Everything Vehicle Owners Need to Know About Fluid Leaks

4/27/2017


 

Engine Fluids Safety

Your car relies on a variety of fluids to keep the engine cool, powered, and well-lubricated. Sometimes, you find these fluids in a puddle underneath your car instead. Certain fluid leaks require immediate attention and repair, while others aren't as serious.
In this blog, we give you the basics that you need to know when you notice a vehicle fluid leak. 


Types of Fluid That May Leak

While you may assume that the liquid dripping from your car is gasoline or engine oil, several different varieties of vehicle fluids can leak.
Common fluids found in leaks include:
• Brake fluid. This oily liquid usually ranges in color from yellow to brown. Brake fluid leaks are rare in most modern cars.
• Coolant. Also known as antifreeze, coolant may appear pink, orange, or green. This sticky, sweet-smelling liquid is one of the most frequent vehicle leaks. 
• Engine oil. Depending on how old your oil is, the puddle may look dark yellow or brackish brown. Engine oil leaks may smell like burning rubber.
• Gasoline. If your vehicle's leak smells like a gas station, the liquid is probably gasoline. A puddle near the back bumper may indicate a faulty tank, while a leak near the front bumper could be due to fuel pump damage.
• Power steering fluid. Power steering fluid leaks may look reddish. If you have one of these leaks, you may also notice that it's harder to take sharp turns in your vehicle.
• Transmission fluid. Like power steering fluid, transmission leaks are usually red. Your car will usually spring a transmission leak near the front or middle of the vehicle.
• Water. Most steady dripping leaks under a car are water from the climate control system.
The severity of the leak often depends on what the puddle under your car consists of, so identifying the possible fluids involved is an important first step.


Common Signs of Fluid Leaks

While an active drip or standing puddle can clue you in to the presence of a leak, not all leaks are immediately visible. If you suspect a leak, but haven't seen the problem in action, first check your fluid reservoirs.
Slow or small leaks may affect your fluid levels over a long period of time, so it's important to know what fluid consumption is normal for your vehicle. If your dashboard lights recommend fluid changes too often, this issue may also indicate the presence of a leak.
If you suspect a leak, place a ground covering underneath your car overnight. If there is a strong odor of gasoline, you may wish to move it outside the garage to protect against a potential fire hazard.  Coverings like aluminum foil or even paper may work because motor fluids show up clearly on the surface.
If you can't explain why your car loses fluids so quickly, visit a mechanic. You may have an engine inefficiency or other mechanical problem rather than a fluid leak.

When to Worry About a Fluid Leak

Certain fluid leaks are considered normal. For example, water condensation often drips from underneath cars that use their air conditioning in warm weather. In most cases, leaks that do not cause sudden and dangerously significant drops in fluid levels or large puddles aren't serious.


Potential dangers of fluid shortages:
Brake  fluid.  A shortage of brake fluid is a potential safety hazard.  If you suspect a leak, have your car towed to a shop as soon as possible, regardless of how much fluid actually escapes.  Do not attempt to drive a car with a suspected brake fluid leak since a drop in fluid pressure can cause your brakes to stop functioning unexpectedly.
Coolant.  A shortage of coolant will affect your engine's ability to perform in a safe operating temperature range.  Look at your instrument panel to determine if your vehicle is running at an abnormal temperature.  An overheated engine will soon fail and the repair is extremely expensive.
Gasoline.  Easily recognized by its odor, gasoline is explosive, and an accumulation is extremely dangerous and a safety hazard.  Call your mechanic immediately to determine the level of severity so that its repair can be expedited.
Engine oil.  A shortage of engine oil will result in internal engine components not receiving sufficient lubrication and the engine will overheat and eventually fail - an extremely expensive repair.
Power steering fluid.   Insufficient power steering fluid will make your vehicle difficult to steer which has potential for a driving safety hazard.  Have it checked out immediately by your mechanic.
Transmission fluid.  If you feel any abnormality in your vehicle shifting, it may be a result of low transmission fluid.  If it is not replaced to the appropriate level, an expensive repair will likely ensue.
Always refer to your owner's manual to determine appropriate fluids and your car's maintenance schedule.  Timely care and attention to your vehicle's operating symptoms can save you a lot of money and allow you to avoid downtime.
If your car springs a leak and you decide to trade up, consider donating your current car to Newgate School. We use vehicles in varying conditions to teach our students the basics of car mechanics.