Dirty power steering fluid: This a scam?

When I take my car to local tire and car repair shop to have the oil changed, they always check my power steering fluid and come back with a "sample" of it in a
special device that sucks up my fluid in one side and compares it to CLEAN power steering fluid in another side.
I always tell them NOT to check any other fluids and to only do the oil change but they present me with this "finding" every time.... and show me how DIRTY my power steering fluid is and asking if I want to change it out.
Question: Is this a legit concern? Dirty power steering fluid and should I have it changed?
Or is this some kind of scam?
Car is a 2000 Mazda Protege with 200k miles on it and I am original owner.
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snipped-for-privacy@privacy.net wrote:

It is a scam, however at 200k you should be changing it anyway. The power steering system is a hydraulic system without a filter (just a screen for big debris) and the fluid should be changed eventually to remove debris. By contrast, the hydraulic system in your transmission does have a filter, as does the lube/hydraulic system in your engine (hydraulic lifters) and both of those systems also require regular service.
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At 200k I would have changed the fluid once or twice already, and if it has not been done, I would certainly do so if it was my car.
If you decide to tackle it yourself an easy way to do it is to go down to your local hobby store and pick up one of the handheld crank fuel pumps they use for fueling up model airplanes. Use that to suction the fluid out of the reservoir, then fill with clean fluid and start the car and run the wheel back and forth several times to flush the new fluid into the system. Then clear out the reservoir again and re-fill. It may take 3-4 passes to get all of the dirty fluid out of the system.
Good luck with it.
Chris
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On 10/08/2010 07:43 PM, snipped-for-privacy@privacy.net wrote:

well, this is obviously extreme and anecdotal, but a friend of mine bought a '62 or '63 Studebaker GT Hawk and one of the issues with it at the time of purchase was that the power steering seemed to work sporadically and not very well. After getting it into his driveway we decided to flush the PS fluid before disassembling anything because it was obviously very dirty/burnt. So we unhooked the return line and set it in a bucket and filled up the reservoir with some fresh ATF. After a couple cycles of filling the reservoir, starting the engine, and turning the wheels side to side the fluid looked mostly clean. Reconnected hose, filled reservoir, bled, and the steering worked fine after that. So seriously ancient/neglected fluid *can* cause problems in and of itself.
In case anyone cares, this was the Bendix ram-type power assist, as used on contemporary Corvettes and probably other GM products.
nate
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On 10/08/2010 04:43 PM, snipped-for-privacy@privacy.net wrote:

that particular sucking device is connected to your wallet, not your power steering system.

my grandmother gets this, dirty fluid and all, even if she had it done only 3k miles ago and the actual fluid in her car was perfectly clean 5 minutes prior. so yes, it's a scam.
however, there can be reason to change the fluid periodically. but since disconnecting hoses can cause problems with seals, the preferred power steering fluid change method is turkey baster. suck out fluid from the reservoir, then replace. repeat after a week or so if feeling anal. but it's not super critical since unlike a transmission, the debris accumulation in the system is minimal, and it's not exposed to external contaminants like engine oil. it doesn't even get that hot so it doesn't break down, polymerize or oxidize. all you're doing by refreshing some of the fluid is replenishing some of the seal conditioners and changing the color slightly, so while [a safe] fluid change doesn't hurt anything, it's not achieving that much either. that's why it's not specified on the vehicle's service schedule.

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On Oct 8, 7:43 pm, snipped-for-privacy@privacy.net wrote:

At least they didn't ask to change your blinker fluid. :) http://kalecoauto.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&products_id=6
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On Sat, 9 Oct 2010 03:22:09 -0700 (PDT), m6onz5a

or lube the muffler bearings
Lugnut
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On 10/8/10 6:43 PM, in article snipped-for-privacy@4ax.com,

The simplest answer is to get out the maintenance schedule that came with the car. If you find a service interval in it for the power steering fluid, then follow it. My guess is that its not in there.
For my personal experience, I've only ever changed the power steering fluid once in one car over 45 years of driving & that car then became the only car I ever owned that developed leaks in the power steering system. If the steering is working correctly, I would leave it alone.
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Well, when did you last change it?

If you have been following the extreme service schedule in the owner's manual, you have changed it at least twice already. --scott
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On 10/09/2010 06:17 PM, Scott Dorsey wrote:

there is typically no manufacturer schedule specified or need to change power steering fluid. it doesn't get contaminated by combustion product, friction material product, is not hygroscopic and doesn't get overheated.
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On 10/09/2010 09:44 PM, jim beam wrote:

It doesn't have as severe service as most other fluids, but it can get contaminated by metal wear particles (mostly from the pump) and also can become overheated from "assertive" driving (note inclusion of P/S fluid coolers on high-performance and/or police package vehicles)
So, yes, I would change it on a "keeper" but maybe only when you change the ATF etc. - it doesn't need to be changed every oil change, say.
nate
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It's on the schedule on my old BMW and it was on the schedule of my old Chrysler too. Not the regular one, but the extreme service one. Always follow the extreme service one. --scott
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On 10/10/2010 09:12 AM, Scott Dorsey wrote:

how old is "old"? has nothing changed?
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On 10/10/2010 01:13 PM, jim beam wrote:

I'm not aware of any significant changes that would get rid of the necessity to periodically replace fluids (really doesn't matter which one we're talking about) for maximum vehicle life.
There is no such thing as a "lifetime" fluid, no matter what the manual says. Unless you consider "lifetime" to be 10 years or less.
nate
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On 10/10/2010 10:15 AM, Nate Nagel wrote:

based on what dude? do you have hard data?
i hear that line all the time from people talking about engine oil [the more you change it the better!!!], but they're always the ones who are stuck in the 50's, superstitious, have never done any form of analysis - either engine oil, or used parts - and have no data to back up their claims. they probably still believe in santa claus too.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/38636024@N00/4291579733/
if anyone believes in santa, it should be the oil companies that spend millions on research creating better products, then have consumers ignore all their hard work and pay more to change their oil just as frequently as they did before!
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On 10/10/2010 01:35 PM, jim beam wrote:

I'm not saying that everything needs to be changed at 3K mile intervals. I *am* saying that if you are like me and want your vehicles to last several hundred thousand miles, there is no automotive fluid that has been proven to my satisfaction to outlive the fundamental mechanical parts of the car, when properly maintained. therefore, the small added cost of changing some of the not-often-changed fluids every 50 or 100K miles is negligible when weighed against the possible costs of a premature failure.
Yes, I flush my brake fluid every two years as well, and *do* otherwise follow the "severe service" schedule for my personal vehicles.
nate
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On 10/10/2010 11:23 AM, Nate Nagel wrote:

determined how?

well, there /is/ a reason to flush brake fluid, hygroscopy, and that's why it's in the service manual. but there's not much of a reason to change power steering fluid [see above], which is why it's not.
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On 10/10/2010 02:30 PM, jim beam wrote:

Actually many new car manuals treat brake fluid as a "lifetime" fluid. but I still change it anwyay because I understand the reasons why it should be changed.
The same is true for ATF and power steering fluid, for reasons that I've already explained.
The manual for my pickup truck I'm pretty sure recommends that the rear axle gear oil be changed every 50K but only on the "severe service" schedule. Obviously it's been changed, even though I don't figure that my service is unusually severe.
nate
(in an ideal world, my car would have neither an automatic transmission nor power steering, but this is not an ideal world.)
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On 10/10/2010 11:35 AM, Nate Nagel wrote:

unless you can enlighten me otherwise, the only one i'm aware of is frod. and given frod's history of utter ruthlessness when it comes to economics vs. engineering and driver safety, that's entirely unsurprising.

atf runs hot, oxidizes and gets contaminated - for reasons /i've/ already explained. power steering fluid doesn't, or at least not to anywhere near the same order of magnitude. just because the two systems [on some cars] use the same fluid doesn't mean their operating environments are comparable or that their service requirements are the same.

differentials, particularly if they're limited slip, are heavily loaded and quickly fill with wear product. changing the oil makes sense if the manufacturer hasn't taken any steps to control contaminant circulation, and i'm not aware of anyone that has.

wow - that explains a lot!
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On 10/11/2010 03:39 PM, jim beam wrote:

And GM. Not sure about Chrysler, haven't had one.

Right, but some mfgrs. are listing ATF as a "lifetime" fluid now, and even if the manual says that, I take it with a grain of salt. And PS fluid *can* get wear particulates in it, and it can overheat if a vehicle is driven "assertively." Also I believe I've already related one anecdote where a vehicle that I had personal experience with had "dead" PS come back to life after a simple fluid flush.
No skin off my nose if you don't change it, but to say that it's stupid to do so is a bit of an exaggeration and not always true.

True. yet again showing that what a mfgr. may list as a "lifetime" fluid may still need to be changed periodically if one is shooting for really high mileage out of one's vehicle.

such as... I don't feel that I need 'em, and don't like extraneous stuff that adds weight and requires maintenance?
nate
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