Can a Power Steering Fluid Leak Cause a Fire?by Joshua Bailey
The Need for Fluids
Fluids keep a car running. They provide power for the car to move, cool the engine and lubricate parts to reduce friction. Sometimes the hoses that carry those fluids can wear out and cause leaks. Leaks aren't all that unusual, but you need to be aware of them because they are potentially hazardous.
What Is Power Steering Fluid?
Power steering fluid is used to make steering a vehicle with power steering easy enough to do one-handed. Without power steering fluid, you would find your car very hard to steer, and you could lose control. The fluid is made primarily from a number of heavy and light petroleum distillates. It is flammable.
If power steering fluid leaks, you have a fire hazard. If the leak drips or sprays onto a hot engine part, there is a chance a fire will start. The flash point is between 340 and 392 degrees Fahrenheit. Though the fluid will burn, it won't ignite easily. It will release toxic vapors that, when heated above their flash point, will ignite. A mist or spray of power steering fluid can even ignite below the flash point.
If the fluid burns, it will produce carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, smoke, fumes, unburned hydrocarbons and oxides of sulfur, phosphorus, zinc and/or nitrogen. If you are exposed to the fumes, seek treatment.
Extinguishing Power Steering Fluid Fires
Power steering fluid fires should be put out using dry chemical, foam, carbon dioxide or water fog. Water or foam may cause frothing. Carbon dioxide and inert gas can displace oxygen. Use caution when applying carbon dioxide or inert gas in confined spaces.
The year 2008 saw two car recalls specifically because of the danger of power steering fluid igniting. In February, 273,000 Honda Acuras were recalled because prolonged high under-hood temperatures may cause the power steering hose to deteriorate prematurely, causing the hose to crack and leak fluid. In September, 42,408 GM Saturns were recalled because a nut connecting the power steering fluid pump to the reservoir could loosen, resulting in a leak that could be ignited.