For those of us who aren’t mechanically inclined, the world of car fluids can be confusing – it often seems like very car system has some kind of fluid required for its smooth operation, and it can be hard to tell which one is which.
It can also be hard to understand when you need to check (or change) each fluid. So, to help you navigate the wonderful world of car maintenance, we’ve put together a simple list of the 7 fluids you need to change to keep your car running smoothly.
We’ll give you the basics about each type of automotive fluid, show you how to to measure their levels, and give you some basic advice on when you should think about topping them off with fresh fluid – or changing the fluid altogether.
Even if you’re not big into cars, you probably understand the importance of motor oil. Motor oil lubricates the engine of your car and ensures smooth, consistent operation – and having a low oil level can lead to dangerous and costly engine damage.
If you think your car’s oil levels are low, it’s easy to check. Begin by driving your car around for about 5 minutes – this will allow the oil to heat up, and provide you with accurate measurement. Pop the hood, and look for the oil cap and dipstick – consult your owner’s manual if you’re unable to find them.
Wipe down the dipstick and put it into the oil tank. Pull it out, and look at the oil level – there should be a notch on the dipstick indicating safe oil levels. If the oil level is above this notch, you’re safe – you don’t need to add any oil. If the oil level of your car falls below the notch, you should top off your oil – or consider getting an oil change.
It’s important to note that you should still get oil changes regularly – about every 6 months for conventional oil, and about every year for synthetic oil. The oil in your car engine will wear out eventually and become sludgy – and even if it’s at a safe level, this can have a negative impact on your engine.
2. Radiator Fluid
Radiator fluid keeps your engine from overheating by drawing heat from the engine and distributing it throughout your radiator, and into the atmosphere. If you have a low level of radiator fluid, your car could overheat – and the engine could be damaged.
Pop your hood and locate the radiator fluid tank – usually in the front-middle of the engine compartment. After that, all you have to do is eyeball the coolant levels. If you can clearly see fluid in the tank, you’re good to go! If you can’t see any fluid near the top of the tank, go ahead and top up with some antifreeze coolant – and you’re good to go!
3. Transmission Fluid
Transmission fluid helps keep your transmission lubricated, much like engine oil. Your car likely has a dipstick meant for transmission fluid checks – see your owner’s manual if you can’t find it. Open up the transmission fluid compartment, and dip the stick. As with your motor oil, a level above the “notch” in the dipstick indicates a safe level of fluid. If your level is below the notch, top your tank up with some fresh transmission fluid – and get back on the road.
You should also replace transmission fluid around every 50,000-110,000 kilometers. When you check your fluid levels, look for small particles in your transmission fluid. If you see particles, or the fluid smells burned, it may be time to change it out – take your car to a shop and have it done professionally.
4. Power Steering Fluid
Power steering fluid lubricates your car’s power steering system, providing smooth operation. If you are low on power steering fluid, your car’s steering wheel will have a tendency to judder and shift, and will be hard to operate.
Open your hood, and look for the power steering fluid reservoir – usually located on the passenger’s side, with a cap labeled “STEERING”. These reservoirs are usually partially transparent – you should be able to see the level of fluid without opening it.
Check the level with a dipstick – if it seems low, go ahead and top it off with some high-quality power steering fluid from your local automotive store.
5. Brake Fluid
Brake fluid allows the hydraulics in your car’s braking system to perform effectively. Low brake fluid can lead to poor stopping performance and potentially dangerous situations, so it’s very important to keep brake fluid levels adequate.
The brake fluid reservoir is usually in the back of the engine compartment. Make sure to clean the area before opening the tank – contaminants can compromise braking performance – and then take a look inside. The brake fluid level should be within about a half-inch of the cap.
If you’re low on brake fluid, consult your driver’s manual to determine the appropriate type of brake fluid. Add fluid until it’s within a half-inch of the cap, and you’re good to go.
You should also check the overall quality of your brake fluid. If it’s dark and opaque in color, it may be time to have it replaced. This should be done every 2 years or 30,000 kilometers – whatever comes first.
6. A/C Coolant
The refrigerant in your car can dissipate over time, causing poor air conditioning performance. If your car’s A/C system is pumping out air – but not cooling it – you may be low on refrigerant.
This is a bit harder to check yourself – so you may want to consider consulting a professional – but if you invest in an A/C gauge and Freon charging kit, you can easily check your coolant levels yourself – and recharge your car’s A/C system for less.
Begin by starting your car’s electrical systems, and turning your A/C system to its maximum capacity – you don’t have to start the engine. Pop the hood, and locate the low-pressure A/C port on your car. This will be covered by a plastic cap. Remove the cap, and attach your Freon charging kit.
Your kit will have a built-in pressure gauge. Once attached, you’ll get an immediate pressure reading. If this is under 25 PSI, you’ll want to add more refrigerant to the system. Simply press down on the lever of your Freon charging kit, and it will send fresh, pressurized refrigerant to your car’s A/C system. Ideally, the system should be at about 35-45 PSI, so continue adding refrigerant accordingly.
If you’re confused about the above steps, take a look at this simple YouTube video – then you’ll have everything you need to change your car’s refrigerant.
7. Windshield Washer Fluid
Windshield washer fluid is actually quite important – without it, you could easily have your vision obscured by dirt or mud, leading to dangerous situations. It’s easy to check, and easy to top it up. Here’s how.
If you’re out of windshield washer fluid, it will be obvious – your car just won’t spray any fluid on the windshield. So pop your hood and look for a slightly transparent container – usually filled with blue fluid. It should be marked “washer” or “windshield”. The cap will twist right off.
Simply grab your favorite bottle of anti-grime windshield washer fluid, and pour liberally – you can keep pouring until the reservoir is totally full. That’s all there is to it!
Change These Fluids – And Keep Your Car Going!
You can’t take care of all of your automotive maintenance tasks on your own – your oil and transmission fluid, for example, should be changed by professional services like Ride Time – but knowing how to measure all of your fluid levels is absolutely crucial to keeping your car in tip-top condition.
So read through this guide, check your car’s various fluids and oils, and take action, if necessary. It may take a bit of time and effort, but this sort of preventative maintenance is extremely valuable in the long run, and will help your car stay in great condition for years to come!