick sniff, as a faint burning aroma is common for heat-damaged fluids.

3. Stay Alert to Sounds and Tugs

The fluid in your steering system is controlled by a pump that helps you turn the wheel. When it’s time to change your power steering fluid, that pump gets noisy, as impurities in the fluid make it more difficult for the pump to do its job. You may also notice that the wheel tugs against your hands or requires more effort than usual to turn the vehicle at low speeds. These are all indications that you need to inspect your power steering fluid and likely swap it out.

If you pay attention to these tips, inspect your fluid at least once a year and know your vehicle’s change intervals, then you’ll have no issues keeping up with steering maintenance.

Check out all the chemical products available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 16,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on when to change your power steering fluid, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

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