Car Fluids: Check by Yourself, or Have a Pro Do It?by Ali's Woodinville on 10/17/14
Customers ask us all of the time if they should be checking their fluid levels themselves or if they should just leave this process to us professionals. There is a very EASY answer to the question: BOTH you and your trusted shop (hopefully ours) should be checking these. Every time you bring your car in for ANY kind of service, you certified mechanic should run through and check, and if necessary, top off your fluids. To be clear, you should definitely know how to do a simple CHECK of all major fluids, but that does not mean that they are all fluids that you should add or correct yourself---That is a different story altogether.
Some of the fluid systems in your car are very easy to understand and it's easy to simply add fluid to the fill line. Others should not be tampered with, unless you have the proper training. ALL of the fluids though can be checked and noted simply, and if there seems to be an issue with any of them, you need to alert your favorite mechanic.
Which fluids should you do a simple check on every 1-2 months? First, you have to park your car on a flat surface and put the vehicle's emergency brake on (safety first!). Then you can consult this list of fluids, and note which ones you can add fluid to safely on your own. The beauty of our business, is that you don't have to check your fluids yourself quite as often if you just bring your car to us regularly (before something brakes). We'll always check these for you and save you the hassle!
1. Motor Oil
Well, the most common is your car's motor oil. This is done using the dipstick. The dipstick needs to be wiped off and re-inserted. It will give you a pretty clear idea of how much oil is in there, and if it is low. If you've consulted the car's manual, know what kind of oil your car needs, and feel comfortable doing so, you can add oil yourself. If the oil looks too dark, or is WAY too low (which can indicate leaks or that your car is consuming oil), you'll want to get it into the shop to be checked. If you're getting your oil changed on schedule (every 3,000 miles or so), you'll probably find that your system may not need any added oil and won't be overly dark.
2. Coolant/Antifreeze Reservoir
You can check this reservoir rather easily in most cases. If you have a translucent (see-through) plastic reservoir, as most vehicles do, you can easily not how close to "FULL" your reservoir is. If you have to check by taking the cap off, then you need to wait until the engine is fully cooled-down.
If this fluid is a little low, you may add more antifreeze if you feel comfortable and follow the directions. You may need to dilute your antifreeze first, depending on which kind you buy. If your coolant is very low, then you likely have another issue going on. A leak of some sort may be occurring. Take the car in to be inspected by a professional. Either way, you'll be glad you did this check yourself!
3. Power Steering Fluid
You can read this through the reservoir wall usually, so it's also an easy check. You may add fluid to the fill line if you are comfortable, but if it's looking oddly low, or you notice a possible issue, just get it to the mechanic. Usually, there is no adjustment necessary, or only a very small one. Otherwise it may be a bigger problem that needs attention.
4. Windshield Washer Fluid
Okay, this isn't the fourth most important fluid, but it's the last one that you should be adjusting or adding yourself if it is low. This one is pretty simple. You can usually see the level without taking off the cap, and if it is getting lower---which is normal---you just add more. Washer fluid is something you may take for granted, but seeing clearly while driving is VERY important, so cleaning bugs and grime as you drive is also somewhat important to prepare for. When buying washer fluid, it's a good idea to get one that won't freeze easily in low temperatures.
5. Transmission Fluid
You actually check this with a dipstick as well, but actually this one should be done with the engine running and having warmed. The fluid is usually reddish. Make note if it is black, brown, or very dark. Transmission fluid is usually done on a designated schedule---Check your manual. If it is low or looks funny, our advice is to NOT ADD OR CHANGE the fluid yourself. This is one for the pros. If you're in the Woodinville or Snohomish areas, bring it right into us at Ali's Auto Repair in Woodinville!
6. Brake Fluid
Check this one, but don't try to adjust it. You may need to check your manual just to find your brake fluid. You also check this through the walls of your reservoir, and if it is low at all, then it is a cause for concern. Don't mess with your ability to stop your vehicle, get this one to your local shop PRONTO!
For more detailed instructions and info, please consult your car's manual. Also, it isn't a fluid, but another easy and important area is your car's tire pressure. Keep an even closer eye on that for safety and optimum gas mileage. You can read more about that in this Tire Pressure Check blog post.
Thanks for reading and local readers should come see us at our Woodinville shop or our Bellevue Auto Repair shop soon!