Can you use ATF for power steering? Know key differences between ATF and Power Steering Fluid

Suppose you are on a road trip, you need to top off the steering fuel, but you forgot to keep the fluid with you. What would you do? Would you use the ATF fluid you brought instead of the power steering fluid? You would find varied answers if you searched about it on the internet. After all, it’s the web. Anyone can say anything while masking their identity.

With so much misinformation everywhere, we decided to step in for people like you to clear the confusion. In this guide, we have answered ‘can you use ATF for power steering,’ ‘what’s the difference between these two’, and so many other related questions. Let’s dig in now!

What is ATF Fluid?

Unlike regular oils, transmission fluid/oil is a cocktail of oils made of different ingredients. Its primary purpose is to keep the car components cool and improve the vehicle’s transmission for a smooth drive. It transfers the power from the internal combustion engine to the transmission for a constant power supply to the vehicle.

Apart from keeping the components cool, it also keeps the transmission’s surface clean from the inside. There is no alternative to this oil as it protects the car’s components from wear and tear, corrosion, and oil leaks that would occur for various reasons.

What is Power Steering Fluid?

Like its name suggests, power steering fluid is used in a vehicle’s steering system to form a hydraulic link between the front wheels and, of course, the steering wheel to minimize the effort and pressure required to turn the wheels.

It ensures the smooth performance of the piston, valves, hoses, and power steering pump so that the vehicle can move with little to no effort. Failure to use the top-quality steering fluid and replace it every 40,000 to 80,000 miles will deteriorate the power steering pump. 

Apart from helping with the mobility of the wheels and steering wheel, power steering fluid helps lubricate the internal components of the steering system. It prevents foaming and corrosion in the steering pump and gear to increase the efficiency of the vehicle.

Now that you know the basics of both fluids, it’s time to learn whether you can use these two interchangeably.

Can you use ATF for power steering?

Yes, most times, you can you ATF for power steering. However, whether you can use it or not mainly depends on the type of ATF, you’re pouring into your power steering. For instance, some ATFs confirm through their manual guide that ‘the power steering pump cannot handle ATF’, so in that case, you must refrain from the act.

On the contrary, if the owner manual of transmission fluid does not mention anything about the usage, you can go for it. That said, it’s still a risk as it is something a car professional would hardly endorse.

To be on the safe side, try keeping this hack for emergency situations. Once you are out of that situation, immediately flush the system and fill it with the right fluid to prevent any damage. Another reason why we said this is because, even though ATF is a better oil with top-notch additives to run the engine smoothly, sometimes it messes with your steering pump and destroys it. This won’t happen immediately; it takes frequent go’s before obliterating the steering pump.

What happens if you mix ATF and Power Steering fluid?

While so many of you think as a huge thing, mixing transmission oil with power steering fluid is common for some as there’s not much difference between the two.

Firstly, they both are hydraulic fluids – a fluid that serves as a medium with the help of which power is transmitted to hydraulic machinery. That means both fluids can be mixed together. In fact, some believe that you should use them together if you have to choose between using ATF solely or a combination of ATF and power steering. Doing so will restrict the number of additives in the power steering system and reduce the chances of collapsing.

But again, it is highly recommended to flush the system and fill it with the right oil/fluid whenever you get the chance. It’s not safe for the vehicle to go like this for long.

Can you use power steering fluid instead of ATF?

Many people think it’s safe to use power steering fluid instead of transmission fluid, as vice versa works pretty well. However, it’s not. Using power steering fluid for ATF is an entirely different scenario and is never recommended. Again, it all comes down to the ingredients of both fluids. Transmission fluid must contain additives for friction and cleaning, which a power steering fluid could not provide.

If you use power steering fluid for transmission fluid, it would not just produce too much heat but will fail to clean the inside of the transmission as it should. Hence, for this reason, you should avoid using power steering fluid in exchange for transmission fluid. Yes, the same rule applies in emergency situations.

Instead, you can opt for a towing truck as it would not put your transmission at stake. Also, you can try searching for transmission fluid in the nearby areas you are stuck but never ever try to fill up your transmission with the wrong fluid. It will eventually cost you much higher than towing.

What are some key differences between ATF and Power Steering Fluid?

If they both are hydraulic fluids, why just we don’t use them interchangeably? Well, as we previously said, transmission fluid has additives that help with friction and cleaning necessary for the smooth performance of a car. On the contrary, power steering fluids cannot be used in the transmission as they will cause the clutches inside the system to slip due to the absence of friction modifiers and other additives crucial for automatic transmission.

Would using ATF for power steering save you money?

No, there is no big price difference between the two fluids. That said, you may find transmission fluid cheaper at some auto repair shops as they come in varied qualities. In general, the price difference is almost insignificant. In fact, some dealerships only keep transmission fluid as it works well for both, the transmission and power steering. And also, it is convenient to keep one type instead of a bunch of different fluids.

Typically, most transmission fluids in the US costs somewhere between $8 to $20 per quart, costing you $40 to $300 for your car. On the other hand, a power steering will cost you $10/bottle, giving you at least a couple of top-offs. The prices for both may differ if you get it done at a dealership.

Conclusion

Hopefully, you have gotten your answer to ‘can you use ATF for power steering, if you are still unclear on this, you can check out dedicated guides on power steering and transmission fluids. They will detail you on the chemical composition of both the liquids and how and when they should be used.

If you take our advice, we recommend not using power steering fluid in the transmission and vice versa. They may get your work done for that movement, but eventually, you will pay a high price. That said, you can use ATF for power steering during emergencies but flush it as soon as you have power steering available.

Recent Posts