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Modern vehicles are pretty forgiving, especially with the steering. A key reason is power steering tech, first introduced to consumer cars in 1951 and still going strong.
Such tech mainly uses hydraulic fluid as a pressure control to keep a vehicle’s steering on the straight.
This avoids any sharp veering off when hands are momentarily lifted off the steering wheel.
Knowing it’s such a critical safety function, keeping tabs on the power steering system can prevent complex problems.
Apart from ensuring the fluid tank stays topped up, use only prescribed steering fluids.
This becomes especially crucial for a heavier vehicle. Find out why in our focus on the Ford F150 power steering fluid.
Importance of Using Power Steering Fluid
Before power steering became a standard fit, a driver would have to turn the front wheels directly.
This can already be a chore in cars; imagine the extra strength needed for heavier vehicles like trucks.
Power steering actually began as a driving aid in tanks and heavy trucks some way back, before World War II.
Drawn from similar systems used in steering ships, they appeared in commercial trucks after WWII, before mushrooming in passenger cars.
Since this steering aid is very similar to mechanical advantage using gears, why use hydraulic fluid instead?
The answer is weight reduction, as oil is far lighter than metal parts. It also means the power steering fluid has to take on extra loads.
Compressed under high pressure over millennia, crude oil is refined into mineral oil – which retains this high compression property.
Hence, mineral oil is best for power steering fluid to withstand further compression. Vegetable (or renewable) oil can still be compressed, so it isn’t as good.
This lets a power steering pump apply even hydraulic pressure, taking a big load off the driver.
The pressurized power steering fluid acts almost like a solid piece via hoses, pistons, and valves.
So turning is a breeze. The driver no longer needs to struggle at the steering wheel.
The power steering fluid advantage is especially noticeable when you’re parallel parking.
A slow turn at a junction is easier, but the power steering impact fades off as the vehicle picks up speed.
As an added advantage, valves can bleed hydraulic pressure in fluid far smoother compared to metal pieces.
With less hydraulic pressure, the steering wheel gets stiffer to turn.
This is a safety measure to avoid sharp swerving that could cause rollovers when the vehicle moves fast.
What Happens if You Don’t Change Power Steering Fluid?
There are several moving metal parts from the steering at a driver’s hands to a vehicle’s front wheels.
The power steering system is part of that network, so metal pieces can flake with prolonged wear.
These slivers can damage exposed metal parts of valves and pistons, causing even more shaving.
Being a dense oil, power steering fluid can also sludge with prolonged usage.
Combined with metal slivers, the worn-out fluid can cause quite a bit of damage to the power steering system.
To avoid such harm, it’s a good idea to flush out the old power steering fluid and replace it.
The Ford F150 power steering fluid should ideally be replaced every five years or after 50,000 miles.
When new, the liquid is a light amber or pinkish color. If it turns dark or brownish much earlier, it would indicate a problem with the power steering system.
While fluid replacement is purely a drain-and-refill task, a damaged power steering system needs more extensive repair.
Until that repair is completed or totally replaced, driving is risky. Being unable to turn fast enough on the road because of a very stiff steering wheel is simply not safe.
Types of Power Steering Fluids to Consider
Some people feel it’s OK to use any similar oil as the Ford F150 power steering fluid. There are valid grounds for this reasoning. We explain why:
Power steering fluid
Power steering fluid has several primary functions, apart from ensuring even hydraulic pressure.
As a mineral oil, it also helps reduce friction between moving components like pistons and valves.
Being highly viscous and dense also lets it absorb heat to prevent excessive temperature buildup.
Automatic transmission fluid
The automatic transmission fluid (ATF) is used in a totally separate network. ATF circulates in the auto gear-changing conduit next to the handbrake.
It functions differently because around 10-15% of its content involves additives.
Additives in ATF are detergents and friction modifiers. The detergents combine with grease and dirt that may slip in during gear changes.
Friction modifiers prevent heat buildup at valves and gear clamps. ATF is usually red in color.
Less dense and usually clear to slightly yellowish, brake fluid looks similar to motor oil.
It can vaporize at high temperatures. While it’s typically alcohol-based, some brake oils can include mineral oil or be silicone-based.
Why the confusion?
Without reading labels, all these three fluids look somewhat the same. In fact, they were often used interchangeably in older vehicles.
Those older vehicles had components made of metal and non-corrosive materials.
They also had fewer or no electronic components and sensors fitted in. Using different oils didn’t make too make of an impact any which way back then.
Modern vehicles are chock filled with sensors, having protective covers specifically resistant to fluids they’re dipped in.
For example, the fuel-level sensor can’t be used in the brake oil system. The wrong fluid’s additives, viscosity, and even acidity levels can damage delicate parts if used in the wrong system.
The Ford F150 power steering fluid type is TRANSMISSION fluid (ATF) for reasons never made public.
Workshops can therefore use either fluid for the power steering system. Among modern vehicles, this swapping potential is relatively rare – but there you have it.
A potential reason may revolve around the ATF, which should be replaced every five years or 50,000 miles, the same as the power steering fluid.
There used to be a dipstick to check ATF levels. It’s gone to prevent drivers from accidentally contaminating the ATF.
So maybe the power steering fluid interchangeability is really to better keep track of both fluids’ condition.
3 Best Power Steering Fluid for F150 in 2021
01. Lubegard 23232 Complete Synthetic – Best OEM fluid
- Good for cold & high temperatures
Using crude oil as the primary source for its artificially made chemical compounds, the Lubegard incorporates a proprietary additive package for lubrication.
The main compound is phosphorus-free to avoid corrosive properties. Comprising only of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, there are no toxic, metallic, or polluting elements.
This compound ‘cleans’ out rust and corrosion with reduced friction to avoid sticky turbines and pumps.
Such a property helps keep seals and hoses in prime condition for lasting performance.
It also contains a patented liquid wax ester for better heat absorption to safeguard power steering system innards.
This compound keeps the fluid liquid and viscous in cold and high temperatures (-41oF to 130oF), making it suitable for wintry to scorching desert conditions.
For a full flush-out, this Lubegard fluid is available as a 5-gallon pack. The smaller 32 fluid-ounce bottle makes it convenient for regular top-ups.
Beyond the Ford F150, this fluid is also rated to be suitable for all European, North American, and Asian vehicles.
“However, this Lubegard synthetic power steering fluid is not suitable for Honda/Acura models or other vehicle makes which need specific manufacturer fluids.”
What We Liked
- No metallic or polluting elements
- Wide temperature performance range
- For European, North American, and Asian vehicles
What We Didn’t Like
- Not suitable for Honda/Acura models
02. Ford XT-5-5QM MERCON-V – Best stock fluid
- Ford’s patented formula
- Still liquid at -49oF
- Dual function
Mercon is the trade name for Ford’s hydraulic oil formulations but licensed to outside parties for the actual manufacturing.
This formulation is meant for Ford F150 power steering fluid change involving its models produced in 1997-2003.
Rated ISO 46 or SAE 20W for high viscosity index, this hydraulic oil serves a dual role.
It can be used interchangeably as either automatic transmission (ATF) or power steering fluid.
Processed from refined crude oil, additives help reduce friction within the power steering system.
These compounds also inhibit gum, sludge, lacquer, and foam formation, which can reduce the fluid’s effectiveness.
Designed to remain viscous at a wide range of temperatures, it remains liquid below freezing point at -49oF until its flashpoint at 352oF.
This makes it ideal for heat absorption and all kinds of weather conditions.
Dyed red for ease of leak detection, this fluid comes in 16 fluid-ounce, 1 quart, and 5-quart packs.
“It’s critical to check the label as the Mercon V pack can be easily mistaken for others like the SP, LV, and ULV variants.)
What We Liked
- Inhibits sludge & foam formation
- Wide temperature performance range
- Dyed red for leak detection
What We Didn’t Like
- Pack labels can be confusing
03. Johnsen’s 4611 Original – Best conditioner fluid
- Blended with conditioner
- It can be mixed with other brands
- Stops pump squeals
Adding conditioner to power steering fluid goes further than just reducing friction within moving parts.
Johnsen’s proprietary compound almost eliminates contact with the microlayer created, avoiding metal shaving.
This approach to lubrication also helps stop pump squealing to reduce wear overall.
An extra benefit to having conditioner additives is this product’s capability to be mixed with factory or other brand fluids.
Such a trait helps reduce wastage when a full flush-out gets conducted or for topping up.
Made from a petroleum base, this fluid blend can perform below freezing temperatures and up to 200oF. Available in 12 fluid-ounces, 32 fluid-ounces, and 1-gallon pack.
“Included safety instructions advise immediate, thorough washing of any splashing on skin with soap and water to avoid lasting corrosive injuries.”
What We Liked
- Conditioner for friction reduction
- Wastage reduction with mixing capability
- Performs across a wide temperature range
What We Didn’t Like
- Corrosive fluid can cause injuries
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Can I still drive if power steering fails?
Yes, but the steering wheel will be very stiff to turn. Unlike bigger sizes in older vehicles, modern steering wheels are smaller.
Without power steering, turning can take some brute force. As the response is slower, driving safety can be compromised.
Why do I need to top up power steering fluid?
Although the fluid is within a closed system, it can evaporate over time, or leaks can occur.
What are symptoms of power steering failure?
The steering wheel isn’t responsive or stiff to turn. Fluid in the reservoir could be dark or brownish rather than light yellow or amber in color.
There may also be oil leaks below the parked vehicle.
How long does the power steering fluid last?
It should be flushed out and replaced every 5 years or 50,000 miles. Heat exposure and constant contact with mechanical parts can cause the fluid to deteriorate.
If the unopened pack has been in storage for some years, look at the color before using it. If it isn’t light yellow or amber or has foam, the fluid has degraded.
Is it possible to conduct a DIY power steering fluid replacement?
Yes, if you’re comfortable with routine servicing of the vehicle. As shown in this video, you first drain the power steering fluid.
After filling a full load, let the engine run for about 30 minutes, then repeat. The process is completed if the drained fluid is light yellow and has no contaminants or particles.
Why does my powered steering wheel squeak when turned?
The fluid level may be too low and needs to be topped up. If unsure, best to get the components checked at a workshop.
Without a steering wheel, how would you control a vehicle? It’s a no-brainer then why keeping tabs on the Ford F150 power steering fluid level is so important.
Fortnightly checks on this fluid reservoir on its color and reservoir levels should be enough. If there are leaks, check more often.
Think of the consequences if the power steering fluid is neglected due to cost factors or sheer laziness.
It’s far more expensive to replace damaged components like the power steering pump and power steering rack.
Driving safety is also affected, risking potential damage and injury.
In short, prevention is definitely better than cure for the Ford F150 power steering fluid.