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I have a 98 Outback that's badly leaking power steering fluid somewhere at/near the pump. Stop-leak products have not helped. It'll go several months without the fluid getting unacceptably low, but it drips/pools on top of the engine where it smokes and makes an awful smell, so I need to do something about it.

Since the pump is rather expensive, I want to make sure I know it really needs to be replaced before just replacing it. With it mounted and operational, though, it's hard to see where the leak is coming from and whether it's from inside the pump or just in hoses or even just the fluid reservoir. Are there any good methods for finding the source of the leak? If it is the pump, is there anything that can be done to service it (gaskets etc. to replace) or does it just need a new one?

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Ok, I think I see two questions in here:

  1. How to identify where the leak is coming from, and
  2. Are there good alternatives to just replacing the pump.

For the first question one of the cooler (as in you feel smug and your friends think you're amazing) ways to approach this to dye the power steering fluid with a dye that is UV fluorescent and then use a UV light source to go looking for the leak. You'll need a dye that is compatible with power steering fluid, Tracer Products makes one and Amazon, among others, carries it. There are other vendors too. Your local auto parts store probably stocks it. If you are a child of the '60s the black light sitting in your parent's attic will do the trick, otherwise you can get a UV flashlight for a reasonable price.

What you'll do is put the dye in the fluid and look for the highest place where you see it. If the leak is easy to see, then you may be able to find it just by cleaning the area well and looking for the highest point where you can see fluid leaking out. But the dye is fun and relatively inexpensive. You can use the same light with dyes for coolant, oil, refrigerant, and probably money…

A quick search with Google found a YouTube video that promises to explain how to rebuild the power steering pump and a rebuild kit for the pump on Amazon. The reviews suggest a few parts that aren't in the kit, but still it looks like it is less that a quarter the cost of a new pump.

The most likely place for a failure will be on moving (or easily damaged) parts, so the pump is a good bet.

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You are somewhat lucky, if it's the pump and not the steering rack. For 18 year old cars, it may be the case that new parts are not being made, meaning any old part you may find will probably have 18 year old rubber seals, and thus fail very soon.

What is the reason you're lucky? Because the pump is not a safety critical part. If it fails, all that happens is you lose power assist. The rack, on the other hand, is a safety critical component. Normally racks don't fail in such a way that it would violently turn to the direction of the oncoming traffic, but if somebody messes with the rack and a really bad accident happens, the one that did an improper repair could be liable to pay millions.

Due to the safety risks of repairing power steering racks, practically nobody is willing to do it. On the other hand, the pump can only cause loss of power assist, and thus, it may be the case that you will find someone that is willing to repair the pump. Repairing is definitely a better option than getting a 18 year old part from the junkyard, as repairing allows fitting new rubber seals.

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The total price of a rebuilt power steering pump is $17 at RockAuto.com. When you return the old one to get your deposit back, so be sure to have your mechanic save the packaging of the new one or you will not get your refund.

Fair market labor to install the pump is about $125 at your local, independent mechanic. See www.repairpal.com for details. Call local shops in advance to price shop, telling them you already have your own part.

Don't let mechanics rip you off! If you are handy, you can even replace the pump yourself by watching this video.

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