What’s That Fluid?

Cars are tricky, unnerving things. They creak, they jostle, they bang, and they leak. It always seems like when they do leak, they pour. For those of you out there who aren’t too educated on the different types of fluids running through your car, it’s time to study up. Or maybe you’re already experiencing a worrisome leak, and you’re looking for some sort of guidance. Because you don’t want to take it into the shop only to be told it’s condensation from your AC unit—that’ll be $40, please. Here’s a quick go-to guide for determining what that leaky fluid is and what level of worry is appropriate.

Get the Test Subject Primed and Ready

First things first: grab some cardboard, and slide it under the leak. This will soak up the fluids, whereas asphalt and concrete tend to spread leaks outward and, if it’s warm out, it can cause the fluids to evaporate. Let your car run for a couple minutes to get things warmed up. During this warm-up, go ahead and trigger all the fluids you can think of (it’s okay if you forget any) like engaging the brakes, spraying window fluid, turning the AC to high, and revving the engine a little bit (make sure you’re in park, and don’t get too crazy). It may be a good idea to drive around the block for a few minutes also, as long as you park over the cardboard. Gravity works one way and one way only: it brings things down. It’s a good idea to start looking for the leak from the top of the vehicle and go down.

A Quick Understanding

It’s important to understand that the fluids in your car are all going to have specific colors, feels, smells, and even tastes (though we don’t recommend tasting any of them). Once you have all the smells and colors down, diagnosing what fluids are leaking from your car is breeze.

Is It Bright Green, Pink, or Yellow and Slimy? Smell Like Maple Syrup?

That’s engine coolant, and you should be pretty worried. Call up your neighborhood maintenance shop and get scheduled ASAP. If your engine overheats, it’s pretty much game over.

Clear, Thin, and Odorless?

Don’t get too nervous; this is just water. Sure, you might think: where is all this water coming from? Simple: it’s condensation that builds on the AC unit. When you turn your car off, it just immediately drips right off, often creating a very large puddle that can understandably worry anybody.

Light Brown to Black?

Engine oil. If you’re OK with your engine stalling and possibly being ruined forever, then you have nothing to worry about. If this is something that would bother you—and it should, for obvious reasons—get it fixed right away. Engines operate by a lot of small parts moving fast against each other, and the oil enables them to do so smoothly. When oil doesn’t reach the engine, the parts will create friction, and the engine will fail, often devastatingly so.

Reddish and Thin or Brown and Thick?

Hello transmission fluid, goodbye forward motion! Transmission fluid is necessary for the transmission to work, which is what propels the car forward. Without fluid, you’re going nowhere fast. If this is what’s leaking, put more fluid in and take it to the shop to get it patched up.

Reddish or Light Brown and Thin?

If this is what’s coming out, then you’re experiencing a power steering fluid leak. Power steering enables you to turn and control your car with less strength required from your end. When the fluid runs out, your steering will be very noticeably difficult and can often be very jerky.

Clear, Sometimes with Hints of Brown, and Slick?

You’re looking at brake fluid. You’ll want to get that leak fixed before it all leaks out and the brakes start grinding and screaming. There’s a series of rubber hoses and valves (called bleeder bolts) that transport the fluid and then apply it to the brakes. More commonly, the leak will be from a hole in any of the hoses, but there can also be a problem with the valves themselves.

Luckily, Hubler fixes fluid leaks. We have great in-house maintenance shops with experts in each manufacturer. We use the best fluids and oils for your make and model, making sure you can get the most out of your car. If you’re experiencing a leak, come see us at our make-specific service shops today!

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