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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Well, it is stupid because I pretty much know the answer, but I just want to make sure. My mother owns a '97 Caravan, which I do most all of the maintenance work on. A few days ago, I was driving it, and noticed that the steering gets a bit stiff when making tight turns. I checked, and adjusted the pressure in the front tires (both were quite low) and that made a good bit of difference. I then checked the power steering fluid. It is low, and needs to be filled up, but my question concerns the color / smell of the fluid. All the power steering fluid I've ever seen in my life has been clear, and pretty much odorless unless it was burned. The fluid in the Caravan's steering reservoir is red, and smells suspiciously like auto transmission fluid. Is there some kind of power steering fluid I am unaware of that looks and smells like trans fluid, or did Chrysler use trans fluid in the steering, or did someone else at a later point use trans fluid in the steering? If it is some kind of steering fluid I have never encountered before, what is it called, do I have to buy it directly from a Dodge dealer? If it is trans fluid, is that what is supposed to be in there, and should I just top it off with more trans fluid?

I'm not having any other problems with the steering system, no weird noises, or leaks, and the stiffness just developed recently, and as I mentioned above, mostly went away when I corrected the pressure in the front tires. I am guessing that filling the steering fluid up the rest of the way will fix the remaining bit of stiffness, I just need to make certain that I"m pouring the right stuff in there.
 

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Yes, Chrysler uses ATF in some of their power steering systems. I know that my '01 is supposed to use ATF+4 in the power steering, but my 99 Durango is supposed to use power steering fluid. There's a TSB that says what vehicles use what.
 

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Roger that on checking the owner's manual. My 96 Plymouth Grand Voyager (which I recently sold) used the clear stuff. My current 04 Chrysler T&C uses ATF+4.
 

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I looked it up. TSB 19-005-03 says that certain older models should use ATF+4, but 96-2000 Caravans are NOT among them. The chart referenced by the quote below says that 96-2000 vehicles should use MS5931, which is the older power steering fluid. Since it appears that you have ATF in there, it would probably be a good idea to flush that out and refill with the proper stuff.

DISCUSSION:

The factory fill power steering fluid for most 2004 model year Chrysler Group vehicles is ATF+4 (MS9602) and it provides superior performance at both low and high temperatures. WJ/WG and ZH vehicles use unique power steering fluids. Refer to the table to identify factory fill and the approved service power steering fluid by year and model. Note that MS9602 is Red in color and MS5931 and MS9933 are Amber/Yellow in color. All three fluids will darken in color with usage and fluid color is no longer an indication of fluid condition.

The part numbers for MS9602 are 05013457AA (quart) and 05013458AA (gallon). The part number for MS5931 is 04883077 (quart). The part number for MB345 is 05127381AA.

MS9602 should not be mixed or used as a "topping off" fluid on systems requiring MS5931. On some past models, MS9602 should be used as the replacement fluid. On these models, if a power steering system is being serviced that results in a large fluid loss, such as a pump, hose or gear/rack replacement, the complete system should be drained and filled with MS9602.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Thanks everyone for the information. The belt is fine, no slipping, no squealing. Unfortunately, while the previous owner gave me pretty much every other little thing that had anything to do with the van, he did not give me the owners manual, so I am on my own for getting some pretty basic information. Luckily we have an internet, and a chat forum just filled to the brim with people who know what is what.

Rick, thanks so much, you are a treasure chest of information, much of which would be so hard to come by otherwise.

It is very evident by the color / odor that this is not steering fluid. I've owned the van for two years now, and I've never messed with the steering system, so I know this fluid has been in there for at least two full years. I guess then that the short term answer is that I can top off with ATF+4, and plan on flushing the system out, and refilling with the correct steering fluid soon.
 

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The ATF is cheaper and that is what your dealership will fill your p/s fluid with regardless of the model or year (except maybe for the viper). My understanding from my dealership techs (reasonable reputable) is that it does not matter. The quart of OE P/S fluid was more expensive than the OE AFT+4.

However, I just replaced my pump on my 98 GC 3.3L and put the OE P/S fluid in because it was "recommended" by Alldata.
 

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XDGT03 said:
The ATF is cheaper and that is what your dealership will fill your p/s fluid with regardless of the model or year (except maybe for the viper). My understanding from my dealership techs (reasonable reputable) is that it does not matter. The quart of OE P/S fluid was more expensive than the OE AFT+4.

However, I just replaced my pump on my 98 GC 3.3L and put the OE P/S fluid in because it was "recommended" by Alldata.
My dealership told me that ATF+3 would be fine for my van. Chrysler clearly disagrees. The advice may have had something to do with the leftover stock of +3 on their shelves.

Using a cheaper fluid for the power steering may save them a few bucks per job-- in actual cost of the fluid, in the cost of stocking a variety of stuff in their parts department and in the cost of having techs look up what is required for the particular vehicle they are working on. The last one is especially important to techs that work flat rate.

Now they may even believe, in good faith, that it's fine, but I don't see why Chrysler would spend the time to be so specific in a TSB if it didn't matter. (Maybe seal materials are different or something.) If the right fluid specified by Chrysler costs a couple dollars more, as a vehicle owner, I would go with that.
 
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