How Do I …Check all the fluids in my vehicle?
Coolant, motor oil and transmission, brake, power-steering and windshield wiper fluids. These are the six liquids that help to keep your car running (aside from gas unless you have an EV). Your car’s longevity and performance depend on them. While you can have a mechanic check them all out, it is helpful to know you can also do it yourself.
Motor oil is one of the most important and is also one of the easiest to check. First, make sure you’re your car is off and cooled for at least 10 minutes. Ideally, you should check the oil in the morning, after the vehicle has been sitting overnight.
Open the hood and look for the oil dipstick that most cars have. It will typically have a yellow handle. In a front-wheel drive car, the dipstick will be located near the front of the engine. In a rear-wheel drive car, the dipstick is usually located near the centre. Some newer vehicles, especially European models, do not have a dipstick. If that is the case, it is best to contact the manufacturer or check your owner’s manual.
Pull the dipstick out. It should have an oily film on the shaft. Wipe it clean with a towel and then reinsert it. Pull the dipstick out again to correctly measure the oil level. There should be markings indicating “add” and “full” on it, and the oil should fall between these markers. If the level is close to the “add” mark or below, then add oil.
The oil should typically be black or brown. Some sources say that black oil is fine, but most view this as a warning that an oil change is required. Amber is usually viewed as the desired colour. A milky colour indicates that coolant is leaking into the engine. Additionally, if you’re okay with getting your hands dirty you can check the texture of the oil. If you feel any grittiness, it might indicate engine damage, which a mechanic should inspect.
Coolant keeps your car cool by dispersing engine heat through the radiator. A correct coolant level prevents overheating. Like motor oil, wait for the engine to cool before checking, otherwise pressurized coolant may spray out and cause burns. Most cars should have a coolant expression tank, otherwise known as an overflow tank. There should be a “maximum” and “minimum” indicator on the tank, and your car should be close to maximum. If there isn’t a guide on the tank, open the tank to see if coolant is nearly filled to the top. If the coolant is low, you can simply add more. You will need to make sure that the coolant you use is approved for your vehicle.
Next week we will continue by looking at checking transmission fluid and brake fluid.