Identifying Fluid Leaks Beneath Your Car
Sometimes, we have an unnerving moment while parked in a public parking lot, when we start to back out and notice a puddle in the spot we just vacated. Was it there when we parked? Maybe? We didn’t notice. “Did that come from my car?” we wonder. It’s never a welcome question. But, sooner or later, it will be a fluid which comes from your car. Discovering the identity of that fluid can help you diagnose the problem, the impending urgency, and the solution, which may involve a mechanic, or it may not.
Here is a color-coded means of determining what your leak might be:
Transmission or power steering fluid.
Neither of these is a welcome sight. In an older car, a transmission leak will be in the center of where the car was parked and thicker than oil. In newer cars, it will be thinner than oil. This is usually caused by a failed gasket and is best fixed soon.
If the spot is closer to the front of the car, it’s more likely to be power steering fluid.
Amber, Brown, Black
These are oil colors. Oil is the most common fluid, and an older car will normally have one or more of many gaskets which leak a bit. This is something you might want to ask your mechanic to check the next time he gets it up on the lift, unless it’s leaking quite a bit, in which case, you need a mechanic sometime before the little leak becomes and big leak and the accompanying (and sometimes expensive) problems which go with that.
Clear, light, or dark brown AND SLICK
Brake fluid. Next to gasoline, brake fluid is the one you don’t want to see on the ground, because brake fluid stops the car. You need a mechanic right away.
If it smells like gas, it’s gas. Leaking gas is just about the most dangerous fluid your car can leak. A tiny spark or flame can set the gas on fire. See a mechanic immediately, and don’t smoke or let anyone else smoke near the car.
A carbon monoxide leak in the car may be odorless, but it may make you feel dizzy, lightheaded or nauseated. Do not drive that car. Get out. Call a tow truck to take the car to the mechanic. Seek medical advice.
Yellow, green, pink or something else
Radiator fluid or coolant. Smell it. Radiator fluid tends to have a bright color and sweet smell. Some older cars don’t recycle radiator fluid, and will spill some when hot. Newer cars recycle radiator fluid.
Some other helps:
Your car manual will describe where each reservoir is and how to check these fluids. Knowing what each fluid in the car looks like will help identify it.
An old box, brown paper grocery bag, or some other ‘throwaway’ that can be placed flat beneath the car to show you exactly where the leak is located. Once you pinpoint the location exactly, you may be able to use a flashlight and look up to see precisely where the leak originates.
Paper towels or napkins can be used to dab at the liquid to get a good indication of it’s true color and texture.
Checking the fluids in your car at the recommended rates will help you not only stay apprised of the health of your car, but also give you the advantage of knowing which system is leaking when there is a fluid failure.