A little car care goes a long way to preserving your ride. These DIY tips can keep your vehicle running in tip-top shape. One of the easiest – and, perhaps, most important – ways to maintain your car is by regularly checking fluid levels. Experts say you should examine most of your car’s fluids – from engine oil to windshield wiper fluid – a bout once a month to make sure they’re at the right level and are clean.
Six common fluids to check under the hood are:
1. Engine oil
Perhaps the most important fluid to check is your car’s engine oil. Change the oil about every 3 – 5,000 miles, or according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. Before checking the oil, make sure to shut the engine off and wait a few minutes for it to cool down. The engine oil dipstick is typically located at the front of the engine. Pull out the dipstick and wipe the oil with a clean rag, then place the dipstick back in and pull it out again. There are markings that read full or low. The oil level should be somewhere between those two readings. If the oil looks dirty, or is low or below the low marking, it’s time to change the oil.
2. Transmission fluid
Some newer cars come without a transmission dipstick. If you don’t have a dipstick, you’ll need to have a mechanic check the fluid level and condition. To check the transmission on a car with a dipstick, keep the car running and put it in park. The transmission dipstick is usually located in the front of the engine on front-wheel drive vehicles and at the back of the engine on a rear-wheel drive car. Like checking the engine oil, pull out the dipstick and wipe it off. Insert it back in and pull it out again to check whether the level is low or full. Also check the condition of the fluid. Transmission fluid should typically be red, pink or light brown. If there’s a burnt smell or the fluid is dark brown, it needs replaced. Change the transmission fluid every 30,000 to 60,000 miles.
Make sure the engine is off and cool before checking your coolant level. The coolant tank is usually translucent and has minimum and maximum markings on the side of the tank to let you know if the fluid is low. Before adding more coolant, check whether it’s already premixed or if it needs a 50-50 mix of coolant and water.
4. Windshield wiper fluid
Make sure your car is turned off and the engine cool before checking the windshield fluid. Then locate the windshield wiper reservoir, which is toward the back of the engine near the windshield. It’s usually translucent so you can see the fluid level.
5. Brake fluid
The master cylinder reservoir is typically located at the back of the engine. Most reservoirs are translucent and come with a line that says maximum or minimum. If you have low brake fluid, top it off – If you have a leak, you’ll know it because your brake pedal will go to the floor or at the very least feel different when stepped on. Change the brake fluid about every 45,000 miles.
6. Power steering fluid
Before checking your car’s power steering fluid level, it’s advised to turn the steering wheel from lock to unlock several times, with the engine running. Then turn the engine off. The power steering reservoir should say “steering” or “power steering” on top of the cap. The power steering reservoir will either have a dipstick you can remove to check the fluid level markings or a cap you can take off and look in to see if it needs more fluid. Auto mechanics differ on how often to change power steering fluid. Some say every 30,000 miles or two years, while others say 75,000 to 100,000 miles. Check your owner’s manual to be sure.