Important Fluids You Should Check to Keep Your Car Running Smoothly

man driving red Alfa Romeo

Checking your car fluids is one of the simplest things you can do to keep it in good shape. By doing this regularly you can save money and time you would otherwise spend on a mechanic. Car fluid gauges and tanks are easily accessible once you open the bonnet. The process is pretty straightforward and self-explanatory, but it still needs some know-how. These are the five essential fluids to check from time to time.

Engine oil

Pop the bonnet open and locate the dipstick that’s usually at the front part of the engine. When checking the oil level, take your car for a short drive and let it cool for about five minutes. Pull out the dipstick, wipe it down with a cloth and dip it all the way back into the oil tank. Inspect the notched or drilled section at the end. It usually has two or three notches or holes. The two furthermost marks show the ‘too low’ and ‘too high’ level. Add some oil and check again until you reach the desired level.

very clean car engine

Radiator fluid

The radiator fluid prevents your engine from overheating. If its level drops below the safe level, you risk overheating and getting stranded on the roadside. Always check the radiator fluid level after the car has been driven, not when it’s cold. Keep in mind that the radiator content is pressurized, so never remove the cap while the engine is running or still hot. As with the oil gauge, the radiator cap is usually located at the front and middle of the engine compartment. Use a rag or a towel to open it carefully. If you can’t see the coolant near the top, you’ll need to pour more.

Transmission fluid

Transmission fluid makes sure your gearbox is lubricated and prevents many expensive problems from developing. Use another, usually smaller dipstick in your engine to check the transmission fluid. It’s located in the rear section of the engine in rear-wheel drive cars and near the front in a front-wheel drive. Unlike with oil and radiator fluid, you need to have the car running to check it. Transmission circulates through a closed system, so if the level is low, bring the car in immediately. Get some fluid on your fingers to see its quality. If it’s pinkish-red and odourless, it’s all good. If it smells burnt and has particles, it’s time for flushing.

gear shift

Power steering fluid

The first signs of low fluid level are noises and resistance in the steering wheel. The steering fluid tank is usually on the passenger side. With most cars the container is opaque so you can easily check the fluid level without removing the cap. If you need to refill the tank clean the area with a cloth before opening it so dirt doesn’t get into the system. Your car owner’s manual will tell you when to replace the steering fluid. Otherwise, it’s advisable to recharge it every few years when you have your radiator flushed.

Brake fluid

Just like transmission fluid, brake fluid circulates in a closed system, so in normal conditions, it should ever be low. Still, it’s worth checking from time to time to make sure it’s clean. As with power steering fluid, clean the area before removing the cap to prevent dirt from entering the system. Check the manual to see what kind of fluid to add. One of the brands that mechanics recommend is Castrol DOT 4, because it has high protection from vaporization and is compatible with other brake fluids that meet DOT 3 or DOT 4 standard.

Checking the five essential fluids in your car regularly will help you keep the maintenance costs down, and you can also learn a thing or two about your vehicle. An unfair mechanic might try to persuade you to flush and replace the fluids that don’t need to be replaced. If you know your fluids, you can always go for the second opinion – your own.  

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