Fluid Levels

Maintaining proper fluid levels is an essential an easy maintenance task. This procedure is particularly important if you are planning on taking a long road trip and want to travel safely and efficiently.

The systems that need checking include the following:
adding fluid levels before a trip

  • ENGINE
  • TRANSMISSION
  • RADIATOR
  • BRAKES
  • BATTERY
  • WINDOW WASHER
  • AIR CONDITIONER

Let’s break these systems down:

ENGINE

It has often been said that oil is the life blood of your car. Oil is crucial to your car’s engine longevity. Get into the habit of checking the oil every time you fill up with fuel. Checking the oil often will help you identify oil leaks early. This simple task could save you thousands of dollars in repair bills.

Checking your oil level is a fairly simple procedure. Experts generally agree that it’s best to drive the car first before checking it. So take a little spin, find a cool, shady spot to pop the hood. Let the car sit for at least five (5) minutes before checking, to give the oil time to settle into the pump. With the hood open, locate the dipstick. It will be near the front of the engine, close to you and sometimes has a brightly colored handle – yellow, red or some other noticeable color. Remove it and wipe it with a clean rag or towel. Reinsert it into the hole, slowly remove it again. Check the level.

The oil mark should fall between the two (2) hash marks on the dipstick. If it is below the lower level, you need to add oil – a quart will usually do it. Before you do so wipe the dipstick again and recheck it a second time. STILL LOW? Add a quart and recheck it. (It is best to add oil, and then start the engine to circulate the oil, and then let it sit for five (5) minutes before rechecking.) If it is still below the lower hash mark, you may need to add another quart but be careful you do not over fill it, as this can lead to other problems.

AUTOMATIC TRANSMISSIONS

The automatic transmission fluid should be checked with the engine running. The transmission dipstick is typically located behind the oil dipstick and does not stick up high. If you have trouble locating it consult your owner’s manual. Often times it will have the same colorful markings (yellow, red, etc.) as the oil dipstick. With the engine running extract the transmission dipstick. Wipe it clean and reinsert it, then extract it again. It will have similar markings to the oil dipstick. One mark for too low and another for too high.

NOTE: transmission fluid will almost never be low. The transmission is a sealed system, requiring little maintenance. If your fluid is low, it most likely means you have a leak in the system, such as a worn seal or a crack somewhere. Even if the level is OK, note the color and consistency of the fluid. If it is very dark or black check your records and owner’s manual and plan on getting it changed: it is probably overdue.

MANUAL TRANSMISSIONS

This is done with the engine off. For most cars, you have to get under the car and remove the fill plug with a wrench. Stick your finger in and feel for fluid. If you can feel the fluid on the tip of your finger it is probably OK. Again as above, note the color of the fluid and consult your owner’s manual for exact procedures and service interval.

NOTE: Be sure and check your owner’s manual for proper procedure to check your transmission fluid levels.

If you are at all uncomfortable with checking any of these fluids please give us a call and schedule a time to have the fluids in your vehicle checked and topped off or changed. We are happy to help you with your auto repair and service needs. 

HYDRAULIC CLUTCH SYSTEM

Many cars these days have a hydraulic clutch system which needs brake fluid to keep all the parts lubricated. An easy way to tell if your car has one is to check under the hood and look for a small plastic reservoir- similar to the one used for brake fluid, but smaller. See this image below. All vehicles are a little different under the hood but this image should give you an idea of what to look for.

HYDRAULIC CLUTCH SYSTEM reservior

Once you have located it, remove the lid and check the level. It should be at least two-thirds full. If not, fill to the full line with brake fluid.

If you are at all uncomfortable with checking this fluid in your vehicle please call us and schedule this routine maintenance on your vehicle. We would love to help you ensure your vehicle is running as smoothly and efficiently as it can. 

RADIATOR

This should be done when the engine is cool or lukewarm, not cold. NEVER CHECK WHEN HOT. Antifreeze and engine coolant are commonly used interchangeably. Antifreeze is the actual product that is added to water to make engine coolant. Generally a combination of 50% water to 50% antifreeze. It is the most common mixture for protection used in engines. Locate the radiator cap. It should be in the center of the engine compartment, in the very front. If it is not check with your owner’s manual to locate it. Use a rag to remove it. Look down into the radiator and see if you can see the fluid. If it is near the top, you are in good shape, if not you will need to add some.

Antifreeze comes is various colors depending on the manufacturer. However, there are basically two types. Extended life antifreeze and standard (traditional) life antifreeze. Both standard antifreeze (usually green) and extended life antifreeze (commonly orange or red) are ethylene glycol based, their differences exist in the rust inhibitors and additives. Since car manufacturers use different types and colors, always check your owner’s manual for the specific type of antifreeze in your vehicle before adding more. When adding antifreeze, make a solution of 50% of distilled water to 50% antifreeze.

Remember ethylene glycol based antifreeze is TOXIC to humans and animals. Dispose of antifreeze properly. You may want to check the fluid level in the coolant reservoir. This is a plastic container just to the side of the radiator, with a hose connecting the two together. It serves as an overflow receptacle for excess radiator coolant (since the fluid expands and contracts with heat.) Pop the lid open and fill it about two-thirds of the way full.

NOTE: The contents in the radiator are pressurized and can scald you if the system is opened when it is HOT. Also never check the radiator when the engine is running.

BRAKES

The brake system is a sealed system. If it repeatedly gets low on fluid, you need to locate the source of the problem, either by yourself or with the help of a mechanic. A leaky brake system is nothing to play around with. To check the fluid level, locate the brake fluid reservoir. It is usually in the engine compartment. If you cannot locate it consult your owner’s manual. Remove the lid and check the level. It should be at least two-thirds full, if not fill it to the full line with brake fluid.

BATTERY

Some cars have what is called a “maintenance-free battery.” This means the battery is sealed and should not be tampered with. You will be able to tell right away, since the battery has a flat top with no openings. Most cars, however still utilize traditional battery design, with six cells that need occasional refilling.

Access to the cells come through six screw caps, or more commonly these days, two rows of plastic caps that pressure-fit over three cells each. Either pry the caps off with a flat-head screwdriver or unscrew the six caps. It is best to fill battery cells with distilled water, since it lacks contaminants and trace elements that can cause a corrosive build up around the battery terminals. The battery cells should be filled to the bottom of the fill hole, no further.

Note: If you are at all uncomfortable with checking any of these fluids please give us a call and schedule a time to have the fluids in your vehicle checked and topped off or changed. We are happy to help you with your auto repair and service needs. 

WINDSHIELD WASHER FLUID

Some newer cars and trucks now have a light that comes on to indicate when this reservoir needs refilling. It is located in the engine compartment, underneath the windshield. It looks a lot like the coolant overflow reservoir, but will be located closer to the rear of the engine compartment.

Also, both of the caps will be labeled “coolant” and “windshield” or something similar, to distinguish one from the other. If you are unable to locate these fluid reservoirs, consult your owner’s manual. People will augment the water in these reservoir with Windex or some other glass cleaner, to increase the cleaning power of the fluid. This is a particularly good idea in summer, when dead insects on the windshield can reduce visibility.

Note: If you are at all uncomfortable with checking any of these fluids please give us a call and schedule a time to have the fluids in your vehicle checked and topped off or changed. We are happy to help you with your auto repair and service needs. 

AIR CONDITIONER

The average home mechanic does not have the tools or know-how to check this fluid level (which is actually a gas, not a fluid). We mention it here because it should be checked. Best to find a certified air conditioning mechanic to have this done.

Remember, maintaining proper fluid levels insures safe and trouble –free driving. It takes only a few minutes, and can often catch a problem before it becomes a crisis.

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