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Automobile Maintenance

It’s a Thirsty Machine: 7 Different Types of Car Fluids (and How to Maintain Them)

In the United States, total vehicle sales average about 15.5 million per year. The annual cost of owning a vehicle on average runs from about $6,000 all the way up to $10,000. It depends on the type of vehicle you own. 

Besides gas and depreciation, one of the highest costs of owning a vehicle is car repairs. 

But you can avoid some costly repairs through regular maintenance. Maintenance is one of the most important things you can do to extend the life of your vehicle.

Your car relies on a range of fluids to keep it running well. Forget to change those fluids, and you can ruin your engine!

Learn more about the various car fluids and what to look for here. 

1. Engine Oil

Your engine can’t run without engine oil. Do you have huge puddles of light-to-dark brown or even black fluid under your car? 

That’s the sign of an engine oil leak. A little bit of fluid under the car is normal. But if you see large puddles, get it checked out. 

You can check the engine oil levels yourself. Make sure the engine is off and cool and the car is parked in a level area. Check your owner’s manual to see where the dipstick is located.

Also, read the manufacturer’s recommendations on how to check the fluid. Some cars need the oil checked when the engine is warm.

Use a clean rag or paper towel. Take the dipstick out and wipe it clean. Then re-insert the dipstick into its tube, pushing it all the way down. 

Pull it back out. Note where the fluid is at the end of the dipstick. The dipstick has markers at the end noting whether the fluid is high or low.

If the level of the oil is in the low range, it’s time for an oil change. You can find locations for oil changes here. 

If the engine oil is low and you don’t have time for an oil change for a couple of weeks, add some oil. Check your manual for the correct type of oil. 

2. Power Steering Fluid

Modern cars have power steering. But power steering doesn’t work unless there’s power-steering fluid in the car. Power-steering fluid is a lubricant that keeps the steering smooth. 

It’s easy to check the power-steering fluid. Look for an opaque container on the passenger side of the car. It probably says “steering” on the cap. 

You should be able to see the fluid without opening the cap. If not, clean the area to avoid getting dirt into the reservoir. Check the dipstick the same way you checked the engine oil. 

If the fluid is low, add some more. 

3. Brake Fluid

Brake fluid is essential for keeping your brakes pressurized which gives you stopping power. 

Be extra careful when checking the brake fluid not to allow any dirt into the system. Clean all around the cap before taking it off. The brake-fluid compartment is most often near the back of the engine area.

If the fluid isn’t within a half-inch of the cap, you’re low on brake fluid. Check your manual for the correct type of fluid.

Brake fluid is clear, yellow, or light brown. If yours looks dark, don’t add more. Instead, have the mechanic replace it. 

4. Transmission Fluid

If your radiator fluid runs low or out, you’ll end up on the side of the road with a smoking radiator! Don’t risk overheating your engine, since this decreases engine life. 

The engine shouldn’t be cold when you check your transmission fluid. The car should be running. But never remove the radiator cap when the engine is hot.

Never run your car in a closed garage. 

The fluid is pressurized and could explode in your face if the engine is too hot. 

To be safe, always lean your face away from the cap when checking. Never look down into the radiator until after you’ve removed the cap. 

The radiator is right in front near the car grille. Once you have the cap open and it’s safe, locate the dipstick. Pull it out and clean it off. Reinsert it. 

Pull it back out and make sure it’s not low. Also, check the quality of the fluid. It should be a nice pink hue. Does it smell burnt or there’s debris in it? If so, take it in for a check and replacement. 

If it’s a little low but looks fine, add more transmission fluid. Always check your manual for the correct type of fluid. 

5. Engine Coolant

Coolant is easy to check. Look for the overflow container near the radiator. If the fluid in the container looks low, fill with half water and half antifreeze. 

6. Windshield Washer Fluid

Windshield washer fluid may not seem critical, but if you’re driving at speed and something gets on your windshield, you’ll want to get it off quickly. 

Look for the container with a windshield wiper icon on the cap. Pull the cap off. Using a funnel, pour wiper fluid into the container. Pour slowly so you don’t overfill. 

7. Air-Conditioning Fluid

When summer comes, you’ll be glad you checked the air-conditioning fluids! The air-conditioner needs Freon or refrigerant so it can cool down the inside of the car. 

Checking the car’s Freon or refrigerant level requires special tools. You’ll need a gauge and thermometer. Your local auto parts store can help with this. 

After checking the coolant levels, you can recharge the system if necessary. 

Checking Your Car Fluids

Check your car fluids on a routine basis. Routine maintenance sometimes feels like a pain. But preventive maintenance extends the life of your car. 

Vital fluids, like brake fluid, also keep you out of trouble on the road. Don’t cause an accident because the brake fluid is low. 

The power steering won’t work well if the fluid gets low, and this could also affect your driving. 

Keep your car in top working order by following the manufacturer’s guidelines for maintenance. You can easily check fluid levels yourself.

When it comes to the bigger checks, bring your car to a trusted automotive repair shop. 

Find helpful car maintenance tips here!