Five Fluids You Should Check to Keep Your Car Running

check oilEveryone wants a smooth, quiet ride, but it takes some effort, from inspections to oil changes to tune-ups, vehicle maintenance takes its own schedule. While it’s best to leave some maintenance items for the professionals to handle, there are some things you can do at home to keep an eye out for problems. Checking these five fluids regularly will help keep your car in tip-top shape:

Engine Oil

When you think about vehicle fluids, engine oil tops the list. Engine oil is what keeps your engine parts running smoothly and frictionless. You should keep a check on your engine oil at least monthly. Have it changed according to your vehicle manufacturer’s recommendations, which is usually anywhere from 3,000 to 10,000 miles.

The engine oil dipstick is under the hood of your vehicle. The top of the dipstick is a bright color, usually yellow, to make it easier to find. On the dipstick, you will find at least two marks. One is for the minimum oil level and one for the maximum oil level. With the engine cold and the vehicle parked on a flat surface, pull the dipstick out completely, wipe it off completely, reinsert it, and pull it out again. Look at the very end to see where the engine oil line is. If it is in between the minimum and maximum lines, you’re good to go. If the oil on the dipstick does not reach the minimum oil line or do not see visible oil on the dipstick at all, you need to add oil to your vehicle before driving it. If the engine oil line on the dipstick is above the max line, you need to remove oil from your engine. You will need the assistance of a mechanic to accomplish this unless you are quite savvy with vehicles at home.

It’s not just the amount of oil that matters. The color of your oil can be an indicator of problems as well. New engine oil should be a rich amber color with almost a yellowish tint. Old oil that needs to be changed will be dark brown or black.

Coolant

Almost nothing is more important than coolant in the hot Florida sun. Coolant is what keeps your engine from overheating and helps keep your air conditioner blowing cold. Coolant can also help prevent corrosion. Coolant breaks down over time, so even if your system seems to be working okay, it is still critical to check it periodically. In new cars, it’s recommended to get a coolant service after 5 years or 50,000 miles. In older cars, incorporate the coolant check into your monthly inspection.

To check your coolant, locate the clear plastic overflow container near the radiator. If this container is not at least half full, add coolant to the max fill line.

 Transmission Fluid

Transmission fluid keeps the gears in your vehicle switching smoothly. Without transmission fluid, every time your vehicle accelerated and needed to switch gears, the jerking caused by the transmission switch would almost throw you through the windshield. Since the transmission is one of the most expensive parts of a vehicle, keeping it in top shape is important. Transmission fluid needs to be checked periodically and completely flushed, and replaced after the vehicle reaches 100,000 miles.

To check the transmission fluid, locate the transmission fluid dipstick in your vehicle’s engine compartment. The transmission fluid dipstick will typically be located further back than the engine oil dipstick and marked with a different color or a transmission symbol. With your car running and warm, pull the dipstick out completely, wipe it clean, reinsert it, then pull it out completely again. Check the transmission fluid level on the dipstick to be sure it is between the minimum and maximum fuel lines. If it is below the minimum fill line or above the maximum fill line, call a mechanic immediately to schedule service.

Can’t locate your transmission fluid dipstick? Don’t panic! Some newer vehicles come with a sealed transmission, meaning the transmission fluid does not need to be checked or replaced. Double-check your vehicle’s manufacturer manual to see if this applies.

Brake Fluid

Your vehicle’s brake fluid controls its ability to stop quickly and smoothly. When you push on the brake pedal, the brake fluid is distributed into chambers and hoses, which causes the car to ease to a stop. You can usually tell if there’s an issue with the brake fluid because the brake pedal will feel mushy when pressed, or you’ll notice a decrease in the vehicle’s stopping action.

To check your brake fluid, find the brake fluid canister under the hood, usually on the driver’s side. The fluid should be within a half-inch of the canister lid. If it is not, add fresh brake fluid until it is at the correct level. The black fluid inside the canister is also an indication the brake fluid needs to be changed. Whether your brake fluid is low or black, have a mechanic check it out to be sure there are no deeper problems.

Windshield Washer Fluid

You’ll need to add windshield wiper fluid more than any other fluid in your vehicle. Luckily, it’s quite easy to check and replace your windshield wiper fluid. Just look for a plastic container under the hood with a windshield wiper symbol on it. The fluid inside will likely be brightly colored. If it’s not full, just fill it up with washer fluid and close the lid. That’s it!

Power Steering Fluid

One more fluid to check. The last major fluid in your vehicle is the power steering fluid. While newer cars will be equipped with electronic steering systems and won’t use power steering fluid, there are still many cars on the road that still use the traditional power steering systems. If you notice that your steering wheel suddenly becomes very hard to turn, it may be your power steering fluid.

To check the power steering fluid, find the heavy-duty plastic reservoir under the hood, usually near the passenger’s side, marked with the words “steering fluid”. You should be able to see the reservoir level without even opening it. If the fluid is below the minimum fill line, add more power steering fluid, then visit your mechanic as soon as possible. You may have a power steering leak.

If you’re having issues with low fluids in your vehicle, or just need a scheduled oil change or tune-up, call JB Import Automotive Repair at (727) 823-5951. We provide all necessary services and repairs to make sure your vehicle stays on the road. Come see why St. Petersburg residents trust JB with all their car care needs!