Summer is upon us–are you planning a road trip in the near future? Do you have concerns that your car isn’t up to “speed”, and that you may experience issues along the way?
Even if you don’t have time to get your car into the shop before a tune-up, a simple yet inexpensive way to make sure everything runs smoothly is to check the fluids yourself. You need to know your liquid levels, regardless of whether you are just commuting to work or if you have a transcontinental drive planned for the whole family. There are a number of vital fluids that keep your car in tip-top shape, and knowing how to check and possibly replenish them will ensure that you can go a little bit longer in between trips to the shop.
Here are some important liquids to check when maintaining your car:
Oil is a very important part of your car’s inner workings; your car needs lubrication so that all parts move smoothly. To check your car’s oil, first take it for a short drive, letting it cool down slightly before opening the hood. The dipstick should be located on the engine block; it should be clearly labeled. Pull out the dipstick and wipe it with a cloth or paper towel, and then place back into the engine. Pull it out once more, checking to see that the level of the oil on the stick goes past the notch that indicates a safe level. If it is not, consider either adding more oil specific to your type of car, or get the car in for an oil change as soon as possible.
Radiator fluid keeps your engine cool enough to avoid overheating, especially in warm summer months. Allowing radiator fluid to get depleted is a dangerous situation; you run the risk of overheating your car and cracking the engine block. Check radiator fluid shortly after the engine has been driven, but DO NOT ever check when your car is running, as the fluid is pressurized inside the radiator. Take a rag or some other absorbent material, twist the cap off while standing back as far as possible, then look directly into the radiator from a safe distance to determine that can see coolant with your naked eye. If you can’t see any, chances are that you need to top it off.
Transmission fluid is also checked with a dipstick, and it keeps your transmission well lubricated. Your transmission is vital for allowing your car to perform different functions; it assists the drive train in switching back and forth from drive to reverse, etc. Much like the oil, you’ll need to extract the dipstick, wipe it clean, and reinsert it into the chamber. Pull it out once more, and if it is light pink or almost clear, it is acceptable. If it is dark or has particles floating in it, then it’s necessary to get your transmission fluid changed out completely.
Power Steering Fluid
Power steering fluid works to keep your power steering column well lubricated, allowing you to navigate your car and turn the wheels with ease. Locate the holding tank under the hood and open it up if necessary. Many cars now offer an opaque power steering fluid tanks so that you can see the level without opening it up. If your car has a power steering dipstick, check it as you would the oil or transmission fluid, making sure that it isn’t cloudy or gritty. Add more if necessary.
Brake fluid is pressurized, which is what adds power to your brake system. Locate the reservoir near the back of the engine compartment, then open it up to see what the fluid level is. If it is within an inch and a half of the cap, the level is adequate and safe for vehicle operation. If it seems low, add more for safe braking.
Air Conditioning Coolant
Regulation for AC coolant is a bit more complicated, but you can still do it yourself if you have the right tools. Get the proper parts from an auto supply store, and first check to see what your level is, then recharge as necessary.
Windshield Washer Fluid
An often overlooked fluid, washer fluid may not make your engine run smoothly, but it will you provide you with a safer driving experience. Modern cars now have opaque washer fluid tanks, so that you can see what is inside without prying off the cap. If you see that you are low, you can purchase washer fluid at any gas station or grocery store for under $5, so it’s an easy and inexpensive fix.
Applying these quick fixes and monitoring your car’s fluids will provide you, and your family, with a safe drive on the road this summer. Happy traveling!