Frequently Asked Questions
I have fluid stains or puddles under my car - what is it and where is it coming
There are a number of fluids that can leak from your vehicle, with many of them
leading to a possible breakdown and expensive repair if neglected. Some leaks are
obvious, where others may play "hide and seek" with you. If you can't find the location
of the leak, place fresh newspapers under where you think your leak is overnight
and then check them in the morning. Following are some helpful hints as to the type
of fluids used in today's vehicles, as well as various colors and other characteristics
to help you identify them.
Engine oil is typically dark-brown or black in color. At times, you might see a
few drops here and there and this might be all right if you recently have had your
oil and oil filter changed or performed this service yourself. This can largely
be attributed to the location of the oil filter on the engine and some oil may have
dripped upon some of the vehicle chassis or a small amount was spilled onto the
engine when dispensing the new oil into the filler area. While a few drops shortly
after an oil change might be ok, you want to make sure that "puddles" of oil do
Antifreeze / Coolant
Engine antifreeze / coolant can be either green, yellow or red depending on the
type used by the vehicle manufacturer. Most vehicles have a radiator located just
behind the grill. This fluid has a sweet smell to it (like maple syrup). Not enough
antifreeze / coolant will cause the engine to overheat. There is usually an "overflow"
or "fill" tank where you can add antifreeze / coolant to your cooling system.
If the fluid looks like clear water, than it probably is. Since most vehicles today
are equipped with air conditioning, you'll likely notice drips or puddles coming
from underneath the engine compartment. This is ok, since this water is condensation
from the a/c system. This is the best fluid to see under your vehicle.
Brake fluid is generally clear and oily to the touch. When you depress the brake
pedal, brake lines allow the brake fluid to be pushed through to each of the 4 wheels
containing a "stopping device", either a brake caliper or a wheel cylinder. So any
number of leaks could appear almost anywhere a weakness may exist in the system.
While leakage of the brake system is rare, you'll likely feel a "soft or spongy"
brake pedal feel when depressing the brakes, which can lead to brake failure if
not corrected immediately.
Transmission fluid (TF) is typically red, although the color can be a "milky pink"
color if it becomes contaminated. Some TF for certain vehicles may be clear or amber
in color. If you have a front-wheel-drive vehicle, then your transmission is next
to the side of your engine underneath the hood. If you have a rear-wheel-drive vehicle,
then your transmission is located in the center of your vehicle just under the dash
under that "hump" in the center. If the color of your TF appears to be brown then
this would indicate that the fluid has overheated and should be changed as soon
Power Steering Fluid
Power steering fluid is generally red, although some vehicle manufacturers may use
a fluid that is almost clear or amber. The power steering reservoir is typically
mounted with the power steering pump driven by a belt on the engine. Leaks generally
occur within the power steering lines.
Windshield Washer Fluid
Pink or blue fluid would indicate that your windshield washer reservoir is leaking.
For the front windshield, this reservoir is under the hood in the engine compartment.
For vehicles with rear wipers, it is usually mounted behind a panel in the rear
left or right side of SUV's and vans.
Gasoline is a clear fluid with a strong smell and is obviously highly flammable.
Gasoline is stored in the gas tank which is usually located at the rear of your
vehicle. Leaks can occur if you bottom out your vehicle, causing damage to the gas
tank. There are also fuel lines that run underneath the vehicle up to the engine.
Leaks can also occur within the fuel line (rare), but are most likely to occur at
a connection point. Gasoline leaks should be repaired immediately due to a fire
Diesel fuel looks like light oil. While not as flammable as gasoline, it can ignite
in the right conditions. Leaks should be taken care of as soon as possible.
Gear oil is a light tan or black color and is considered a "heavy" or "thick" oil.
Leaks can occur in your manual transmission, differential (rear-end on rear-wheel-drive
vehicles) or axle. Since gear oil is used widely among certain components, a gear
oil leak may be present at a number of locations underneath a vehicle. Any leaks
should be repaired as soon as possible.
Battery acid is a clear fluid that contains sulfuric acid and will smell like rotten
eggs. A leak would typically indicate that your battery casing is cracked and the
battery should be replaced immediately. Since battery acid is corrosive, any contact
with skin should be washed and flushed with water as soon as possible.
Shock and Strut Fluid
Shock and strut fluid is typically dark brown. Shocks and struts can "ooze" their
fluid and this will be evident by a stain on the outside of the shock or strut housing.
There is no refilling of this fluid so they must be replaced (usually in pairs or
all four at the same time).
My "Check Engine" light is coming on, but there's plenty of oil and water in the car. What's wrong?
When the "Check Engine" light comes on, your car is telling you to have the computer
system checked out at the earliest possible opportunity. A "Check Engine" light
means that your car's computer system has recognized a fault in one of its circuits.
It is different from the oil pressure light that means "STOP" driving the car.
What does SAE and API mean?
The A.P.I. (American Petroleum Institute) takes data from automobile manufacturers
and determines what qualities motor oils must have to properly lubricate engines.
Oil companies use this information to blend additives into petroleum base stocks
to produce proper motor oils used in automotive engines The S.A.E. (Society of Automotive
Engineers) oversees testing and sets standards for oil viscosities. On oil containers
or labels the weight is noted as "SAE 10w30" (usually noted within or near the API
Donut), meaning that in accordance with Society of Automotive Engineer standards,
the viscosity of the product is a 10-weight in colder temperatures and a 30-weight
in warmer temperatures. Note that the "w" between the 10 and 30 stands for "winter"
(or colder). The "w" is included in all multi-grade oil labels as a sign that the
first number is the cold viscosity measurement, while the second number is the warm
viscosity measurement. With regard to tools, SAE refers to fractional measurements,
non-metric. Many car manufacturers recommend a lighter weight oil be used in newer
cars. Newer engines are built to tighter tolerances than before. This requires a
lighter weight oil for proper lubrication when the engine is cold. Lighter weight
oil also helps to increase fuel economy by a small amount. Most manufacturers will
list a range of oils that can be used for different conditions. Some are for below
30°C, some are for above 40°C, or for towing or trailering. These weight ranges
will be listed in your owner's manual. If the oil is not listed in the manual, it's
not a good idea to use it.
What is a cabin air filter and why do I need it?
During the hot summer months, contaminants, such as pollen, dust, mold spores and
smog, can easily enter a vehicle's passenger compartment through the air conditioning,
heating and ventilation systems, making the air in the car six times dirtier than
the air outside.. Motorists can protect themselves and their passengers from these
containments by replacing the vehicle's cabin air filter annually or more often
in areas with heavy containments, or whenever heating or cooling efficiency is reduced.
Cabin air filters clean the incoming air and remove allergens. If your vehicle is
model year 2000 or newer, there's a good chance it is equipped with a cabin air
filter. Check your owner's manual. If the cabin air filter is not replaced, it can
cause musty odors in the vehicle, and over time, the heater and air conditioner
may become damaged by corrosion.
How can I prevent my car from overheating this summer?
Radiator Coolant, or anti-freeze as it is commonly known, works to combat both heat
and cold - ensuring that your engine doesn't freeze or over-heat. Over time and
with exposure to the cold of winter and the heat of summer, the protective components
of this fluid are weakened and its effectiveness can be dramatically decreased.
Check and service your car's cooling system every 48,000 km or every 2 years (for
most vehicles) and pressure test the system and radiator cap to ensure they are
in proper working order. The Great Canadian Oil Change Radiator Fluid Change will
thoroughly flush your radiator and engine block, draining exhausted anti-freeze
and replacing it with fresh, warranty approved coolant.