When you see fluid under the vehicle, don't assume that it's engine oil leaking. There are several systems that uses oily feeling liquid:
- Engine lubrication
- Power steering
- Transmission (automatic and manual types)
- Air conditioning
The engine lubrication system circulates motor oil throught the engine. Clean engine oil is clear and looks like thin honey. Dirty oil will looks dark brown or black.
It's not unusual for an engine to consume 2 or 3 quarts between oil changes. CHECK YOUR MOTOR OIL REGULARLY. If a leak develops you can run out of motor oil. AN ENGINE THAT RUNS OUT OF OIL HAS A LIFE OF ABOUT 15 SECONDS. If, while driving, the red oil pressure warning light comes on, turn off the engine IMMEDIATELY, coast to the side of the road and call a tow truck.
Operating at over 1,000 pounds per square inch ( PSI ), the pressurized power steering fluid will exploit any weakness in any hose connection. Also, the steering gear box ( the mechanism that pushes and pulls the front wheel to make the vehicle turn ) has to contain this pressurized fluid. Seals the surround the shafts that come out of the mechanism can also leak. Power Steering is also subject to gravity leaks if the power steering reservoir is not tight sealed.
Power steeing fluid is usually clear to light brown. Some manufactures use red automatic transmission fluid. It's hard to tell power steering fluid from motor oil by color. Power steering does NOT consume fluid. You will hear a whine from under the hood that may get loud when you turn the steering wheel, or the steering wheel may be hard to turn. Because the power steering fluid lubricated the high pressure power steering pump, driving without insufficient fluid will damage the pump. Add fluid and bring in the vehicle for service.
Like the engine lubrication, the automatic transmission are subject to pressure leaks, splash leaks and gravity leaks. Also, transmission fluid under pressure is pumped to the radiator for cooling. The pressurized fluid will exploit any weakness in any hose connection. Occasionally, the transmission fluid cooler inside the radiator can leak allowing transmission fluid to get into the engine coolant or vice-versa, either requiring immediate repair.
Automatic transmission fluid is usually cherry red in color but, as the fluid ages, will turn into a ruddy brown. Transmissions do not consume fluid. If the fluid is low, the transmission will not shift correctly. Other signs of low transmission fluid are:
- late shifting
- harsh or violent shifting
- slow engagement in forward, reverse or both
- late shifting
- howling coming from the transmission
- revving engine but the vehicle won't move or moves slowly.
DON'T IGNORE TRANSMISSION LEAKS. If transmission leaks are not fixed, the transmission will slip and burn out resulting in repairs in the thousands.
The lubricating fluid inside of a manual transmission is circulated by the spinning parts lapping up some fluid and slinging it around. Manual transmissons usually leak slowly. You are not likely to detect a manual transmission leak by spots on the ground.
The fluid level can only be checked by a technician while the vehicle is on a lift. You'll never know the fluid is low until it's time to by an new transmission. That's another reason you can't trust your oil change service to just anyone. See our Oil Change page for more information.
In front wheel drive vehicles, the differential is usually supplied by the transmission. Rear wheel and 4 wheel drive vehicles are a different story. All of the cautions with regards to Manual Transmissions apply. Even worse, 4 wheel drive vehicle can have 3 differentials. See our Oil Change page for more information.
Clean brake fluid looks like water. Drity brake fluid will look grey and may have a bit of brown in it.
Brakes do not consume fluid. If you've added brake fluid more that once in the last year, you have a brake fluid leak, You are in danger! GET HELP NOW!
If you know anything about air conditioning, you know it runs on a gas called Freon. What you may not know is that a special type of oil called refridgeration oil circulates with the Freon. If the Freon leaks out, so will the oil. The oil lubricated the air conditioning compressor.
Here's the rub: At best, an air conditioning system contains eight ounces or oil. That's only a cup! The number one cause of air conditioning conpressor failure is lack of oil. And, to make is worse, the oil will slowly evaperate. So, to prevent damage to the compressor, any oily spot on the compressor, hoses or condensor should be addressed.
Fluid leaks can be classified into 3 types:
If the fluid is under pressure, the fluid will exploit any loose connection. If makes no difference if we're talking about a hose connection or a connection of one part to another. If high pressure fluid flows through those parts, it can leak.
Fluid constantly sprays off of moving parts. The faster the part spins, the harder the spray. The fluid droplets litterally bouce around inside. The fluid will find any joint between loose-fitting parts and leak out.
Fluid pools up in the bottom of the device. If there the slightest gap in the pool containment, the fluid wil leak out. Generally, gravity leaks are the only type of leak that will leave it's calling card on your garage floor.
If you suspect a fluid leak of any kind, bring your vehicle to Clearview Tire & Auto Service for a correct diagnosis and professional guaranteed repairs which includes our Certified Auto Repair Nationwide Warranty. We're in Hopkinsville, not far from Ft. Campbell and we've been here since 1952. Most repairs include one year FREE towing and roadside assistance, good 24/7 coast-to-coast.