When you jump into the driver's seat of your car and grab onto the steering wheel, how often do you think about the potential dangers lurking under the hood? Not very often.
However, it's essential to know the flammability of different fluids in your car. Fluids like motor oil, gas, coolant, transmission fluid, and brake fluid are all potentially flammable. But is power steering fluid flammable?
Knowing how combustible power steering fluid is will help you to take the appropriate precautions when storing and using it in your vehicle's power steering system. And that's why we're writing this article! Here, we'll discuss why power steering fluid is a more or less flammable liquid than other fluids found in a vehicle and provide tips for safely handling and storing it.
Is Power Steering Fluid Flammable?
The answer is no. Even though it will burn at high temperatures, steering fluid is not considered a flammable substance. According to the National Fire Protection Association(NFPA), a fluid is considered flammable if it has a flash point below 100°F. But if its flash point is at or above 100°F, it is considered combustible. Power steering fluid has a flash point between 340°F - 400°F.
What Is Power Steering Fluid?
Power steering fluid acts as a lubricant for your car's steering system, helping reduce friction and corrosion in the long run. In other words, that fluid allows you to make turns with your steering wheel without feeling like you're steering a ship in the storm.
It's often mistaken for transmission fluid. They are both a type of hydraulic fluid that can lubricate the moving parts of your steering system. You could use automatic transmission fluid if you're out of power steering fluid, but they aren't the same.
What Is Flash Point?
The flash point is the lowest temperature at which a liquid vaporizes, ignites, and continues burning even after the ignition source vanishes. That's why volatile substances like gasoline and acetone with flash points under 100°F are considered flammable and can get ignited by open flames and static electricity.
So although power steering fluid is not considered flammable, it is combustible and will burn. With the right conditions and temperatures met, it could be flammable. However, meeting those conditions with normal day-to-day operations would be difficult.
What Happens When Power Steering Fluid Gets Too Hot?
When power steering fluid gets too hot, it evaporates. Contrary to popular opinion, a liquid doesn't have to reach its boiling point to evaporate. For example, a bucket of water left out in the sun will reduce in volume over time because evaporation will occur without necessarily coming in contact with fire or boiling.
So, evaporation can occur at any temperature, and heat helps speed up this process. Therefore, heated steering fluid will vaporize, and the resulting gas or steam can easily ignite due to its changed flash point (300°F-500°F). This doesn't have to be an open flame because your car engine can run perfectly at 220°F, and some cars go up to 400°F.
When steering fluid heats up and evaporates, broken-down gases discharge that are harmful when inhaled. Its combustion byproducts include carbon monoxide, toxic fumes, unburned hydrocarbons, and sulfur and phosphorus oxides.
So although power steering fluid isn't flammable, it’s still combustible and should be handled with care because it can release toxic fumes and be a secondary cause of a fire when vaporized.
Is Power Steering Fluid Corrosive?
Generally speaking, steering fluid is not a corrosive substance. However, some manufacturers include acids, making their steering fluids corrosive. Also, pay no attention to DIY videos claiming to increase steering fluid longevity. Additives can act as pollutants and contaminants, making the steering fluid more acidic; corrosive enough to attack rubber and damage your painted surfaces.
How Often Can Power Steering Fluid Catch Fire?
Not often, actually. The chances of gasoline catching fire are much higher than power steering fluid. Engine oil isn't highly flammable. It can even burn without igniting, so you'd have to have bad luck to meet all conditions to make your steering fluid catch fire.
Sometimes people ask how hot is too hot for your power steering fluid. Or how hot can the steering liquid get? The truth is liquids have almost no limit to the heat they can take. The worst-case scenario is they change state (liquid to gas), but I doubt you'd hit power steering fluid's boiling point of 600°F with your daily car usage.
It's better to know the ideal temperature (around 180°F) and keep its surroundings around that figure. If your car is overheating and generally faulty, have your auto repair technician check that out. This increases your exposure to fire and health hazards, especially if the steering fluid spills on hot metal car parts.
How To Put Out A Fire Caused By Power Steering Fluid
Firstly, it is essential to note that power steering fluid is an oily substance; therefore, water won't put it out. In some cases, water even helps spread the burning oil. Therefore, your best bet at putting out the fire is with the appropriate fire extinguisher.
You'd have to call the fire department if the fire spreads or can't be put out with your extinguisher. Find a well-ventilated area, especially if you have inhaled the fumes or smoke, and seek medical attention if eye or airway irritation occurs.
Safety Precautions For Handling Power Steering Fluid
Here are some safety precautions to prevent pet ingestion, fire and health hazards, and pollution when handling your steering fluid.
Keep The Substance Away From Open Flames Or Fire
We've explained how high temperatures vaporize steering fluid allowing it to ignite at lower flash points. So to avoid your steering fluid being the secondary cause of a fire or releasing harmful gases, ensure you keep the fluid away from naked fire. Keep the container closed when not in use and stored away from living and cooking areas.
Always Use The Fluid In A Well-Ventilated Area
Sometimes car users do an oil change or top-up while the car is running. Although this isn't generally a bad idea because warm oil will expand and circulate better, it also allows the oil to vaporize and release gases. So to reduce the risk of inhaling the byproducts of its combustion, do your oil change or top up in a well-ventilated area, preferably an open space.
Properly Label And Store Your Power Steering Fluid
Do not transfer the steering fluid to unmarked containers to avoid the mistake or misuse of this substance. If unavoidable, ensure it's properly labeled and not used for other purposes not intended by the manufacturer. Keep this substance away from children and pets to avoid inhalation or ingestion.
Ensure Proper Disposal
Power steering fluid is a hazardous waste and can easily be a source of pollution, so proper disposal is essential. Do not pour it down the drain, as this will pollute the water supply. Luckily, it's a recyclable fluid that can be cleaned and reused. Visit the nearest waste disposal facility or recycling center for proper disposal.
Take Care Of Spills And Leaks
Suppose you notice fluid on the ground under your car, squeaky noises, or difficulty with the steering system. In that case, it could mean you're experiencing a power steering fluid leak or an overfilled power steering fluid issue. Some power steering fluids contain corrosive acids that can damage surfaces, so ensure you clean up spills, especially during refills. The fluid can be mopped with an absorbent material and cleaned with detergent and water afterward.
Is power steering fluid flammable? Technically, no, but it can still be a fire hazard. While its flash point prevents most situations where it would be highly flammable, it can still burn given enough heat and surrounding conditions.
It’s best to take precautions when working around any petroleum-based fluid, as your safety should always come first. To stay on the safe side, use an approved fireproof container when disposing of used power steering fluid, and make sure you keep it away from ignition sources when not in use.
Don’t take any chances; be smart, be safe, and know that power steering fluid can be dangerous!