Know Your Engine Fluids

Cars need frequent checkups to keep them running smoothly, and it’s the vehicle component fluids that require the most attention. Not only do your vehicle component fluids affect your car’s fuel efficiency, ignoring them can drastically shorten your car’s lifespan. If you’re a new car owner or want to learn more about how to keep your car fit in between visits to the mechanic, read on for our guide on checking your vehicle component fluids and why they’re important.

Before you get started, here are a few general guidelines to follow.

  • With the exception of transmission fluid, make sure your fluids are checked before you start your car for the day
  • Park on flat ground, or as close to it as possible, when checking fluid levels
  • Don’t go past the fill line— too much of a fluid can often be just as bad as not enough.
  • Check your owner’s manual to see what type of each fluid your car needs. Using fluids that aren’t designed for your type of car can reduce efficiency, sometimes significantly.
  • Use a wet rag to clean around reservoir caps and dipsticks before use, to keep out dirt and other contaminating substances. You can also wear latex gloves to protect your skin if you wish.
  • If you find that one of your fluids needs frequent top-ups, take your car to the mechanic for a checkup.

Now, onto the six types of vehicle component fluids you’ll need to know about.

Engine Oil

If nothing else, you’ve probably seen commercials encouraging you to head to a local drive-up oil change location every 3,000 miles— but what does oil do, and why does it need to be changed so often? Put simply, oil lubricates, cools, and cleans your engine’s moving parts. If the engine is running, oil is flowing through it, keeping everything running smoothly. But if your oil is dirty or there’s not enough of it, it can cause major damage to the engine.

To check it, raise the hood and locate the oil reservoir in your engine (your car’s manual should have a diagram). With the engine cold and not running, pull out the oil dipstick and wipe it clean, then reinsert and pull it back out again. The oil level should be between the upper and lower marks on the dipstick; if it’s low, adding a quart of the right type of oil should bring it up to the right level. The oil should be a clear amber color; if it’s dark brown or cloudy, it’s time for an oil change!

Transmission Fluid

Transmission fluid also helps lubricate the moving parts inside a car’s gearbox, as well as providing hydraulic pressure to keep the parts moving and seals flexible. Most cars have sealed transmissions that make it so only a mechanic can check the fluid level, but if your transmission has a dipstick, you can check it yourself— and make sure to read your car manual thoroughly beforehand so you have an idea of what to do.

For this your car engine should be idling and at normal operating temperature— let it idle for about ten minutes after starting in order to get it up to temp. Shift into each gear for a few seconds each, then put the engine in neutral or park, depending what your owner’s manual says. From then on, it’s the same as checking your engine oil— wipe the dipstick clean, then check the level of fluid. If it’s low, add more, typically a pint at a time. Healthy transmission fluid should be relatively clear or pink in color, if yours is not, the fluid is most likely old and could be causing extra damage within your transmission.

Coolant Fluid, aka Antifreeze

“Coolant” and “antifreeze” may seem like contradictory terms, but they refer to the same thing. This fluid keeps your engine from freezing in winter, prevents overheating while driving, and protects your engine from corrosion and rust. Checking the coolant level is easy: with the engine cold and off, locate the coolant fluid reservoir (your owner’s manual may have a diagram, or you can look up the layout of your specific car online). The reservoir is usually translucent white plastic, and will have an upper and lower-level marking on the outside. If the fluid is below the low mark, add more coolant, but do not overfill. While coolant fluid typically comes in green, there are a variety of colors available, like orange, blue, purple, yellow, and even pink! It is said that each manufacturer designs its engines around a specific coolant fluid, so make sure to check your manual before purchasing.

Brake Fluid

Brake fluid protects your brake hydraulics as well as transmitting the force that brings your car to a stop. The brake fluid reservoir is typically located at the back of the engine compartment on the driver’s side; like the coolant reservoir, it’s usually translucent with upper and lower marks on the outside. If the fluid is near or below the lower mark, have a mechanic inspect the brake system for leaks as soon as possible, as the only way the fluid should be low is if there is a leak. Your brake fluid should be clear with a yellowish tint to it.

Power Steering Fluid

Power steering is a system inside your car that reduces the effort needed to turn the steering wheel— and power steering fluid is what makes that possible. It also protects hoses and seals inside the system, keeping them from developing cracks or leaks. To check the level, first check your car manual to find out whether your car has a dipstick and pump system, or an external reservoir. If the former, check it the same way as you would your oil; if the latter, check it the same way you would coolant and brake  .

Always make sure to check your manual or with a mechanic for which power steering fluid your car requires, however for a general rule of thumb, power steering fluids come in a variety of colors, none of which should be dark. Most American cars have a red color, most Japanese cars have a clear/gold color, and most European cars have a green tint to their color.

Windshield Washer Fluid

Windshield wiper fluid doesn’t affect your car’s performance, but it is crucial to driving safely— after all, you can’t get anywhere if you can’t see where you’re going. Your windshield washer fluid will be stored in a plastic reservoir similar to coolant— you may also have one in the trunk of your car for the rear wipers, which your owner’s manual can tell you. If the fluid level is low, remove the cap and refill. Using a solution with antifreeze during the winter months is recommended if you live in a climate that gets temperatures below freezing. Windshield washer fluid is usually blue with a consistency of water.

Choose Churchill Auto Care for an Auto Repair Shop You Can Trust

If your vehicle needs maintenance or repairs, give us a call! We offer excellent service at a fair price for all of your automotive maintenance and repair needs. To schedule an appointment, please visit our site or give us a call at (301) 620-7620.

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