Driving without power steering fluid
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  1. #1
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    Driving without power steering fluid

    Good day everyone,

    It's about my 2004 Passat 2.8L 30V wagon.

    Here's my question: how many miles can I drive the car "without" any power steering fluid in it and without "really" damaging the power steering pump? Read other posts, but I am looking at some numbers in terms of miles I can safely drive without damaging the pump.

    Any feedback from your experiences will help me take the right decision. No one will be held accountable or liable in any manner if I act upon your advice and kill the pump

    I recently did a major work on my car, and while at that, I found that the hose connecting the steering fluid reservoir to the aluminum cooler tube under the radiator to be all oily near the cooler tube end, and losing fluid at fairly small rate. Although the hose had the factory clamp intact on it preventing it to totally come off of the cooler tube, it was still sliding over it. It wasn't sitting real tight. I managed to remove the clamp and replaced it with the screw clamp, and I thought I had tightened it tight enough, but apparently I had not. I refilled the reservoir and there was no leak. But, after putting back the car together, I started the car and saw the fluid leaking pretty bad. It drained totally overnight. In the morning, I took the car to a nearby service shop, Mr. Tire. They weren't able to fix it and said I may have to replace the entire thing with a new power steering kit which might cost over $1000. Without a word, I took the car key back, and set up an appointment with the dealer for tomorrow.

    So here's the math:
    Without the steering fluid -
    1) drove 3 miles to Mr. Tire
    2) returned home. +3 miles. Total 6 miles
    3) have to take the car to the dealer tomorrow. +15 miles. Total 21 miles

    Would I kill the pump if I drive 21-25 miles without fluid in it? Yes, the steering is real hard though. It makes me feel as if I am driving those non-power-steering dump trucks, no offense to you if you own one.

    Reason I don't want to try fixing it again is: time and patience. I work full time, and therefore it took me about 4-5 weeks already to work on my car. Also, after putting every thing back together, I see that the radiator rack (holding the head-lights, the fans and the radiator) did not sit back into its original position, as a result of which, there is considerable gap between the headlights and the fenders, and because of this, the hood does not lock into position. So, want to give it to the dealer to fix all of this.

    Thanks!

    Azeez

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  3. #2
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    Serious chance you've already done damage - the fluid cools and lubricates the steering rack .

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    The rack doesn't need to be cooled, and there is bound to be enough oil coating the moving parts that it will be fine for awhile. The pump may get hurt, guess you could try it and see if it is OK. And no, I don't worry about being liable for forum advice!

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    Thanks. Also out of the 15 miles to the dealer, 12 miles are, give or take, a straight road. The other 3 miles require just couple of turns. So I am hoping it should not be too bad. I am not covered for a tow-truck, hence trying a gamble.

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    I think you might also want to be sure you've been to the gym enough this month.

    If your pump seizes from being run dry at some point during the trip, you will be suddenly be completely without power assist for the steering. To me, that seems like a potentially dangerous outcome, though you may be pretty close to without assist already.

    Not to mention possibly toasting the serpentine belt (or whichever belt drives the pump on a V6, I am a 1.8T owner). Or breaking it and wrapping it into the timing belt.

    Probably unlikely, but the consequences can snowball pretty quickly.

  7. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by azeezn View Post
    Thanks. Also out of the 15 miles to the dealer, 12 miles are, give or take, a straight road. The other 3 miles require just couple of turns. So I am hoping it should not be too bad. I am not covered for a tow-truck, hence trying a gamble.
    I wouldn't. IMHO, if the pump is still intact, you run a serious risk of finishing it off. So, you're risking a $400 pump (and possibly other components) plus potential loss of control on the road, leading to injury or death - against a $100 tow. If it were me, I'd take another try at fixing it myself, but I would NOT drive the car under those circumstances.

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    I drove 2 miles to my dealer with the level near empty, and I was gritting my teeth with every turn of the wheel as the pump protested. I made it to the dealer, refilled with the requisite Pentosin liquid platinum, and breathed much easier. No apparent harm done. But I woundn't be able to isht for a week from the pucker factor of a 15 mile jaunt bone dry. Good luck with that. Don't eat cheese or drink dark beer.




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    Quote Originally Posted by keithwbloom View Post
    I made it to the dealer, refilled with the requisite Pentosin liquid platinum, and breathed much easier.
    I bought a regular power steering fluid from the Autozone and tapped it. It's already many months now and it works fine with no leaks. So I'm not sure why would one buy those expensive fluids from the stealership.

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    It's really a bad idea to drive to the dealer with no fluid in the power steering. You are not only going to trash you PS pump and maybe more, but also put people other than yourself in danger by driving the car!
    First the guys at Mr. Tire were just trying to rip you off. They are hardly VW specialist. At most you need a pump. If that.
    More than likely if you either trim a little off the existing hose or buy a new hose, refill and bleed the system you will be ok. Or at least good enough to safely get to a dealer. You will need to clean and dry the end of the cooler tubing before refitting the hose and clamping to get a good seal. Then see how the PS pump sounds after bleeding and how the steering acts.

    As for the core support assembly, You just need to go back to the service position and start over. That also should be pretty easy and quick to resolve.

    I also get frustrated at times, but take a breath and you can fix this yourself and save Hundreds of dollars!!!

  11. #10
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    Cheaper to pay for a tow than for a new pump or rack.

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    Thanks everyone for the wise advice. I get it. I will get the car towed. Appreciate it.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Emry View Post
    I bought a regular power steering fluid from the Autozone and tapped it. It's already many months now and it works fine with no leaks. So I'm not sure why would one buy those expensive fluids from the stealership.
    Because, in my case, the dealer was closer than AutoZone.


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    Quote Originally Posted by Emry View Post
    I bought a regular power steering fluid from the Autozone and tapped it. It's already many months now and it works fine with no leaks. So I'm not sure why would one buy those expensive fluids from the stealership.
    Because time after time, people here have reported that generic fluid deteriorated the seals in both the pump and the rack, ruining them. It may not always be true (this IS the internet, after all) but better safe than sorry.

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    Quote Originally Posted by scotts13 View Post
    Because time after time, people here have reported that generic fluid deteriorated the seals in both the pump and the rack, ruining them. It may not always be true (this IS the internet, after all) but better safe than sorry.
    Could you point me to any of those reports? I could only find one guy who said he saw ruined seals from using ATF and "cheapo" fluids. I'm just skeptical that something such as Valvoline power steering fluid would ruin a VW power steering system.

  16. #15
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    I don't question which fluids I use in the car (specifically power steering and coolant), if the manufacturer called for it, their engineering department poured thousands of dollars into developing its characteristics specific for their system. I'll trust them first, and use a generic fluid in the event of an emergency. Generic products aren't horrible in quality or anything, they do offer quality solutions to expensive OEM brands from time to time.

    As for the seepage at the different lines, this seems to be a recurring issue as these cars age. The pump leaking is a different story though and should be fixed accordingly. You might look into rebuild kits for the power steering pump to save some money (not sure if they exist for this particular type of pump.)

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    Quote Originally Posted by vbora01 View Post
    if the manufacturer called for it, their engineering department poured thousands of dollars into developing its characteristics specific for their system. I'll trust them first, and use a generic fluid in the event of an emergency.
    This is flawed logic. Manufacturers come with all kinds of tricks like "only use G12 or die" just to see parts and make tons of profits out of it. Remember that car manufacturers barely make any profit from selling a new car to you. They make most of the profit from spare parts.

    Then, what about huge money companies like Valvoline spend on developing their products? Would they sell you something that could be subject to lawsuits? May be, but I doubt it.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Emry View Post
    This is flawed logic. Manufacturers come with all kinds of tricks like "only use G12 or die" just to see parts and make tons of profits out of it. Remember that car manufacturers barely make any profit from selling a new car to you. They make most of the profit from spare parts.
    While it's true that manufactures may have a financial interest in selling you their "own brand" supplies, they also have an interest in making sure you get the expected service from their cars. Specifying their own fluids helps assure that; it also limits their liability in case some third-party doesn't perform as expected.

    As far as companies like Valvoline, they make their products to appeal to the widest possible audience. It may not be the ideal solution for some uses; it may not be appropriate at all for others. Unless it specifically states on the bottle that it meets a certain manufacturers spec, or is guaranteed compatible with a certain system, it may not be. I assure you, the lawyers who write their warranties are at least as competent as the chemists who design their products.

    Finally: My father (who, amusingly, was an organic chemist, and one of the designers of the polymers in early synthetic motor oils) told me to always start out by using the recommended reagents and procedures. THEN experiment, but on non-production equipment. (Meaning, not your daily driver)

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    Update: Towed the car to the dealer and just returned from there. As it turned out, it was just those two screw clamps connecting the hoses to the aluminum tube. I didn't tighten them...enough. In this project I guess I saved at least $1500, and then, at the end, paid $116 to the dealer ($90 diagnosis + $25 power steering fluid).

    Following is what I did in my 5 weekend project:

    1) Valve cover gaskets change on both right and left banks - Kit from Blauparts.com
    2) Timing belt replacement, thus water-pump, thermostat, and the thermostat housing, idler pulley. Kit from Blauparts.com
    3) Replaced the drive belt and idler pulley. Kit from Blauparts.com
    4) Replaced the radiator. Spectra Premium from Partsgeek.com
    5) Replaced the transmission fluid and filter. Used brand new, sealed, but 6-year old Amsoil transmission fluid (purchased a crate in 2007 for my then 1999 VW Passat 1.8L, but never got to use it).
    6) Brake fluid bleed and refill - Pentosin, german-made, O'Reilly Auto Parts
    7) Coolant flush and refill - Ravenol G12+ from Blauparts.com
    8) Mass air filter replaced. MANN filter from Amazon.com
    9) Replaced stock Power-steering fluid hose clamps with screw clamps from Autozone.

    Thanks again for all your adivces.

    Azeez

  20. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by scotts13 View Post
    Finally: My father (who, amusingly, was an organic chemist, and one of the designers of the polymers in early synthetic motor oils) told me to always start out by using the recommended reagents and procedures. THEN experiment, but on non-production equipment. (Meaning, not your daily driver)
    Amusingly, I'm an organic chemist myself too and can tell you that such adverse chemical reactions are extremely rare because almost all car manufacturers outsource their different parts and those parts are designed in a way that can take different chemicals. I'm not saying there won't be any difference at all but can assure you the impact if minimal.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Emry View Post
    Amusingly, I'm an organic chemist myself too and can tell you that such adverse chemical reactions are extremely rare because almost all car manufacturers outsource their different parts and those parts are designed in a way that can take different chemicals. I'm not saying there won't be any difference at all but can assure you the impact if minimal.
    (GRIN) Dad used to say "There's not a car in the world that needs synthetic motor oil!" I suppose things have changed a bit in the intervening decades...

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    I think that most car manufacturers specify using only the "approved" factory fluids and lubricants. We had an Accord for a while, and the manual stated that nothing but "Genuine Honda Automatic Transmission Fluid" be used. However and only temporarily, in an emergency, you can use a major-brand Dex-Merc, but only until you can replace with genuine Honda ATF. Same for the brake fluid and power steering fluids.

    I used MaxLife ATF in that car too.

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    Quote Originally Posted by ylwagon View Post
    I think that most car manufacturers specify using only the "approved" factory fluids and lubricants. We had an Accord for a while, and the manual stated that nothing but "Genuine Honda Automatic Transmission Fluid" be used. However and only temporarily, in an emergency, you can use a major-brand Dex-Merc, but only until you can replace with genuine Honda ATF. Same for the brake fluid and power steering fluids. I used MaxLife ATF in that car too.
    No doubt there are plenty of garbage stuff sold around. I'm not advocating for their use. But main and well-known brands like Preston, Valvoline, and Mobil should be alrite.

  24. #23
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    Factory fluids are not that expensive, and if there is a possibility that they work better with the VW system then it seems stupid to cheap out on something that's already relatively cheap.

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    Well, the VW power steering fluid costs 25 plus tax. I think that's definitely expensive.

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    Just one more thing: these Pentosin debates have been going on for years. There was a forum for the Audi 5000 that I drove back then, and I posted that by using Prestone power steering fluid with Stop-Leak, the leaks had stopped. The resident expert of the forum then accused me of putting school children's lives at risk, because my brakes were sure to fail when I needed them most. He argued that the Audi power steering system was designed by highly-educated German Engineers, who knew a little more about it than me. The response of one forum reader was interesting- he wondered what was wrong with the Audi's seals, that would supposedly cause them to fail when exposed to the power steering fluids that every other car uses.

  27. #26
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    Quote Originally Posted by ylwagon View Post
    he wondered what was wrong with the Audi's seals, that would supposedly cause them to fail when exposed to the power steering fluids that every other car uses.

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    A) No power steering isn't going to cause any accidents. Once you are rolling, it's easy to turn the wheel. Parking manoevers will be harder, but c'mon.

    B) damage to the pump and rack are actual concerns. For a 15 mile drive I would have filled the system up to the tippy top and tired my luck. But a tow isn't a bad choice. Driving it dry would've been a bad choice.

    C) $25 for power steering fluid is cheap, in the grand scheme of things. A fill-up costs close to $60 (at least here in NYS). Is other fluid cheaper? Sure. But it's not a fluid you repeatedly buy.

    D) using manufacturer-recommended fluids guarantees your car will operate properly and efficiently. Other fluids may work fine, maybe not so much. I need my car every day. It has 190k miles and is running well using recommended fluids. Why change a good thing?

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    Y'know, it's a German thing. My grandparents were born there, I've owned plenty of German cars, and used to repair German cameras. I assure you, no allowance is made for you not following instructions to the letter. If the engineer thinks he can improve efficiency 5% by using a special fluid no one else uses, he'll do it in a heartbeat.

  30. #29
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    Fill up costs me more like 70, and I agree 25 is nothing. If $25 is a lot of money to you I think you bought the wrong car.

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    Any comments on the ATF I used on my car? It was a 6-year old Amsoil Universal ATF. All the 6 1-quart bottles were sealed and stored in a garage shelf. At that time, back in 2007 when I owned a '99 Passat 1.8L, I purchased a crate to replace the ATF, but never could get to the job. Now, I used it on my 2004 Passat 2.8L. Driven over 30 miles so far since yesterday, and the transmission feels quite a lot better and smooth to me than before.

    BTW, with the 6 miles driven without any power steering fluid, fortunately, the pump was okay. The dealer service diagnosed and found nothing wrong with it. I am glad I did not drive the 15 miles to the dealership, and got the car towed instead.

    But again, I guess I have to wait and see for few weeks or so to confirm that the pump is really in good condition.

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