You may be here because you want to be more independent or wanting to gain more knowledge about the maintenance of your vehicle. This guide is a good place to start. Most of these processes should be integrated into your personal maintenance schedule as they are often forgotten even though it’s mentioned in your vehicle’s manual. Below are the six main fluids you should be checking.
Before checking your vehicle the most important step is making sure you have turned off the engine and given it enough time to cool down. Some of these fluids are under high heat and pressure and can cause serious injury if these proper safety steps are not taken.
If not confident in your ability to check certain fluids always consult a certified mechanic to perform the check and replacement needed.
Window Washer Fluid
Normally located near the back of the engine bay closest to the windshield base. Most of the time the tank is translucent to easily see the fluid levels with the cap marked with an image of a water spout and a shape similar to your windshield.
Open the cap by twisting or popping the seal and fill up with windshield washer fluid to the markings on the tank. Pretty simple. Make sure to check whether or not you have purchased concentrated fluid, or pre-mixed.
Find the coolant tank. Just like the window washer fluid, it is often translucent with markings on the side. The cap symbol has a rectangle with waves inside it. Often times this is location on, or near the radiator.
Coolant is usually red, green, blue or yellow, these are often for different vehicle makes. You should reference your manual to ensure the proper type is used. Pop or twist the cap off and visually inspect the liquid. If the coolant is colorless or has stuff free floating in it you should flush it add new coolant. If the coolant is pasty or thick looking you should take it to a mechanic to get it checked ASAP.
If everything else is fine and you’re just running low on coolant simply fill it up with your coolant. Be sure to check whether you have a premixed coolant that contains 50% water and 50% coolant. If not simply fill the coolant bottle with water to make the 50/50 mix.
Your oil should be checked every other fuel fill-up, or every month, to make sure your oil levels are good and that the oil is clean. You should also replace your oil every 5,000 to 10,000 miles depending on the make and model of your car.
The engine comes with a dipstick and most of the time it is a bright color (usually yellow) but this is not always the case. Grab a clean rag or cloth you mind getting dirty. Wipe the lower half the dipstick clean and re-insert. Pull out the dipstick again and gently place the end on your rag. Take a close look at the level of the oil. On the end you’ll notice two markings, add and full. If the oil is close to or at add you should add more oil where you just pulled the dipstick out of. Only add a small amount of oil at a time, and check the level again. Be patient, and don’t add too much.
Make sure to visually check the oil for grit, dirt, etc. If you see chunks in your oil it’s time to get it replaced to include your filter because if your oil has grit in it then good chance your filter is full of it. Another good indicator to get it changed is if your oil is excessively dark in color and smudges on your fingers and rag. If you see white foam, you may have water in your oil, which could be a sign of a head leak. You should have your car inspected by a certified professional as soon as possible.
NOTE: Not all fluids below can be checked without the proper mechanical tools. This is based on the make and model of the vehicle. If unsure check with a mechanic.
The main reservoir is normally located near the master brake cylinder and near the firewall of your vehicle, the section that separates your cabin from your engine bay. Normally you can find it in the engine bay where your brake pedal would be on the other side. Most reservoirs are translucent and have fill markings on the side. For older vehicles, they have a metal spring clamp that holds down the cap and may need to be pried with a screwdriver.
Simply open and fill the reservoir with the brake fluid needed for your make and model. Some vehicles have a dual reservoir and both need to be filled. If your reservoir has a rubber sleeve inside, ensure that it has been reset to it’s proper form when placing the lid back on.
WARNING: Brake fluid can be extremely toxic and if it comes in contact with your skin you should immediately wash the area off with soap and water.
Now the last two you will need your engine on and idling to properly check your transmission and power steering fluid. Make sure the car is parked and the parking brake engaged as well.
Similar to the oil dipstick, the transmission fluid has a dipstick. The main difference is that the transmission fluid dipstick is often hooked or question mark shaped. It can be difficult to locate, consult your owners manual if you have troubles locating it.
Pull out the dipstick and grab a rag you don’t mind getting dirty. Rest the dipstick on the rag and wipe some of the liquid off and rub it your fingers to check it’s consistency and color. The liquid should move between your fingers easily while having a clear or pinkish color. If you notice any particles, or metal shavings, or if the fluid smells burnt you should take your vehicle to a mechanic ASAP.
Wipe the fluid off the dipstick and reinsert and pull it out again. Recheck the same as before.
Power Steering Fluid
As mentioned before make sure your vehicle is warmed up and idling.
Open the cap by screwing or popping it off. Some reservoirs are translucent and levels can be checked by the markings on the side. Others will require you to remove a dipstick to check. Take the dip stick out and wipe it clean and dip it in the reservoir for 10 seconds. If needing to be filled make sure to fill your vehicle with the correct fluid made for its make and model.
As mentioned before not all fluids can be checked for every vehicle. The ones that can, should be incorporated in a maintenance schedule to keep your car running as long as possible. Be sure to properly follow safety procedures due to some of the fluids being under high temperature and pressure. If ever unsure always contact a licensed mechanic to check out and replace and fluids that are needed.