Basic vehicle maintenance includes checking the fluid levels of the different systems in your car’s engine compartment. A variety of systems in your vehicle use fluids to operate, and the list below may differ based on your vehicle type and engine. Follow our guide to understand which systems you may need to monitor to ensure that your engine runs safely and smoothly.
The fluid levels you need to monitor in your car, and why.
Regularly checking your car’s fluid levels is a simple exercise that can save you a lot of money and frustration in the long-run. A car’s engine is a complex system that relies on a specific set of conditions to run optimally, and the fluid levels inside your car’s engine help regulate these conditions. Some fluids are responsible for temperature control; some provide lubrication, and some even help control your vehicle. Here are some of the systems that rely on fluids and how you can monitor those fluid levels:
Most cars have mechanical engines with thousands of moving parts. The oil in your car’s engine keeps these parts from sticking, grinding and malfunctioning. If your car’s engine oil runs low, it can cause severe damage to your vehicle. We recommend that you check your car’s engine oil once a month to pick up any issues without delay.
You can check your car’s engine oil by locating the oil dipstick inside the engine bay, if it has one. Some newer vehicles do not come with a dipstick and must be checked through the onboard computer. Also make sure that the engine is turned off and has been sitting for at least 15min before checking the level with the dipstick. Remove the dipstick and wipe it clean, then reinsert it to check the oil level. If the markings on the dipstick show that the level is low, top up the oil immediately. Take note of the oil’s appearance. If the oil is very dark, you may need to drain and replace the oil. If the oil is gritty, you need to book your car in for a service without delay because particles in the oil could mean that a component in the engine is breaking down. If the oil is milky in appearance, you might have coolant leaking into the engine, and you should speak to a service advisor at CRS Automotive about getting it fixed.
Modern cars use a hydraulic system for braking, which means that brake fluid levels are crucial to keeping your vehicle safe to operate. When you hit the brakes, the pedal compresses the fluid inside the system, pushing the fluid into the brake lines that activate the brake pads. We recommend getting your brake fluid checked at your annual service, but if you feel any change in your brakes, you can inspect your brake fluid levels to see if you need a top-up.
Locate the brake fluid tank inside the engine bay and note the fluid level. If the level is too low, you can top it up. If the fluid is not translucent, you will need to replace it to ensure that there is no water in the brake system that can cause rust and corrosion.
Your car’s engine runs on combustion, which means that there will be a lot of heat inside the engine when it is running correctly. The engine temperature is regulated through the engine coolant, which traps heat from the engine and releases it through the radiator. If the coolant level is low, your engine may overheat and get damaged in the process. We recommend checking the engine coolant level every 50 000 kilometers or whenever the coolant light goes on. If the coolant light does appear, immediately pull your car over and wait for the engine to cool down before checking the coolant level.
Locate the coolant tank inside the engine bay and check that the fluid level is between the maximum and minimum levels. If your car doesn’t have a coolant tank, you can check the coolant level by unscrewing the radiator cap and ensuring it is filled to the top. It is essential to perform this check when the engine is cold because these fluids can spray and cause severe burns if the engine is still hot.
The power steering system in modern cars is similar to the brake system in that they use hydraulic technology to function. To keep the steering functioning correctly, you will need to keep your steering fluid levels topped-up. We recommend checking steering fluid levels with your annual service, or whenever you feel that the steering is becoming more difficult.
The steering fluid tank should also be located in the engine bay. Look at the fluid level and top it up if there is not enough fluid in the tank. If you find yourself topping the steering fluid up frequently, you should book a service with CRS Automotive to determine if there is a leak in the steering system.
Windshield washer fluid
Don’t neglect the windshield washer fluid when you are doing maintenance on your car. The windshield washers keep your view unobstructed and will keep you driving safely in rainy or snowy conditions. We recommend checking your windshield washer fluid a few times a year, especially after it has been raining or snowing, and you have been using the washers more regularly.
Locate the windshield washer fluid tank in the engine bay to check the level. If the fluid is running low, you can top it up with fluid from a gas station or make your own with a bit of liquid dish soap and water.
The transmission fluid in your car’s engine works to keep the components in your car’s transmission system cool and lubricated. Whether your vehicle has a manual or automatic transmission, the gears and parts need to move unhindered to keep your vehicle running. We recommend having the transmission fluid checked at your annual service as most cars don’t need fluid to be replaced often (or at all), but if something goes wrong in the transmission, you will end up paying dearly for the problem.
If your car has a transmission fluid tank, you can check the fluid level by using the dipstick. Some vehicles, however, need to be checked by a professional. If you feel any sticking or grinding in the transmission, make an appointment with our service professionals at CRS Automotive immediately to avoid severe damage.
Be sure to only use the fluids for each system that is recommended by your car’s manufacturer. If you don’t know which fluids are best for your vehicle, feel free to reach out to CRS Automotive in Hamilton and Stoney Creek, Canada, for your next car service or for help with topping up your car’s fluid levels.