How to Check Your Vehicle’s Fluids

Your vehicle’s fluids are essential to keeping it running smoothly and reliably. They play a huge role in almost every aspect of your vehicle, including fuel economy and longevity. If the fluids become low, it can cause many parts and components to run rough and may even lead to repairs or full replacement. Keeping your fluids at the proper level will keep your vehicle running smoothly and make it last longer. Here’s a list of the most important fluids to keep an eye on:

Engine oil

After gas, the engine oil is the most essential fluid in your vehicle. It keeps all your engine’s components lubricated and moving smoothly. Most cars and trucks have a dipstick located in the engine bay that shows you the level of your fluid. It’s always best to check your oil after your engine has cooled down for about 10 minutes; this allows the oil to settle at the bottom and cool down.

To check the oil, pull out the dipstick and wipe it clean using a rag. Then, reinsert it and pull it back out to see where how much oil is currently in your engine. The dipstick will have markers that show you the maximum and minimum levels that the oil should be at, and optimally the oil should be near the maximum line. If it’s at the minimum marker or below it, you should add more oil immediately. If you notice that your oil is consistently low, this could indicate that you have a leak or that your engine is burning oil; either of these should be addressed as soon as possible to prevent damage to your engine.

When checking your oil, it’s also important to pay attention to its condition. Smear a little between your fingers; it should feel smooth and slick. If you notice it feel grainy or gritty, this is a sign that your engine components could be showing signs of wear – another issue that should be addressed. The color of the oil should be a golden amber or yellow; if it’s dark brown or black, it’s time for an oil change. If it’s milky in color, that means you have coolant leaking into the engine.

Coolant

There’s a lot of combustion and friction that occurs in an engine, so your coolant (also known as antifreeze) is essential to keep things cool and prevent overheating. Checking your coolant can alert you to radiator leaks or other issues, but it’s essential to make sure you never check it while the engine is hot because the pressurized fluid can spray and cause burns.

The method of checking the coolant can vary depending on the type of vehicle you have. If you have a coolant expansion tank, check to make sure that the coolant falls between the minimum and maximum lines. If you don’t have one of these, you can open the radiator cap to check the level; it should be filled up to the top. If you need to add fluid, make sure that you’re using the correct type for your vehicle and allow the radiator to release any trapped air bubbles before putting the cap back on.

Power Steering Fluid

Power steering fluid makes it easy to turn your wheel regardless of the speed you’re traveling, although some newer vehicles rely on electric steering. As with the other types of fluids, it will have a reservoir in the engine bay. Remove the dipstick and check the markings on the reservoir; if your fluid is low, be sure to fill it using the type of fluid specified by your owner’s manual to prevent any damage. If you notice you need to refill it often, there’s most likely a leak which can make your vehicle increasingly difficult to steer over time.

Brake Fluid

Modern brakes are hydraulic, so if you notice a delay or strange feeling when you push the brake pedal, the brake fluid is the first thing you should check. Checking it is similar to the previous fluids; find the reservoir in the engine compartment and make sure the fluid level falls between the maximum and minimum lines. If the brake fluid is at the minimum, be sure to add the correct type for your vehicle. Brake fluids come in several different colors, but it should be translucent. If it’s cloudy, dark, or you can’t see through it, it’s time to get it replaced.

Transmission Fluid

Transmission fluid is like oil in your engine; it lubricates all the components in your transmission and keeps it cool. Many transmissions come with “lifetime” transmission fluid that shouldn’t need to be replaced in theory, but contaminated fluid can cause issues with shifting, noises, and other issues. Some cars have a dipstick, but others require a mechanic to check it. If your vehicle has a dipstick, you can check it like the above fluids, but you’ll want to have the engine on and have the transmission in park or neutral to get the most accurate reading. To add more fluid, you’ll pour it into the fill tube and make sure you have it at the proper level. Afterward, move through the gears with your foot on the brake to help move the new fluid through the transmission.

Windshield Wiper Fluid

While windshield wiper fluid isn’t essential to your vehicle’s performance, it’s important for safe driving. It’s also the easiest fluid to maintain as you can use any type of fluid that you buy at an auto parts store. Most vehicles have a reservoir close to the windshield under the hood; simply check the level and add more as needed. Keeping your fluids at the proper levels is one of the easiest ways to help your vehicle maintained and prevent expensive repairs. If you feel uncomfortable about checking the fluids on your own, don’t worry! That’s what we’re here for. We’re happy to check and fill your fluids as needed, or even give recommendations on the type of fluid you should use in your vehicle. Give us a call at 626-966-5212 with any questions you have or to schedule an appointment.