Keeping your car in good shape is a key part of regular car maintenance. That’s why it’s important to know what your vehicle is like normally and be aware when things are off. One of the more obvious issues that something is off with your car is when your car’s leaking. Seeing fluid leaking from your vehicle or noticing a new puddle surrounding your car can be cause for concern. Knowing the different types of fluid in your car and what to do can help you take action to fix any issues. Here’s what you should know about your car leaking.
The different types of fluid in your car
When there’s a leak under your car, you want to know the type of fluid it is first. There are different types of fluid in your car that could be the culprit.
- Engine oil. Your engine oil lubricates your engine to make sure it runs properly and reduces instances of friction that may damage the engine. It’s typically dark in color and can appear to be brown or black.
- Water. There may be some water in your car due to running your air conditioner or if you used water instead of windshield wiper fluid (which may work okay, but may not be as robust as proper windshield wiper fluid). Water is clear and odorless.
- Transmission fluid. Your car also has transmission fluid that lubricates the vehicle’s transmission. There are also different types of transmission fluids depending on whether you have an automatic vehicle vs a manual car. Transmission fluid can vary in color depending on how old it is. It may be reddish and thin if it’s new, or it may be closer to brown and have a thicker consistency if it’s older.
- Brake fluid. The brake fluid is one of the most underrated fluids and plays an important role in helping your brakes work effectively. In other words, it helps put a stop to your car when you need to. This type of fluid can also change colors as it ages and is a light yellow color when it’s new, and can turn closer to brown as it ages. Brake fluid can also have an off smell and appear oily.
- Power steering fluid. The power steering fluid in your vehicle helps make it easier to steer and manage your vehicle. It keeps all the parts running smoothly so you can remain in control. This type of fluid is typically reddish in the beginning and may turn more of a rust color, and ultimately brown as time goes by. Power steering fluid has an oily consistency and has a unique smell — burnt and sweet.
- Gasoline. Your car runs on gas and has a distinctive smell you’re probably aware of. If you have a leak under your vehicle, you may not recognize it from sight alone as it’s typically clear.
- Coolant. This type of vehicle fluid is vital as coolant helps take some of the heat of your engine and prevents it from being damaged by excessive heat or cooling. It’s easy to identify coolants as they typically come in bright colors such as green, blue, pink, etc. It is also known to have a slimy consistency to it and has a sweet odor.
What to do about fluid leaking from the car
If you have a car leaking issue on your hands, now you know the different types of fluid in your car. Once you identify the type of fluid, you can take the appropriate actions. Here’s what to do about fluid leaking from your car.
When it comes to fluid leaking from cars, engine oil is one of the most common culprits. Typically, the location of the puddle of fluid in this case would be near the front of the vehicle where the engine is located.
Engine oil is often brown or black. According to AutoZone, engine oil leaks are most commonly caused by a degraded engine gasket, but may also be due to an oil pan leak or oil seals as well as bad connections.
Check the oil pan seals and plugs as well the gasket. You may be able to replace the parts on your own or do something simple like add a stop leak engine oil fluid. However, make sure you’re fixing the root issue and consult an auto professional if you need to.
If you see a clear and odorless fluid under your car it’s likely water. Most likely, it’s either condensation from the air conditioning or leaking liquid from your windshield wipers if you have water instead of specific windshield wiper fluid. This usually isn’t a big deal and isn’t a cause of concern.
One of the more severe leaks under a car is your transmission fluid. If the car leak is under the middle of your vehicle, it may be a transmission fluid leak and be a warning sign of a bigger issue. It could be an issue with your engine, which could be problematic. Get to a mechanic ASAP to fix the problem.
Another important car leak you shouldn’t ignore is a brake fluid leak. If there is yellow fluid, that could indicate it’s brake fluid. Using the color to identify the leak is key as the location could happen under any part of your vehicle. Your brakes are your top safety feature that can prevent accidents and save lives. So if you see brake fluid (or have squeaky brakes), get it checked out by a mechanic right away.
Power steering fluid
Your brakes help stop motion while steering helps direct motion. If your steering is shot, it could become a safety hazard. If you have a leak under your car that is close to the top part of your car that is rust color or brown and has a burnt aroma, it’s like a power steering fluid leak. Again, this is a matter for the professionals and you should take your car to the mechanic.
Gasoline is typically clear, but the scent can give it away. According to AskCarMechanic.com, gas leaks are often caused by a broken fuel tank, broken fuel lines, or a broken fuel injection system. Gasoline is highly flammable and a hazard, so if there’s a gas leak, contact a mechanic before getting behind the wheel.
Your coolant plays an important role, and if there’s a coolant fluid leak, it could potentially damage your engine. The good news is it’s easy to identify given the bright colors and slimy consistency.
A coolant leak can be in many places, but if it’s near the radiator that could be a telltale sign. First check to see if the radiator cap is on tight. If it’s not, it may just need to be tightened. However, if it’s broken or from an indiscernible cause, get your car checked at an auto body shop.
The bottom line
Dealing with a car leaking issue can be scary, especially if you’re unsure what it is. Using this guide, you can recognize the fluid leaking from your car and take action. In many cases, you may need to seek out professional help rather than DIY it just to be safe. Staying safe on the road is key. That’s why it’s important to have regular car maintenance, be aware when there are leaks or weird sounds, and have the right insurance coverage. For drivers who don’t rack up a ton of miles, consider pay-per-mile car insurance. You pay for gas by the gallon, why not pay for insurance directly based on the miles you drive? Using Metromile, you can. Get a free quote today.
Melanie Lockert is a freelance writer, podcast host of the Mental Health and Wealth show, and author of Dear Debt. She’s a cat mom to two jazzy cats, Miles and Thelonious, an amateur boxer, music lover, and needs coffee to function.