DIY Auto Maintenance: Fluid Edition

 

Routine automobile maintenance is something that can get confusing for those that don’t regularly spend time under the hood.  While it’s become incredibly easy, and admittedly, cost-efficient, to take your car or truck into a local garage for a “15 minute oil change”, understanding how to properly check or top-off the crucial fluids in your vehicle can save you quite a bit of time, money, and frustration.

 

DIY Auto Maintenance  Fluid Edition

There are several fluid reservoirs within arm’s reach of your engine, and knowing which should be closely monitored can help prevent serious damage to vital components.  So, in the name of providing you with information that SAVES YOU MONEY, we’re going to outline some of the most important fluids to your vehicle, and how you can ensure that there is enough of each fluid in the reservoir.

 

Shall we?

 

Oil

 

OIL IS CRUCIAL.  Ok, we’re going to say it again, just to be sure the point is made…OIL IS CRUCIAL!!  Necessary for lubricating your engine’s cylinders, and helping to reduce the amount of friction occurring internally, motor oil is something that your engine simply cannot do without.

 

Lots of misconceptions exist regarding the proper mileage/timeframe between oil changes.  While it largely depends on your particular vehicle year, getting the right information from someone OTHER than a company that will profit from your oil changes is paramount.

 

For more information regarding the importance of oil for your engine, check out these resources:

 

http://www.f1technical.net/features/10123

 

http://www.mechanics.com.au/features/the-importance-of-the-oil-change/

 

http://www.cars.com/go/advice/Story.jsp?section=maintenance&story=why-oil-matters&subject=oil

 

And, to clear the air regarding proper oil change frequency:

 

http://www.theautochannel.com/news/2011/12/23/019198-how-often-should-you-change-your-oil.html

 

Coolant

 

While oil tops the list, engine coolant isn’t far behind!  We all know that overheating can lead to disaster for a vehicle’s engine (if you didn’t, now you do!), but far too often, the radiator’s contents go unnoticed by vehicle owners.

 

Because the cooling system is contained, for the most part, many do not realize how much coolant can be lost due to aging.  Radiator hoses, for example, are designed to withstand SERIOUS heat, but over time, they can become brittle, leaving small, sometimes unnoticeable cracks.  Coolant can slowly leak from these openings, leaving your radiator and coolant reservoir BONE DRY.  When this happens, you’ll know it, because your temperature gauge will spike without warning, and if you aren’t careful, so will your maintenance bill!

 

We would like to extend one nugget of knowledge your way before you lift the hood and start checking your radiator fluid:  MAKE SURE THE ENGINE IS COLD!!  If you don’t take our word for it, you’ll wish you did.

 

More information regarding your coolant, and how to maintain proper levels, can be found here:

 

http://autorepair.about.com/od/regularmaintenance/a/coolant_chk.htm

 

http://www.cdxetextbook.com/engines/cool/coolingSystem/adjcool.html

 

Here’s a video on the subject for you visual types out there:

 

http://www.ehow.com/video_2326879_check-engine-coolant-levels.html

 

Brake Fluid

 

Your brakes are important, aren’t they?  Sure they are.  Otherwise, we’d all be plunging headlight into guard rails across the country!  So, if they’re so important, why do so many owners fail to double-check the brake fluid level in their vehicles?

 

Because your brake system is pressurized, a lack of fluid will lead to a lack of braking.  In older cars, small brake line leaks are common, so checking these components regularly can go a long way toward on-road safety.  When you hit your brake pedal, the fluid forces the cylinder to squeeze the caliper and pads onto the rotor.  This slows you down, ensuring that you don’t run into that flock of geese electing to cross the road on a beautiful Tuesday afternoon…

 

For more information on properly managing the brake fluid in your vehicle, visit these sites:

 

http://www.smartmotorist.com/car-accessories-fuel-and-maintenance/checking-and-maintenance-of-car-brake-system.html

 

http://autorepair.about.com/od/regularmaintenance/a/brk_fluid_add.htm

 

We aren’t saying you’re a “Dummy” but this “For Dummies” resource is pretty sweet:

 

http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/how-to-check-a-vehicles-brake-fluid.html

 

Power Steering Fluid

 

The power steering system is somewhat of a mystery to most owners.  Many younger drivers have no idea how much more difficult steering would be without our underappreciate power steering technology!  But, I digress…

 

For our purposes here, we will skip the system analysis, and move right to the fluid’s purpose.  In a design that is slightly more complicated than the brake fluid purpose outlined above, a lack of power steering fluid can render your system useless, while creating issues within the components.

 

Have you ever turned the steering wheel only to hear that annoying “grinding” sound?  Yep, that’s a lack of power steering fluid.  Topping the reservoir off SHOULD do the trick…unless, of course, a more serious system issue is afoot.

 

Learn more about checking fluid levels and maintaining the system here:

 

http://www.wikihow.com/Check-and-Add-Power-Steering-Fluid

 

http://www.cdxetextbook.com/steersusp/steer/steeringSystem/adjpwrfluid.html

 

And, just for those of you that WANT to know more about the system design and function:

 

http://www.howstuffworks.com/steering4.htm

 

Transmission Fluid

 

The last time you tried to pull away from a stopped light, did your transmission slip?  For many, this would incite fear that a costly transmission repair is looming.  And, while we can’t wave our wand and make that possibility COMPLETELY go away, there is a reasonable chance that you’re just running low on transmission fluid.

 

Some newer transmissions, like those found in recent Ford Explorers, are self-contained, meaning that there isn’t a way to add transmission fluid to the system.  In our opinion, this is a terrible idea, as it just facilitates more trips to the local dealership, but we aren’t transmission designers, we’re auto parts guys…

 

Checking your transmission fluid regularly can help you save wear and tear on one of the most expensive components in your vehicle!  For more information, check out these links:

 

http://www.essortment.com/check-cars-automatic-transmission-fluid-level-17572.html

 

http://www.diybuildingandrepairs.com/auto-repairs/how-to-check-transmission-fluid.html

 

Washer Fluid

 

We saved this one for last with good reason.  Though it won’t leave you scratching your head while staring at a ridiculous repair bill, not having washer fluid can create an issue if you have old wiper blades.  Why?  Well, once the rain starts, try clearing what is now MUDDY dirty from your windshield with older wipers.

 

Washer fluid is inexpensive and easy to check, as most reservoirs have the “level” labeled right on the outside of the tank.  Check this regularly, because it’s REALLY frustrating when you need it but don’t have it.

 

So, that pretty much sums up our fluid checklist.  Did we miss anything?  If so, please let us know, so we can run out and check our cars right now.

 

Properly maintaining the fluid levels in your vehicle can go a long way towards reducing maintenance costs and ensuring that many of the critical engine components are functioning properly.  And, just to make this great habit…well…a habit, we recommend checking fluid levels while filling up.  Instead of standing there, taking in the beautiful scenery of a gas station pump, the lovely scents of exhaust, and tantalizing sounds of honking horns and screeching tires, try popping the hood and taking a moment to check your levels.  Your car, and your wallet, will be REALLY happy you did.  We guarantee it!

 

Until next time…

 

Autoparts

1 comment


  1. When it comes to cars I need a bit of extra help. This post was very informative, but I also liked that you included links to videos, even if some of them were “for dummies.”

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