What’s that fluid leaking from my car?

Your vehicle is complex, and requires a variety of different fluids to operate. In the event of a leak, many of these fluids can be identified by color, texture, or odor. Familiarize yourself with the different characteristics and which types of leaks require immediate attention.
If you suspect a leak, there’s an easy way to identify its quantity and location. Place a piece of cardboard under the vehicle when you park it overnight. In the morning, check the leak volume, color, and location. This information will help you identify the type of fluid, the severity of the leak, and possible sources, and will be useful information for your mechanic. Unless it is brake fluid or gasoline, a puddle of 1-2 inches is probably less serious. A puddle greater than 3 inches is a serious leak requiring immediate attention.
Clear: Water or Gasoline

If you’ve been running the air conditioner, some condensation drip is expected and no cause for concern. If you’re unsure, check for the unmistakable smell of gas. Never drive a vehicle that is leaking fuel. Consult your mechanic.

Black, Brown or Amber: Oil

If the dark leaking fluid feels slippery and is hard to get off, it’s probably oil. As oil could leak from a few different points, try and take note of where on the vehicle it looks like the oil is coming from. Check your engine oil level before driving the car again, and top up as necessary. Driving a vehicle with low or no oil can cause catastrophic damage to the engine. Check the oil level frequently until you can get to a certified mechanic, which should be as soon as possible.

Red or Pink: Transmission Fluid

Transmission fluid is oily feeling but odorless. It starts out red but may turn orange or brown as it ages. You may notice it coming from the middle or front of the car. Driving with low transmission fluid will prevent the gears from shifting smoothly and may damage the transmission. Check the levels frequently and top up until you can have the system looked at by a mechanic.

Reddish Amber: Power Steering Fluid

Power steering fluid has a distinctive burnt sugar smell. Like transmission fluid, it can darken towards brown as it ages. You can check the levels in the reservoir and add fluid as necessary until the system can be repaired.

Bright Green or Yellow: Coolant

Coolant has a thin consistency and a sweet smell. If you are seeing coolant, you could have a leak in your radiator, its overflow tank, the water pump, or their associated hoses. Check your coolant levels and top up until it can be repaired. Driving with low coolant can cause the engine to overheat or seize up.

Yellow to Dark Amber: Brake Fluid

Brake fluid can be light yellow to a dark brown depending on its age, and has a slippery cooking oil type feel. Look for it under the wheels or near the brakes. A vehicle with a suspected brake fluid leak should not be driven, but towed to a mechanic for repair. Driving with leaking brake fluid may impair your ability to stop.

Blue: Windshield Washer Fluid

If the fluid is watery and smells like Windex, its probably washer fluid. Blue is the most common, but it does come in a variety of colors. Have a technician check the reservoir for cracks and the system for damaged seals. This type of leak should be repaired, but is not usually an emergency.

Written by Hillside Automotive

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