Since the invention of the automobile, drivers have been looking for ways to make their vehicles more powerful and reliable. Today's cars are the greatest they've ever been, but they're still not service free wonder machines. Cars also need frequent TLC, and it's a car with six different fluids that need the most attention.
Fluids play a huge role in almost every aspect of your car, including fuel economy and longevity. Having them at the right level can make the car last longer and drive better, something we can all get behind.
After fuel, oil is the most critical fluid in your vehicle. The engine parts spin thousands of times a minute, and it's the oil that keeps things moving smoothly. Most of the cars have a dipstick in the engine bay that helps you easily test the fuel. It's best to check your oil after your engine has been switched off for at least 10 minutes, so that the oil can settle and cool down. First, remove the dipstick and wash it with a towel or rag. Then reinsert it and pull it out again. The dipstick is marked with maximum and minimum indicators showing how much oil is in your engine. The oil on the dipstick should be close to the maximum. If it is at or below the minimum, add more immediately. Low reading could indicate that your engine is leaking or burning oil, which can cause damage if left untreated. The level of oil is one thing, but its condition is equally important. You're going to have to get your hands dirty to check it out. Smear the oil between your fingertips on the dipstick. It should feel shiny and smooth–if you find any molecules or cracks, the components are likely to wear down, which is a major issue. Look at the color of the oil as well. If it's a yellow or amber color, then you're good to go. If it's a darker coffee color or black it's time for an oil change, and if you see a milky color that means that the coolant is leaking into the engine.
With all the combustion and friction that is going on in the engine, it produces a lot of heat. Coolant (also known as antifreeze) works to keep everything cool by absorbing engine heat and dissipating it through the radiator. Maintaining the correct level of coolant prevents overheating.
All you have to do is check this fluid every 50,000 miles or so, but if there's a leak or any other issue, it's important to know how to top it off. Warning: Never check the coolant while the engine is hot. Pressurized coolant can spray and burn. Always wait for the engine to cool down completely before testing the coolant.
The method of testing the coolant varies from car to car. If your car has a coolant expansion tank, see if the coolant drops between the minimum and maximum markers on the tank. If this is not the case, open the radiator cap to see if the coolant is filled to the top. Before you add coolant, make sure it's the type approved for your vehicle and give the radiator a few minutes to "burp" any air bubbles trapped before you put the cap back on.
Power Steering Fluid
If you've ever driven a classic car, the first thing you found was a super heavy steering. Do you imagine setting up a parallel park? Modern cars have been upgraded to power steering to make maneuvering easy at any speed, and many power steering systems are hydraulic, using pressurized fluid to make turning the wheel effortlessly (though some newer models now rely on electric steering). There is no set time frame for replacing the power steering fluid, but you should still know how to check it.
Like other fluids look for a dipstick or a tank in the engine bay. The process is similar in that you remove the dipstick or test the markings on the reservoir. If the fluid is small, just to top it off, but it is important to use the form defined for your vehicle to avoid damage. When you find that you often add water, there is likely to be a leak, and your car will become increasingly difficult to steer if it isn't handled.
No explanation is needed for the importance of your car's brakes. Modern car brakes are hydraulic, which means that the fluid connects the pedal to the brakes themselves. As you step onto the pedal, the plunger pressurizes the brake fluid inside the row, causing the brake pads to lock on the rotors and slow down the vehicle. It's supposed to happen right away–if there's any delay or odd sensation on your brake pedal, the fluid is the first thing to check.
Over time, the brake fluid can become contaminated with water, which can cause the brake lines to rust. Leaks may also form, leading to a spongy pedal feel or an irregular brake performance. Most cars have a brake fluid reservoir in the engine bay, and checking it is as simple as looking at its level and color. As with other fluids, make sure that the level falls between the minimum and maximum indicators. Add more if it's below the average, but make sure it's compatible with your vehicle. Brake fluid comes in a number of varieties with distinct colors, but all of them should be translucent, not cloudy or dark. When you can't see the brake fluid through, get it repaired.
Transmission fluid has the same function as oil in the engine: it lubricates and cools the components within your transmission. Transmissions include gears, clutches (even in automatic transmissions) and valves that must work smoothly to provide seamless shifting. While many transmissions come with "lifetime" fluids that should never be replaced, bad transmission fluids can cause rough changes, strange noises, and uncontrolled spikes that make driving difficult.
If your vehicle has one, pour it into the fill tube to add the transmission fluid. After checking the fluid level on the dipstick, move the gear selector through the gears with your foot on the brake to help the new fluid flow through the transmission. Transmissions are complex pieces of equipment, so if you're still having problems, it's best to contact a professional.
Windshield Wiper Fluid
Windshield washer fluid doesn't have any effect on your car's performance, but it's still important to drive safely. After all, if you can't see where you're going, you're not going to get that far.
Luckily, it's the easiest fluid to maintain. You can purchase jugs from gas stations or auto supply stores (or make your own) at a cheap price. Just pour the liquid into the reservoir until it's full, close the cap and get on your way.
Gas is what your car uses the most, but don't forget about the other liquids. Create a routine so you don't miss any changes in fuel, and always look out for strange sounds, smells, or vibrations. Such liquids might not stop you like an empty gas tank, but they're just as important to keep your car in good working order.