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Recently started shopping for first car, so want to know as much as possible when going into a sale.

Car I looked at recently has a brown dirty colour in the power steering reservoir, but the stuff I put in my fathers car recently was pink. Is this right?

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4 Answers

Quoting the factory service manual for a 2005 Jeep Wrangler (Page 0-6):


POWER STEERING FLUID

The recommended fluid for power steering system is Mopar ATF+4.

Mopar ATF+4, when new is red in color. The ATF+4 is dyed red so it can be identified from other fluids used in the vehicle such as engine oil or antifreeze. The red color is not permanent and is not an indicator of fluid condition. As the vehicle is driven, the ATF+4 will begin to look darker in color and may eventually become brown. THIS IS NORMAL. ATF+4 also has a unique odor that may change with age. Consequently, odor and color cannot be used to indicate the fluid condition or the need for a fluid change.


(the bold formatting is in the manual, not my addition)

That being said, I agree with the other answers that say it will vary between vehicles.

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Power steering fluid is usually a slight variant of automatic transmission fluid. Some manuals even call for using ATF in the power steering system. Red, pink, and clear are the usual colors.

Black, dark brown are signs of contaminants. The fluid in any car is going to get old and contaminated and it isn't necessarily a bad thing unless it just never gets changed. And like Brian said, if it smells that's a really bad sign that it's been like that for a while.

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One car of mine has red, the other is yellowy-clear. More important than the color is the smell. If it smells burnt, that could be an indication of a problem.

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Power steering fluids, like most, vary in color.

Personally, mine is clear. Brown sounds like an unusual color to manufacture, but a very deep reservoir of clear or slightly dirty fluid might look brown. Or, they might have mixed two different brands of fluid, for example if it was topped off at an oil change.

Try sticking a clean rod into the reservoir. You should see a few inches deep.

If it's dirty, the seals may be worn. If it ever needed topping off, there may be a leak.

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