While everyone has a different level of comfort with vehicle maintenance, every driver should know a few basic procedures to check on a vehicle’s condition, even if it’s only to decide whether or not to take the car to a garage for a more experienced opinion. The most vital self-diagnostic you can learn to perform is a quick check of your vehicle’s various fluids, to see if any look drastically different than they should.
What Fluids Do You Need To Check
There are six basic types of vehicle fluids that often need checked, although not everyone needs to be checked for every car. Those key fluids are:
- Brake fluid
- Engine oil
- Transmission fluid
- Radiator fluid
- Power steering
- Windshield washer fluid
Of these, the windshield washer fluid, radiator, brakes, and engine should almost always have accessible dipsticks and reservoirs in the engine compartment or another area of the vehicle. You may find an exception, but it will be a rarity. Power steering and transmission systems are becoming more and more likely to be set up without a driver-accessible dipstick with each new generation of vehicles, and many of the newest power steering systems forego hydraulic fluid for electric designs anyway.
Ways To Safely Check Fluid Levels
Most of the time, you won’t need a car jack or lifts to check out the vehicle’s basic fluid levels. There are always oddball design choices here and there that make an exception to a rule like that, but generally speaking the point of these fluid checkups is fast, easy monitoring of the vehicle’s basic systems. Having to put the car up on ramps or jack lifts would defeat the purpose.
Locate the various reservoirs and dipsticks within your engine compartment, using the diagram from your owner’s manual if necessary. That diagram will also tell you if there is a transmission or power steering dipstick. It will also tell you whether you should run the car or check fluid levels with the engine off. Older cars tend to ask for the engine off for oil and on for everything else, but new cars have a variety of diagnostic differences between them.
Finally, once you have a solid map of the location and procedure for each fluid type in your car, use a roll of paper towels so you can grab a fresh one for each diagnostic. Remove the dipstick, wipe it clean, then reinsert it and remove it again. This will give you a fresh read on the fluid level.
If it is below the fill line for any vehicle fluids, top it off before heading to a garage for an inspection to see if it is leaking or simply losing fluid due to evaporation and friction. Pay attention to fluid color as well, to be sure it isn’t degrading. Color changes indicate that.
Order Your Maintenance Supplies Today
It’s important to keep a small supply of each engine fluid in your home garage in the event you find your vehicle low on one, at a minimum. If you’re interested in learning a bit more about vehicles and saving some money on maintenance, the same store that offers you a wide selection of fluid options for key systems can also provide you with the low cost oil filters and other supplies you need to take care of all your basic maintenance operations from home, even brake pad replacement.