Checking Your Own Vehicle Fluids

Proper levels of fluids in your vehicle allow it to function smoothly, giving you a better ride and increasing the life of your car. Low fluid levels can cause all kinds of problems that may result in thousands of dollars in damage. It doesn’t take much work to check your fluid levels, and you don’t have to be a mechanic or even very handy to do so.

How to Check Fluid Levels

Most fluid levels are checked with a dipstick, which is basically a measuring stick. They’re usually made of flexible metal and have indicators on the end labeled “Min” and “Max.” Ideally, you want your fluid levels to be somewhere close to the maximum. Don’t put too much fluid into your vehicle as that can also cause problems.

If there’s no dipstick, there will usually be a clear reservoir that has fluid level indicators on it. This is the case for some vehicles’ power steering fluid, and some brake fluids. Once again there will be a minimum and maximum indicator. Try to keep the fluid somewhere close to the maximum. If you have any doubts about the proper levels of fluid, or the location of certain fluids, look in your owner’s manual.

Engine Oil

If you only check one fluid in your vehicle, make sure it’s engine oil. This is by far the most important fluid in your vehicle. Without it, your engine will seize up and you won’t be going anywhere. Check your vehicle’s owner’s manual for the right type of oil, the right level of fluid, and location of the dipstick.


Coolant keeps your vehicle running at the right temperature. The most common form of coolant is a 50/50 combination of water and specialized automotive coolant fluid. Without proper coolant levels, your vehicle can overheat. Your owner’s manual will tell you how to safely check your coolant. Never open your vehicle’s radiator when the engine is hot or at regular operating temperatures. You can be badly burned if you do.

Transmission Fluid

Transmission fluid is slightly red in color, and can be checked with a dipstick. This fluid lubricates the transmission, allowing your vehicle to shift between gears smoothly.

Power Steering Fluid

If you want to turn your car effectively and safely, you need to make sure your vehicle’s power steering fluid level is at the proper level. If you notice that your power steering fluid is consistently low, notify your service technician or mechanic. You may have a leaky power steering pump.

Windshield Wiper Fluid

This is the only fluid in your vehicle that you can be sure will run out at some point. It isn’t entirely essential when it comes to vehicle operation, but without it you’ll have trouble seeing through your windshield, especially on windy and dusty days. Keep an eye on the tank where the fluid is stored, and fill it when necessary.

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