When you take a peek under the hood of your vehicle, it can be intimidating. There’s so many bells and whistles, tubes and tanks, you might be tempted to just leave it all well enough alone. That sort of policy only works for so long, though, and eventually you’ll want to familiarize yourself with your vehicle’s inner-workings. A good place to start is with the fluids, and we’re going to help you locate, check, and refill the most important ones. However, if there’s something you’re not sure of, consult with a certified auto technician first.
Let’s start with the oil. The owner’s manual of your car will show you where to the find the reservoir (as it will for every other fluid), but before you examine the fluid level, take your car for a short drive. This will ensure you get an accurate reading by redistributing any oil that may have pooled into the reservoir while your car was idle. After the drive, wait a few minutes for the engine to cool, then use the dipstick to check the oil.
First, take the dipstick out and wipe it clean before reinserting it fully. Next, remove the dipstick again and examine how and where the oil clings to it. If the oil stops below the notch on your dipstick, you will need to add some more, and the manual will explain which kind to buy. However, whether or not the oil is low, if it’s coming out black, dirty, or grimy, you will need to have it changed at a local auto shop.
Next would be your vehicle’s coolant, or ‘antifreeze.’ Check this ONLY WHEN your engine is completely cool. Opening the cap of a hot coolant tank will release a painful burst of steam. Once you’re certain that you can safely check the coolant, look to see where it sits in comparison to the marked minimum and maximum levels. Again, check the manual to determine what sort of coolant your vehicle requires, and then fill the reservoir until the fluid reaches the maximum line.
At this point, we can move on to the power steering fluid, which is vital to a smooth ride. Depending on the make of your vehicle, you can check this fluid with a built-in dipstick or by simply examining minimum/maximum markings on the tank. As you do this, keep in mind that power steering fluid does not run low rapidly, and if you find yourself refilling it frequently that could be a sign of leakage.
Lastly, let’s take a look at the windshield washer fluid, which helps give you a clear view of the road. For this fluid, all you have to do is twist open the cap, fill up the reservoir, and close her up. You can check the manual for a recommended type of fluid, but in this case, you needn’t follow that exactly. In fact, with a few household ingredients, you could even make some windshield washer fluid yourself.
If you ever decide to change your windshield washer fluid mixture, be sure to drain all of the old fluid before introducing a new one. One popular recipe for DIY windshield washer fluid is mixing one gallon of distilled water with 1 tablespoon of dish soap and ½ cup of ammonia. As some dish soap works better than others, clean a small area of glass with the mixture to ensure it doesn’t streak before adding it to your vehicle’s reservoir. Also check that the soap doesn’t foam too much. Be sure to create this mixture in a well-ventilated area and wear gloves, as ammonia can be dangerous. Once mixed, store your homemade washer fluid in a safe place with a consistent temperature and out of reach of children and pets.
As we noted previously, specific information related to your vehicle and its fluids and reservoirs can be found in your owner’s manual. Make sure that you or a certified auto technician checks each of the fluids in your vehicle regularly. Avoid letting any of them get too low. If you’re not careful and try to drive on empty, you could end up doing serious damage to your vehicle’s finer mechanisms. On the other hand, if you keep a watchful eye on fluid levels – which is simple enough now that you know what to look for – you can drive with more confidence than ever before.