Auto Repair Help
Auto Repair Help – Quick Fix Tutorial Series

Auto Expert John MoskoAuto Leaks — How to Check Your Fluids
by John Mosko


General Description of Problem:
You want to check all of your vehicle’s fluids

Fluids are integral to your vehicle and as an intelligent owner you realize the value in keeping your vehicle well maintained. With just a few moments time, you can check all the essential fluids throughout your vehicle.

Position you vehicle on a level surface after having driven it for a minimum of 15 minutes. This will ensure all your fluids are at their normal operating level, temperature, and viscosity. Once you have positioned the vehicle, grab a rag or paper towel to use to wipe the dipstick and clean up any small spills you make when filling. You may also want to have a funnel handy.

When you check the fluids, note their color and texture. Oil should be a golden brown in appearance and whould be free from particulates. The consistency should be similar to that of cooking oil. The fluid in your transmission will be a light pink to red in hue and also should be free of debris. The coolant in your radiator should be a bright green and be thin and almost water like.

Let’s start by checking the engine oil. Locate the engine oil dipstick and remove it completely. After removing the dipstick, use your rag or paper towel to wipe it clean and look at the end of the dipstick for the markings indicating full. Most cars will have some manner of notches, holes, or other lines on the dipstick to indicate a “Full” level and a level where oil needs to be added. Once you have found the markings, replace the dipstick from the tube which you removed it. be careful to insert it completely, and then remove it to check the level of oil. The location of oil on the dipstick will indicate whether your oil is full, or in need of a fill. If you need to add oil, only add enough to bring it to full and do not overfill. The location to add oil is usually located on top of the engine and indicated with a marked screw cap.

Your next check will be the radiator fluid. We always want to check this a bit after the car has had some time to cool down as removing the radiator cap on a “Hot” car can be very dangerous. Be very careful to insure that the cap is cool to the touch and that the radiator is not hot before opening and checking the fluid. NEVER OPEN THE RADIATOR CAP IF IT IS HOT, YOU COULD BE SEVERLY BURNED BY THE SCALDING PRESSURIZED COOLANT!

The above precaution noted, lets take a look at the coolant. If your vehicle has a coolant overflow resevoir you a quick glance at the level of coolant in this location should indicate your status. This resevoir is usually a clear or nearly transparent plastic container located to the side of the radiator. It will typically be marked with appropriate levels on the side and you can fill your coolant to the recommended level. If your vehicle does not have an overflow resevoir, carefully remove the radiator cap and check the level of coolant in the radiator. If the level of coolant is low in either location, use a 50/50 mixture of coolant and water to fill as needed.

Next, we’ll check a number of other fluids that are important to your vehicle… On many newer cars you can check brake fluid simply by looking at the side of the master Cylinder. This has been made transparent or in many vehicles and with a quick glance you can determine the level of fluid. On older vehicles, you may need to open the lid of the Master Cylinder by removing the small swing top bar that typically holds it in place. As brakes wear the level of fluid will gradually decline. You do not need to refill the fluid unless it drops below the minimum mark indicated.

On vehicles equipped with power steering, the level of fluid can be checked by simply removing the screw top lid to the fluid resevoir. In most vehicles, a dipstick will be attached to the cap and have a measurement for both hot and cold readings.

The windshield wiper fluid resevoir is another translucent resevoir located under the hood. Though not imperative to the mechanical operation of your vehicle, having clean windows is imperative to the safe driving of your vehicle so you should take a quick look when you are already under the hood. If the resevoir is low fill it with additional windshield washer fluid. Finally, if you have an automatic transmission, you should check the transmission fluid.

On most vehicles the transmission fluid is checked with a dipstick similar to that used to check engine oil and it is checked while the vehicle is running. Turn on the car and let your car idle for a moment while you locate the dipstick. Once you have located it, we will do the same as we did when checking engine oil:

– Remove the dipstick and wipe it clean
– Check the far end of the dipstick for the notches or holes that indicate “Full” and “Low”
– Replace the dipstick fully
– Remove and recheck to assess levelUnlike engine oil, if you need to add transmission fluid, most times you will use a narrow funnel and pour the fluid directly into the tube from which you removed the dipstick. Again, add only enough to fill the fluid and never overfill.





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