June 24th, 2020 by Fix Auto USA
Are you checking your car fluids on a regular basis? If you’re not, your car could experience reduced power, gas mileage, and resell value, as well as increased repair bills and risk of breakdown or accident.
A recent survey by the Car Care Council, a non-profit organization dedicated to educating motorists about the importance of regular vehicle care, found that ¼ of cars had low or dirty engine oil, 17 percent had low coolant levels, and 27 percent had low or contaminated washer fluid.
We can’t overstate the importance of maintaining proper fluid levels. They play a vital role in almost every function of your car, especially in fuel efficiency and longevity. This blog will provide an overview of the most important car fluids, their function, and tips on how to check car fluids.
What car fluids are in car?
The six car fluids that you should check on a regular basis are engine oil, brake fluid, transmission fluid (if you drive an automatic), coolant (AKA, antifreeze), power steering fluid, and windshield washer fluid.
Under the hood, where engine components spin thousands of reps per minute, the oil has a starring role: ensuring that the engine parts stay lubricated and are able to move in unison. Of all the car fluids, your oil is among the most important. Driving with no (or low) oil can cause serious damage to your engine.
That’s why it’s important to bring your car in for an oil change every 3,000 miles (5,000 for synthetic oil). While the mechanic checks your oil, have him check and top off your other fluids.
If you are a do-it-yourselfer, before checking your oil, make sure that your vehicle is parked on level ground and that the engine is cold. This will help ensure you get an accurate measurement.
Transmission fluid is one of the more important fluids to check in car. It lubricates and cools important parts of the transmission including clutches, gears, and valves. When it is low, it can cause difficulty shifting and uncontrolled surging.
There’s a myth out there that many transmissions come with a “lifetime” fluid that never needs to be replaced. In truth, there’s no such thing as a lifetime fluid, and your transmission fluid needs eventually to be replaced – but with newer cars, usually not until they reach 100,000 miles.
Still, it’s a good idea to check your transmission fluid periodically. For an accurate reading, make sure your car is parked in neutral and the engine is running when you check it.
During the hot summer months, coolant (antifreeze) keeps the engine cool, and prevents it from freezing during the winter. Also, the coolant helps prevent corrosion, foam, and deposits from forming.
Antifreeze deteriorates over time and in newer cars should be tested after 50,000 miles. Even if the cooling system seems to be working, test for acidity as well as freezing and boiling protection, and also check for signs of rust and leaks. Coolant is one of the more important fluids to check in car.
When you step on the brake pedal, it activates the brake plunger, within the master cylinder. The pressure pushes the brake fluid out of its reservoir inside the brake lines, which causes the brake pads to slow your car.
As your brake pads wear, your brake fluid level usually goes down. If it falls below the minimum indicator, add some fluid and also have your brakes checked.
Same goes for your power steering fluid, which allows you to easily turn your steering wheel; without power steering, it would be extremely stiff.
Windshield washer fluid
Considering how essential a clear windshield is to safe driving, the washer fluid doesn’t get a lot of respect and, compared with other car fluids, it is often neglected. How often you need to check your windshield washer fluid is a function of how often you use your windshield wiper. If you spray it frequently, check it whenever you get gas.
Consult your owner manual for specific amounts and instructions for fluid types that are recommended for your vehicle.
How to check car fluids
Checking engine oil
Usually your oil dipstick can be found near the front of the engine or behind it. Begin by pulling the dipstick out and wiping it clean with a rag or paper towel. Then, put it back in, all the way, and pull it out again.
To check your oil level, look at the indicators on the dipstick that show a maximum and minimum level. If the oil mark is near the maximum level, it means your oil level is close to full. If the mark is near the minimum indicator, it means it is low and you should add oil. It could also be indicative of burning oil or an engine that is leaking, either of which will cause damage to your engine eventually.
Also pay attention to the color of the oil. Engine oil is a yellowish, amber color when it is new and, when it resembles a brown or black shade, it indicates it’s time for an oil change. It’s one of the most important fluids to check in car.
Your radiator can prevent your engine from over-heating or freezing, but only if it has adequate coolant, also known as anti-freeze. Your first step is locate the radiator cap, which may say “cooling system” on top of it, along with a warning not to open it when hot.
After opening it, you can see right away if the fluid level is filled to the top. There are different colors and varieties of coolant; check your vehicle owner’s guide for what kind to get, and be sure never to mix coolant types.
There are many fluids to check in car, but don’t forget your brake fluid and power steering fluid!
Power steering fluid
The reservoir is under the hood, usually (but not always) closer to the passenger side, with a cap that should say “steering fluid” on top of it. Most vehicles have a heavy-duty plastic reservoir, which makes it easy to check the fluid level without removing the cap. Just wipe off the container so you can clearly see the markings.
If it’s low, and there is no fluid leak, remove the cap and pour in the fluid until it’s full.
Find the brake fluid canister, usually on the driver’s side near the top of the brake master cylinder. Remove the cap and make sure the brake fluid level is within a half an inch of the cap. Also note the color; if it’s black, it needs to be replaced, ideally by a mechanic.
Be careful not to get any grease or oil mixed in with the fluid, and remember that brake fluid is one of the more toxic fluids to check in car.
For some vehicles, the process for checking your transmission fluid is similar to checking your oil. Start by locating the fill tube, if your car has one. Verify the level and then, with the car running and the transmission in park or neutral (consult your owner’s guide), pour the fluid in.
For some cars, a mechanic is required to inspect it.
Windshield washer fluid
Windshield washer fluid is often brightly colored and, of all the car fluids, adding windshield washer fluid is perhaps the easiest. The cap usually has a symbol of a windshield wiper on it. If the fluid level is empty or low, pour washer fluid into the reservoir, filling it up to the top, and then close the cap.
A human being can survive without water for three days. Likewise, cars, trucks, and SUVs need to be lubricated and nourished, or they will break down. Best case scenario, you are faced with a car that drives inefficiently and with potentially costly repair bills; worst case, you get in an accident because you neglected to check your brake fluid.
Understanding how to monitor and test your car components, and how to identify fluid loss and possible leaks, is critical for any car owner. Now that you know what car fluids are in car, you can be proactive about checking them. If you don’t have the time or interest, the other option is taking your car in on a regular basis to your local auto shop and letting a professional inspect your vehicle and ensure your car fluids are at their proper levels.
Your safety and that of other drivers depends on it.
This blog post was contributed by Fix Auto Costa Mesa a leading industry expert and collision repair shop servicing customers in Costa Mesa, a city located in the heart of Orange County.