The easiest thing you can do to ensure your car runs smoothly is to check the fluids. This is a simple task no matter how much or how little you know about cars. All you have to do is lift the hood and do a visual inspection. Doing this on a regular basis will certainly help to keep your repair costs down, but it will also empower you. A dishonest mechanic might talk you into flushing and replacing fluids that don’t need it. But, if you know a thing or two about fluids, you can refuse unnecessary work with confidence.
Without further adieu, here are the five fluids in your car that should be checked, how often you should check them, and what to look for.
This, of course, is our bread and butter, and chances are, it’s the first thing you learned to check in your vehicle.
In almost every vehicle out there you simply pop the hood, locate the oil dipstick, pull it out, and wipe it down. Put it back in and then remove it again and you’ll have your oil level. If it’s at a safe level, which is generally indicated by a notched or scored section, then continue on your way. If it’s not, add more oil until you reach the desired level. If you notice that your car is burning through oil quicker than usual, it’s worth bringing it in.
If you drive a newer vehicle it should be safe to check your oil once a month. But, if you’ve passed the 100,000 mile mark in a later model, it may be best to check it each time you fill up at the gas station. Dense, black oil is usually a sign that it’s time for an oil change.
How long to go between oil changes depends on the make and year of your vehicle. Take a look at your owner’s manual to be sure of the recommended interval, or play it safe and have it changed every 3,000 miles.
Transmission fluid is there to keep the gears on your car moving without too much friction. Checking your transmission fluid is a lot like checking your oil, except you’ll need to have the car running when you do it. Under the hood, the dipstick should be near the rear of the engine in a rear-wheel-drive vehicle, and near the front in a front-wheel-drive. Generally it will be labeled or have a ring handle for you to pull it out with.
The dipstick should have marks at the end to measure the fluid level. Because this fluid pumps through a closed system it should never be low, but if it is, bring the car in ASAP.
Check your transmission fluid monthly along with your engine oil. It should be red and odorless. If it’s brown or smells burnt it’s time for a flush.
Also known as antifreeze, coolant protects your engine from extreme temperatures. If you run low on coolant there’s a very good chance your car will overheat. It’s also critical during especially cold winters as your engine could freeze without it.
To check your coolant level, first make sure you give your engine time to cool. You should never check coolant when your car is running or still warm. Some vehicles will have a coolant reservoir or overflow tank which you can check. Otherwise, remove the radiator cap and see that your coolant is at the proper level. Even if you have a reservoir, it’s smart to check your radiator anyway, just in case the line from your reservoir is blocked somehow.
Check your coolant level at least twice a year: at the beginning of Summer and again in the Winter. If it’s low, add more. It’s always best to stick with the same brand and mixture. You’ll want to have your radiator flushed and coolant replaced every 2-3 years or so.
Like transmission fluid, brake fluid is part of a closed system, so it should also never be low. However, checking it is important to make sure the fluid is clean. If your brakes ever feel slightly off, giving it a quick check is always recommended.
Your brake fluid reservoir is usually on the driver’s side of your car, and it should be somewhat see-through like other reservoirs so you can easily check the level whenever you check your oil or coolant. Clean brake fluid should be a nice golden color. If it’s brown, it’s time to flush it.
Power Steering Fluid
If you’ve ever driven a car without power steering, you know how nice it is to have and you can thank your power steering fluid for an easy drive. If this fluid ever gets low you might start to hear some noises or feel resistance in the steering wheel. Checking your power steering fluid is just like checking your coolant or brake fluid. There should be handy reservoir to show you the level without getting your hands dirty. This fluid should never drop too much, so if it does appear low, don’t hesitate to bring your car in to the shop.
Check your power steering fluid each month when you check your oil, coolant, and brake fluid. Generally it’s a good idea to replace it every few years when you have your radiator flushed, but it is worth checking your owner’s manual to be sure.
Checking all of your vehicle’s fluids regularly is the best thing you can do to keep it on the road. So, set up your calendar for reminders and feel free to call us any time you have a question!