Just like you, your car needs to stay hydrated to function properly. 

You might be able to get by consuming just 64 ounces of water per day, but your car needs a lot more liquids to operate at its best. The Clearfield car repair team at Master Muffler shares this guide to car fluids so you can be in the know.

A Guide to Car Fluids

The fluids you put into your vehicle keep the engine lubricated, and cooled, while others provide essential assistance to the braking system and the transmission. Let’s take a look at what you need to know about checking your car’s fluid levels.

Air Conditioning Coolant

Also known as refrigerant, you usually don’t realize there’s an issue with this fluid until it’s the middle of summer and your dashboard vents start blasting nothing but hot air at your face. Before it comes to that in high temperatures, look for some signs you might be headed for trouble.

  • Freon puddles under your car 
  • Strange noises coming from the vents 
  • Low air pressure from the vents
  • Unusual smells coming through the vents

If you notice any of these oddities, it’s probably time to check your air conditioning coolant. You can do it yourself, or bring it to our Clearfield car repair technicians for diagnostics. 

Checking your AC system for leaks or low coolant levels is a manageable task. If you want to do it yourself you can purchase a leak detector kit. If your freon simply needs recharging, that’s a pretty inexpensive purchase as well. Keep in mind that if you regularly need to recharge your air conditioning system, you probably have a leak. Refilling the reservoir won’t fix the problem; you’ll want to have the whole line inspected and repaired where necessary.

Antifreeze Coolant

Also known as radiator fluid, antifreeze is the name for the undiluted version of this engine coolant. Using ethylene glycol-based antifreeze without diluting it isn’t recommended, so you can either add water yourself or purchase a ready-made diluted version upfront.

Whether you use the concentrate or the pre-mixed version, the purpose of antifreeze is to cool the engine. It operates at high temperatures to burn fuel, so it makes sense that you need something circulating through the engine block to keep everything running smoothly. If you neglect to check the level of coolant under the hood, you run the risk of overheating your engine and prematurely corroding parts.

When checking your coolant, always do so when the engine is cold. The radiator is usually located right behind the grill (front) of your car. The translucent, or clear, reservoir for coolant should be marked with “Max” and “Min” lines so you can see at a glance how much you have. While you’re at it, do a visual inspection to ensure your coolant isn’t sludgy or oily. If you’re low, simply pop off the cap when the engine is still cold and pour more radiator fluid in. If it’s a strange consistency, it might be time to flush the system.

Brake Fluid

This essential car fluid is pressurized, providing power and lubrication to your braking system. It also helps transfer the heat that’s generated when braking, and absorbs moisture.

The brake fluid reservoir is located near the back of the engine compartment and should be somewhat transparent so you can see how low or high the levels are. Since there’s no recommended timeline for topping off brake fluid, it’s good to make a mental note to check it periodically. In addition to glancing at the reservoir levels, keep tabs on the viscosity of your brake fluid, and whether you see any leaks under your car. 

Some vehicles do have a dashboard light to let you know when your brake fluid is low. Before topping it off, refer to your owner’s manual to ensure you have the right type:

  • DOT 3: glycol-based fluid (absorbs water)
  • DOT 4: glycol-based fluid (absorbs water)
  • DOT 5: silicone-based fluid (doesn’t absorb water)
  • DOT 5.1: glycol-based fluid (absorbs water)

DOT stands for Department of Transportation, which regulates brake fluids in the United States.

Engine Oil

Also known as motor oil, it carries a lot of responsibility for your car’s performance. It serves as lubrication, a heat reducer, prevents corrosion, and helps keep your engine clean. Using the right kind of engine oil is essential so always refer to your owner’s manual before topping it off.

You should make it a regular habit to check your engine’s oil levels because if you wait until the dashboard light illuminates it could be too late. It’s recommended you check your oil roughly every 500 miles, and to do so after the car’s been running but has cooled enough to get under the hood safely. 

Check your oil by removing the dipstick located in the reservoir under the hood. Remove the dipstick, wipe it down, and reinsert it into the reservoir. Remove the dipstick and second time and take note of where on the dipstick the oil reaches. Marks on the stick indicate whether it’s high or low, and you can also check for viscosity and discoloration.

You’ll also want to change the oil completely on a regular basis. This can be done at home, or you can leave it to the Clearfield car repair pros at Master Muffler.

Power Steering Fluid

Unless you want really strong arms, it’s good to make sure your car always has enough power steering fluid. This hydraulic fluid makes it a lot easier to turn the steering wheel of your vehicle, and it can usually be checked with a quick glance at the semi-transparent reservoir under the hood. If you find yourself refilling the tank often, you should definitely check for a leak.

Transmission Fluid

The jobs of transmission fluid vary depending on whether you’re driving a manual or an automatic. 

Manual Transmission

  • Lubricant

Automatic Transmission

  • Lubricant
  • Coolant
  • Transfers power from the engine to the transmission

Like your motor oil, there is a dipstick for checking transmission fluid. In some models, it has a red handle to help you distinguish between the two. Just like when checking the oil, you’ll want to wipe the dipstick, reinsert it, and remove it to see which notch the fluid reaches. Take note of the color, the smell, and the viscosity. If anything appears off, it might be time to flush the system and change the transmission fluid entirely. If it’s just low, you can top it off yourself. 

Windshield Washer Fluid

Last but not least, we have windshield washer fluid. While not essential for your vehicle, you will find yourself missing it if you let the reservoir empty. Located under the hood, you can easily check the level through the sides of the tank, and top it off with weather-appropriate types of fluid when needed. For cold weather, be sure you’re still scraping ice off the windows first, and then using a washer fluid that contains an antifreeze like methanol, ethanol, or isopropyl alcohol. 

For questions about car fluids and more, give us a call at Master Muffler today.