Imagine humans living without water. Now imagine vehicles running without fluids. No matter which vehicle you own, it needs a variety of fluids to keep it running smoothly.

The significance of maintaining proper fluid levels in your car cannot be overstated. They are important in virtually every aspect of your car’s function, particularly in terms of fuel efficiency and durability. In this blog post, we’re going to talk about the fluids your car needs, and why they’re important.

The 6 different kinds of car fluids

Most modern-day vehicles utilise 6 different kinds of fluids to perform their function.

These fluids are

  • engine oil
  • brake fluids
  • transmission fluids (if you drive an automatic)
  • coolants
  • power steering fluid, and
  • windshield washer fluids.

Engine oil 

What is engine oil?

Engine oil, also known as motor oil or engine lubricant, is a mixture of basic oils plus additives such as antiwear additives, detergents, dispersants, and, in the case of multi-grade oils, viscosity index improvers. It helps lubricate the internal combustion engines, decrease friction & wear on moving components, clean the dirt (dispersant) and varnish (detergents).

Basic Function

The engine components spin at thousand-reps per minute where the oil plays a vital role in keeping it free from friction, helping them stay well lubricated so that they can work in sync. Your car’s oil needs to be changed every 8,000km – 11,000km. You can ask your mechanic to check and fill up other fluids while they check your car’s oil.

If you’re a self-doer then make sure your car is parked on level ground and the engine is cool before you check the oil. This will help in getting the correct measurement.

How to check your engine oil

Grab your oil dipstick, and make sure it’s cleaned – thoroughly – with a clean rag or towel. Then, put it back in, all the way, before pulling it out again. 

Now, you have a clear reading of how much oil is in your engine. Your dipstick will have two marks. The upper mark indicates that the oil is at maximum level, while the lower mark indicates that the oil level is low and needs a refill. The latter can also be a sign of burning oil or a leaking engine, both of which can eventually harm your engine.

Pay attention to the oil’s colour as well. When engine oil is fresh, it has a golden-amber hue; whereas when it’s brown or black in tone, it means it’s time for a change.

Transmission fluid

What is transmission fluid?

Transmission fluid (a.k.a automatic transmission fluid / ATF) is used in cars with self-shifting or automatic transmission/gearboxes. To differentiate it from engine oil and other fluids in the car, they’re typically red or green in colour.

The fluid is optimized for transmission-specific needs including valve function, brake band friction, and torque converter operation, as well as gear lubrication.

Basic function

Transmission fluid lubricates and cools clutches, gears, and valves, among other transmission components. When it’s low, it can make shifting difficult and create uncontrollable surges.

It’s a popular misconception that (many) transmissions/gearboxes come with a “lifetime” fluid that never needs to be changed. But in reality, there’s no such thing as a lifetime fluid, and your transmission fluid will need to be changed eventually. Most manufacturers recommend changing it between 50,000 and 90,000 kilometres.

It’s still a good idea to check your transmission fluid on a regular basis. Make sure your vehicle is in neutral and the engine is running when you check it so you get an accurate reading.

How to check transmission (ATF) fluid

For certain cars, checking your transmission fluid is quite similar to checking your oil levels. Start by looking for the fill tube (if your car has one). Check the level, then start pouring the transmission fluid in – while the car is still running and your gearbox is in the park mode or neutral (see your owner’s manual). For certain types of vehicles, one might need a mechanic to check the transmission fluid.

Coolant

What is coolant?

Coolant (also known as anti-freeze) is important for a vehicle’s daily operation. Some people assume that it’s only needed during winter, but your car actually needs it all year round! This is the fluid that prevents radiators from overheating as well, thereby avoiding mechanical failure & expensive repairs.

Basic function:

Coolant is a mixture of two components – glycol & water. Glycol is the antifreeze element of the combination. It helps prevent liquids from freezing over in cold conditions and from reaching a boiling point in hot ones. In short, it aids in the regulation of engine temperatures in severe climates and driving conditions.

Antifreeze degrades over time and should be assessed every 12 months or 20,000km.

How to check your car’s coolant

The first step will be to get hold of the radiator cap, which may have the words “cooling system” labelled on it. As a precautionary measure, avoid opening it while it’s still hot. And when you do, you can immediately check whether the fluid level is full. There are a variety of coolants in the market and they come in all kinds and in different colours. Consult your car’s manual to find out the coolant your car needs, and never mix coolant types.

Brake fluids

What is Brake Fluid?

Brake fluid is a kind of hydraulic fluid – a medium by which power is transferred in hydraulic machinery (machinery that uses fluid power to perform) – used in hydraulic brake and clutch applications in automobiles, motorcycles, light trucks, and some motorcycles. Brake fluids convert force into pressure and boost braking power, so your vehicle can stop or slow down when it should.

Basic Function:

When you step on your brake pedal it activates the brake plunger, within the master cylinder*. The brake fluid is then pushed out of its reservoir inside the brake lines by the pressure, which causes the brake pads to slow down your vehicle.

*[The brake master cylinder is a part of your car’s braking system that transfers pressure from the brake pedal to the braking mechanism at the wheels. It’s the heart of your vehicle’s braking system.]

How to check brake fluid:

Many fluids should be checked in a vehicle, but don’t forget to check your brake and power steering fluids.

The brake fluid canister is typically towards the top of the brake master cylinder on the driver’s side. Remove the cap and check the brake fluid level to ensure it is within a half-inch of the cap. Also, take notice of the colour. If it’s black, it should be changed, preferably by a professional.

Make sure there’s no grease or oil in the fluid, and keep in mind that brake fluid is one of the most toxic fluids out there, so be careful when handling this. Wear gloves and other protective gear to protect yourself from the fluid and fumes.

Windshield washer fluid

What is windshield washer fluid?

Windshield washer fluid (also known as windshield wiper fluid, wiper fluid, screenwash (in the UK), or washer fluid) is a fluid that is used to clean the windshield of a car.

Basic Function:

The windshield washer liquid is sprayed on the windshield to keep it clean, and therefore its significance is as important as safety is for safe driving. If you’re using it too often, then you can check it every time you’re going for an oil refill.

How to check your car’s windshield washer fluid

Windshield washer fluid is brightly coloured, and it’s the easiest to add amongst all other fluids. The cap typically has a windshield wiper symbol on it. If the washer fluid level is low or empty, pour washer fluid into the reservoir until it is full, then close the cap.

Now that you have gone through this blog post, we hope that you learned something new about how to monitor, identify any loss of fluid and possible leaks. If you don’t have the time or want to ensure a professional job is done, you can always bring your car to our workshop in Christchurch for vehicle servicing and to check the fluid levels.