Fluids: The Lifeblood of Your Ride

Your vehicle has a lot of different fluids running through it to keep it working properly. Keeping an eye on these vital fluids and maintaining them at healthy levels will increase driving performance and help to reduce maintenance costs.

While many car repairs require a skilled professional, maintaining the levels of essential car fluids is easy and possible for even the most automotive repair-challenged drivers. Knowing which fluids you can easily maintain yourself can save you a lot of money and headaches in the long run, so consider the following six important car fluids that should be maintained as recommended.

1. Engine Oil

Checking and changing oil is critical to keep your engine running properly and efficiently. Check the oil level with the engine off and the car parked on a level surface. After opening the hood, remove the dipstick and wipe it clean with a rag or cloth. Then, return it to the oil reservoir. Take it out again and see if the level is within the acceptable range marked on the dipstick. If you’re adding oil, be sure to not overfill, as this can damage the engine.

Most car manufacturers provide guidelines for changing the lubricant – typically, every 3,000 miles or three to six months.

2. Transmission Fluid

Checking the automatic transmission fluid is another vital item on the car maintenance checklist. Find the transmission fluid dipstick and follow the same steps as monitoring the engine oil, but this time while the engine is running. If the fluid appears brown or has a burnt smell, have it checked immediately.

Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for changing transmission fluid, usually about every 30,000 miles.

3. Power Steering Fluid

If you have a power steering fluid reservoir, check the level visually; otherwise, follow the dipstick method. The fluid should stay level, so if you need to add fluid, have it checked as soon as possible for a leak.

Power steering fluid should typically be changed every three years or 50,000 miles.

4. Brake Fluid

Most, if not all, vehicles on the road today have a brake fluid reservoir that allows you to see through so you can check the fluid level without opening the cap. Once you locate the brake fluid reservoir, you will see markings on the side that tell you if you need to add any brake fluid. If your brake pads are starting to wear, the brake fluid level will drop. If the fluid drops below two-thirds full, you may want to have it checked.

5. Coolant

When you check the coolant, make sure your car has had time to cool down. Locate the coolant reservoir (usually a translucent plastic tank) and eyeball the level of the coolant against the full and low indicators. The engine can be damaged from overheating, so make sure that the reserve tank contains adequate coolant and never allow your car to redline.

Replace most engine coolant or antifreeze every 30,000 miles – or every two to three years. Newer formulas, however, may last up to 50,000 miles.

6. Windshield Washer Fluid

You can check the windshield washer fluid level by looking at the marker on the opaque chamber or by looking into the reservoir. Check the wiper fluid reservoir every week or so and keep it full.

By taking the time to periodically check these fluids, a car will enjoy a healthy and safe level of operation.

Joe Campanella is the EVP of business development at CARCHEX. Headquartered in Hunt Valley, Md.,CARCHEX is the premier provider of Extended Auto Warranties and Mobile Vehicle Inspections. CARCHEX is the preferred partner to the most trusted names in the automotive industry, including Pat Goss of TV’s MotorWeek, Carfax and Kelley Blue Book. You can read their automotive blog here.