How to Check Your Car's Fluid Levels
Tools Necessary For Install:
- Spare Rag
- Protective eyewear
Duration: 30 Minutes
How Often: As Needed
Cars are a big investment and unfortunately, your investment needs constant attention to perform optimally during its life-span. It is important to regularly check your car’s fluid levels between service intervals to prevent breakdowns, mechanical damage, and other accidents. A car that runs low on transmission fluid can cause its transmission to shift improperly or sometimes even stop functioning altogether. If your car is not lubricated properly, you run the risk of damaging your transmission's internal parts, which will ultimately lead to a costly visit to your local mechanic.
Fortunately, you can learn to check your car’s fluid
levels by following these, easy-to-do steps that can often be completed in
around 30 minutes.
The owner's manual of your car will give you an idea of when you should look at the fluid levels of each major component present under the car’s hood. However, the timeframe given is normally the minimum frequency that is required to keep your car running properly. A better option is to check the car fluids twice a year, or every 5,000-10,000 miles - whichever comes first.
Parking the car in a proper place
Park your car in a proper place, preferably an idle parking lot or in a garage. Ensure the brake handle is pulled up to make sure the braking mechanism is fully engaged.
You can begin your inspection by opening the hood of your car. The lever, to gain access to your hood, can be found somewhere along the bottom of the left-hand side of the dashboard. If you are having trouble locating the lever, be sure to consult your owner’s manual. Pull the lever towards you, and you should hear a click to indicate the hood has been released. Once your hood is properly positioned, look for the thin metal rod on one side of the engine compartment to keep the hood securely fastened while you work.
It is always advisable to check the fluid levels after the car has cooled down. That way, the oil in the cylinder head areas and other components will have a chance to drain and prevent false readings.
It's important to note, that you must schedule oil changes based on the amount of time that has passed since your last oil change, rather than mileage. It is good practice to replace the oil once every six months, even if the car has not run the stipulated number of miles. If you are frequently driving your car, keeping your car idle can cause the oil to breakdown and ultimately make it less effective.
Checking the engine oil
Start by checking the engine oil. To do this, first locate the oil dipstick, mostly in yellow or white, sticking out from the top of the engine. Pull the dipstick out slowly. Use a paper towel or any cloth and wipe the dipstick clean. Then, reinsert the dipstick fully in. Pull the dipstick out once more to examine the current oil level. Once you are done, place the dipstick back in its place.
Note the markings on the dipstick that indicate the range of acceptable oil levels. Check the markings you see against the values given in the owner's manual. If the oil level is lower than the recommended level, you must add the appropriate motor oil immediately.
The color of the oil can be indicative of the state of the oil in your vehicle. Clean engine oil is usually a translucent golden color. Dirty engine oil will usually be black or dark brown. If the oil looks dirty, check your service records for the last time you had your oil changed. Running your car on slightly darkened oil is fine, but it is often better to change the oil-based on the schedule of maintenance to ensure accuracy.
Always look out for oil stain spots on the ground where you park your car. If you notice any oil spot, get your car into a service shop to have it inspected as there may be a leak. If the oil looks milky or foamy, it could be contaminated with coolant. This could be due to a blown head gasket or another serious issue.
Checking the transmission fluid
This transmission fluid lubricates your car’s transmission or gear system. The best way to check your transmission fluids is to inspect the dipstick while the engine is fully warmed up. The transmission fluid can usually be accessed by locating the red dip-stick. Similar to the oil dip-stick. Pull out the dipstick, wipe it clean, and put it in again. Then, remove it and examine the fluid level.
Clean transmission fluid has a glossy reddish color. If your fluid looks brown, black, or has a distinct burnt odor, you should immediately replace your fluid.
It is not necessary to change transmission fluids as often as the engine oil. In newer model cars, the recommended service interval could be around 100,000 miles. Check your owner’s manual to find out the range for your model.
Inspecting the brake fluid
Look into the user manual to locate the brake fluid location. Or you can look over the engine for a plastic reservoir with the words ‘brake fluid’ inscribed on it. In most cars, you can see the brake fluid level by just looking at the reservoir.
Cars do not consume brake fluid, no matter how old or how long they have been driven. If the brake fluid is low, inspect your vehicle to find the reason. If you have trouble locating the leak be sure to contact a professional for further instruction as the low fluid could be the result of a leak in the brake line or a worn brake surface.
Examining the power steering fluid
The power steering fluid is housed in a plastic compartment near the belts on the vehicles, passenger side. Read the levels the same way you would for the brake fluid. You can add power steering fluid by removing the lid off the compartment and pouring it up to the indicated level.
Due to recent advancements, many cars come with electronic power steering, which means they do not have a fluid reservoir.
Checking the coolant levels
The coolant is in a tank at the front of the engine compartment, adjacent to the radiator. The coolant tank is transparent and you can often read the levels without opening it. The coolant typically looks clear. However, if your coolant is colorless, or contains small particles, or looks sludgy, then it is most probably contaminated. If so, you must replace it immediately.
To check the coolant, ensure the engine is cooled down
completely. Should you try opening the coolant compartment, when under
pressure, hot water could spray out and cause damage.
Cars use antifreeze as coolants. Ensure to read the product label properly before using any coolant on your vehicle. Some coolant formulas can be added in as-is, while others must be mixed with water.
Investigating the windshield wiper fluid
The wiper fluids do not affect the car's performance but are important for Vehicle visibility and overall safety. Look for a container with the image of a windshield beside the engine compartment. Lift its cap off and top it up, if required. If you live in a place with a cold climate, choose a fluid that does not freeze when it gets cold. You can find wiper fluids with low freezing points mentioned on them.
One final step to ensuring a smooth ride is to check the tire pressure of your car. It is important to check the tire pressure more often than when you check engine fluids.
Remember that your car’s fluids are its lifeblood. Frequently checking fluids can help you ensure your car runs smoothly and efficiently!
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The Advice, How-to guides, and maintenance information featured on tascaParts.com is presented as helpful resources for general maintenance and automotive repairs. The presented guides on this site should be used at your own risk. Tascaparts.com assumes no responsibility for any physical injury that may occur to you or your vehicle while working on your vehicle. The information on this site is accurate and true to the best of Tascapart’s Knowledge, however, it is entirely possible that there may be omitted information or errors. Be sure to consult your owner’s manual or a licensed professional mechanic for vehicle-specific repair information. You may also refer to your owner’s manual for specific diagnostic, repair, and tool information for your particular vehicle.