How to Check Car Fluids the Right Way
Every vehicle requires essential fluids to operate and with winter in full swing, it is important to make sure your vehicle is prepared to take on the elements by checking check its fluids.
Checking fluids is a simple and inexpensive way to prevent engine wear or damage and save you a lot of money and headaches in the long run.
While checking the fluids in your vehicle is a fairly straightforward thing to do, it does require some knowledge. Here is a list of fluids you should regularly check and an overview of how to check them the right way so your vehicle can keep taking you where you need to go.
After fuel, oil is the most important fluid in your vehicle. Your engine needs lubrication to run and oil not only lubricates, but also absorbs heat created by all of the moving parts of the engine.
While your vehicle’s oil level is important, its condition is equally as important and almost all cars, trucks, and SUVs have a dipstick in the engine bay that allows you to quickly inspect the oil.
To check your engine oil:
- Make sure your engine has been turned off for at least 10 minutes so the oil can settle and cool off.
- Next, pull the dipstick out and smear the oil from the dipstick between your fingers. It should feel slick and smooth with no particles or grittiness.
- After that, wipe the dipstick clean with a towel or rag. The oil should be a yellow or amber color, but if it’s any darker than that, it’s time for you to take your vehicle in for an oil change.
- Then, re-insert the dipstick and pull it back out once more. The dipstick is marked with indicators that show the maximum and minimum levels of how much oil should be in your engine.
- If your oil is at or below the minimum, you should add more oil as soon as you can – low oil could indicate that your engine is leaking or burning oil, which can cause excessive damage if untreated.
It is important to note that cold weather can thicken your oil and reduce its ability to circulate so you should check your oil more frequently during the colder months – especially if you drive a lot.
Checking brake fluid is pretty straightforward. Most modern vehicles have hydraulic brake systems, which means that the brake fluid connects the pedal to the actual brakes themselves. Essentially, when you step on the pedal to brake, the brake fluid becomes pressurized and causes the brake pads to clamp onto the rotors and slow down your vehicle. While that may sound kind of complicated, checking your brake fluid isn’t.
Most vehicles have a transparent reservoir in your engine bay so that you can easily determine how much brake fluid you have. If you are unsure of where your reservoir is, consult your owners manual for more information.
Most brake fluid reservoirs have markings that indicate a range that your brake fluid should be within, so if it’s between the upper and lower marking, you don’t need to do anything. If it’s below the lower marking, however, you should take your vehicle in and have everything checked out.
Transmission fluid serves a similar purpose to your vehicle’s engine oil. It lubricates and cools the components inside your transmission, such as gears, clutches, and valves.
Most vehicles come with transmission fluid that should never need replacing, but bad transmission fluid can easily cause rough shifting, loud noises, and vibrations that can make driving difficult.
Some cars, trucks, and SUVs have a dipstick that you can use to check transmission fluid, while others require a professional to check the levels.
If your vehicle has a dipstick, make sure your engine is still turned on and that the vehicle is in park or neutral, so that you can get an accurate reading of your vehicle’s transmission fluid.
Use the dipstick to inspect the transmission fluid’s colors and levels. The fluid should be amber or red in color and feel smooth to the touch. If it’s dark or gritty, you should have your transmission inspected at your earliest convenience.
As you can imagine, your engine works very hard to keep your vehicle moving. With all of the friction that occurs, a vehicle needs coolant (also known as antifreeze) to help keep everything cool and prevent overheating.
The good news is that you only have to check your coolant every 50,000 miles, but if there’s a leak you’ll want to make sure you know how to check and maintain adequate coolant levels.
- Never check your vehicle’s coolant while the engine is still hot. Pressurized coolant can spray and cause burns. Always wait for the engine to completely cool down before checking the coolant.
- Once the engine is completely cooled off, check to see if your coolant is between the minimum and maximum indicators on the coolant tank. If you are unsure of where your coolant tank is, consult your owners manual for more information.
- If you need to add more, make sure the coolant is approved for your type of vehicle. If you use traditional coolant, make sure you have a 50/50 mixture of water and coolant to prevent the fluid from freezing in your radiator.
- Once you’ve filled up the tank, give the radiator a couple of minutes to let out any air bubbles before you put the cap back on.
Power Steering Fluid
If you’ve ever driven an older vehicle without power steering, you know how important it is to the driving experience.
While modern vehicles have been updated to hydraulic power steering systems, the fluid that helps them maneuver is equally as important. While power steering fluid rarely needs to be replaced, it’s still helpful to know how to check it and the 2 step process is simple.
- Look for the power steering fluid dipstick in the engine bay and remove it to ensure the levels are within the minimum and maximum markings on the dipstick. If you are unsure of where this dipstick is, consult your owners manual for more information.
- If the fluid is low, go ahead and top it off. Make sure that you use the type of fluid that’s specified for your vehicle to prevent any damage to the vehicle.
If you find that you’re frequently having to add power steering fluid, it’s likely that you have a leak somewhere and you’ll want to have it checked out by a mechanic to prevent further damage.
Windshield Washer Fluid
Last, but not least, is the easiest fluid to check and maintain.
- To see how much windshield washer fluid you have, check the reservoir tank in your engine bay and look at the levels. If you are unsure of where this reservoir tank is, consult your owners manual.
- If the fluid is low, simply pour the correct windshield washer fluid into the tank until it is full then close the cap, and you’re done.
While your vehicle obviously needs fuel to run, you don’t want to neglect the other fluids that help you get from one place to another. Create a schedule and set reminders on your phone so that you don’t miss any oil changes or annual tune-ups and always investigate unusual noises, smells, or vibrations.
Talk to the Experts at Scholfield Honda
If you do find a leak or just need a vehicle check up, the experienced Service Department Specialists at Scholfield Honda can help.
You can click here to schedule your appointment or give us a call at 316-688-6450 to discuss your vehicle’s needs.
If your vehicle is on the fritz and need a new car, truck, or SUV, we can help with that too. Click here to check out our inventory and schedule your test drive today!