mechanic checking fluids

Guide to Car Fluids

There are a number of fluids present in a vehicle that are integral components to keeping it running and functioning properly. Having basic knowledge of the various fluids in a vehicle as well as how to assure they are adequately filled is helpful in keeping a vehicle performing at it best. The seven types of fluid that are in a vehicle and should be tended to include break fluid, oil fluid, transmission fluid, windshield washer fluid, radiator fluid, air conditioning coolant, and power steering fluid. Below is a breakdown of the function of each type of fluid, how to check the fluids in a vehicle, and what to do if replacing fluids is necessary. 

Break Fluid

The function of break fluid in a vehicle is to assist in properly braking when the brake pedal is pushed. It is pressurized and is responsible for moving the different components of a vehicle’s braking system. The way to check the break fluid in a vehicle is by locating the reservoir and looking inside. Usually the break fluid reservoir can be found near the back of the engine compartment. Before removing the reservoir cap, make sure the area is clean because any residue or debris that enters the break fluid can be dangerous. The break fluid level should not be lower than about a half-inch from the cap. If it is lower than that it is likely time to add more break fluid. The vehicle owner’s manual will have information regarding the type of break fluid needed. Please note, if the break fluid is discolored (i.e. dark yellow), it should not be topped off, but rather it should be completely replaced by a mechanic. 

Oil Fluid

The purpose of oil fluid is to keep the moving parts of a vehicle lubricated. Checking the oil is a relatively simple process. The oil tank is usually located near the front of the engine. In order to do this locate the oil tank and remove the dipstick that is floating in it. (Make sure the vehicle has cooled before doing this process.) Wipe off the dipstick and then dip it all the way back into the oil tank. Remove it again to see the oil line. The dipstick should have notches on it to indicate where a safe oil level would be. If the oil line does not reach the indicated area, check the vehicle owner’s manual for the type of oil fluid that is needed and add some to the oil tank. 

Transmission Fluid

The purpose of transmission fluid is to keep the transmission lubricated. The transmission fluid reservoir has a dipstick, similar to the oil fluid, which should have notches on it indicating the amount of fluid needed to safely function. When checking the transmission fluid it is also important to check the quality of the fluid in the tank. If the fluid has a burnt odor or is discolored (appears anything other than clear or pinkish) it is time to have the transmission fluid replaced. It is also important to make sure the transmission fluid reservoir is not cracked or leaking. If the transmission requires repair or replacing it can be a costly endeavor. The cost of replacing the transmission can range from $1800 to $3400. Should a transmission need repairing, depending on the situation, the cost can vary significantly. 

Windshield Washer Fluid

While windshield washer fluid is not integral to operating the engine, it is essential in assuring proper visibility through the windshield. Many vehicles have opaque washer fluid tanks that are clearly labeled. If the windshield washer fluid is low, the cap is easily removed by twisting it off. Topping off the windshield washer fluid is as simple as pouring more into the reservoir, replacing the cap, and closing the hood of the vehicle. 

Radiator Fluid

The purpose of radiator fluid is to keep the vehicle’s engine from overheating. Checking the radiator fluid should not be done when the vehicle is cooled down, but should rather be done when it has been recently driven. It is important to note that the contents of the radiator itself are pressurized, so be sure to check it when the engine is not hot or running. The location of the cap to the radiator fluid reservoir is usually near the front and middle of the engine compartment. If comfortable, carefully open the cap and peer inside to see the coolant. If the coolant is not visible it is likely in need of more. If this process seems a bit too unnerving for someone without mechanical knowledge, contact a mechanic for assistance. 

Air Conditioning Coolant

The function of air conditioning coolant is to assist the air conditioning unit in working effectively, helping to create cool air. Checking the air conditioning coolant can be a rather complicated process. Depending on the type of vehicle, it may be best to have a mechanic assess the air conditioning coolant levels and replace or add more as needed. 

Power Steering Fluid

The function of power steering fluid is to keep the components of a vehicle’s power steering lubricated, helping to control the vehicle’s wheels. The power steering reservoir is usually opaque, and is located on the passenger side, under the hood of most vehicles. The ability to see through the container enables an individual to see the fluid levels without having to open the cap. If the fluid is low, uncovering the cap to the reservoir and adding more fluid is simple. When checking the power steering fluid, it is important to make sure there are no cracks or leaks in the reservoir. 

Further Information

As an automotive parts and supply shop with decades of experience we have access to extensive inventory. Northstar Automotive is staffed with incredibly knowledgeable professionals, dedicated to provide topnotch service to all its customers. Let us help you make sure you are equipped with everything you need to ensure all of your vehicles are in excellent shape. Please feel free to contact one of our sales associates for more information. We can be reached through our website’s contact us page. We look forward to connecting and providing you with outstanding assistance.



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