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?

  • Most power-steering fluid smells like burnt popcorn when it's long gone. Commented Apr 16, 2018 at 21:42

5 Answers 5


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.


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


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.


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.

  • In most cases, even in applications that call for the clear "power steering fluid" you can substitute ATF (which is normally red or pink). ATF is engineered for much more demanding conditions than normal power steering fluid and they both are just hydraulic oils. Commented Sep 14, 2016 at 18:49

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.


Nick is right. Lets use GMs LS1 V8 Engine as an example because they do work the power steering fluid hard. Initially the fluid is red, Dextron 111, the same as the transmission (4L60E). After hard driving for extended periods of time, such as trackwork, or a few years of commuting in heavy traffic, extreme temperature will turn the fluid dark brown and usually the pump will begin to growl also (contaminants, heat related wear and tear, etc). This does not detract from the steering performance, but it is annoying. For peace of mind my best recommendation is to change the pump and reservoir (on an LS1 at least) with a quality modified aftermarket product such as offered by "turn one", or as a minimum remove most contaminants (flush and change the fluid), then monitor the pump noise and fluid level.

Cheers Hutch

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