Identifying Fluid Leaking From Your Car

There are two main ways of identifying car fluids; their look, and their smell. Since most manufacturers use the same colours for their fluids, you can usually get a good idea of what you’re working with from look alone.

Red or Green

Fluid that is green or red leaking from your car could be caused by one of three things; coolant, transmission fluid, or power-steering fluid.

Antifreeze can be almost any colour these days from green to amber and blue to red, despite starting out colourless. It tends to be quite watery and has a sweet smell, unlike many of the other fluids in your car, so it is easy to identify.

Power steering leaks are also watery, typically red in colour, and have a smell that is more like that of burnt oil. A power steering leak will usually be close to the front bumper.

Transmission fluid is usually very thick and oil-like. You can identify transmission fluid leaks by checking the transmission dipstick. In all three cases, you should have a specialist look at the car rather than trying to fix any leaks yourself.

What Car Fluid Is Orange?

Not all antifreeze is green, blue or red, though. Some manufacturers use orange antifreeze. Again, though, this will be quite watery. Green water can also come from your windshield wiper reservoir (although sometimes the water in that reservoir is blue or orange). So test that before you get too concerned about watery leaks.

Yellow or Light Brown

Car fluid that is yellow or light brown is different again. Leaks of this colour are usually a sign of oil leaks (although older oil can be black). Oil leaks can come from a number of places and can be caused by a number of things.. If you’re lucky, you’ve just forgotten to tighten the oil plug, or over-filled the engine. If you’re unlucky, something is worn or damaged. Check the quick fixes before you take the car to the garage.

Yellow leaks that have a slightly thinner consistency can be a sign of brake fluid problems. If you are even slightly unsure whether the substance on the floor is oil or brake fluid, don’t try to drive your car. Call a professional and have them take a look. Your brakes rely on hydraulic pressure, and a leak could mean that your brakes will fail at any moment.

Clear Fluids

Clear leaks are a common sign of air conditioning problems. They are not usually anything to worry about and, in a pinch, you can keep driving. You will want to get it looked at eventually, but there is a good chance that the leak isn’t even a leak at all – just condensation dripping out of your vents.

Funny Smelling Car Fluids

Most fluids used in your vehicle will have a fairly distinctive smell which you can use to identify them. Note that you should never, ever taste fluid or residue that has come from a vehicle. This may seem obvious now, but it is a common instinct for people to lick their fingers when they notice something that smells sweet. Fluids that are used in cars and other vehicles can be highly toxic, so you should never put them in your mouth.

What Car Fluid Smells Like Fish?

Fluid that smells like fish leaking from the front of the car is often a sign of a problem with the power steering. Your power steering is a sealed unit, and it should never leak, so if you notice something that you think is a power steering leak it is important that you get it looked at immediately. If the leak is serious, it could impair the handling of your car, causing you to lose control.

What Car Fluid Smells Sweet?

Fluid that smells sweet is usually antifreeze. Coolant leaks can be a serious problem, especially if the coolant is flowing into the engine and contaminating the oil. You should have your car looked at by a specialist if you suspect an antifreeze leak. Check the oil, and if the oil reservoir is contaminated with coolant, call a garage. Try not to drive your car until it has been looked at, because the contaminated oil could be doing damage to your engine.

What Car Fluid Smells Likes Cheese?

Fluid that smells like rotten cheese could also be a sign of a problem with your coolant. Usually, you will not notice this as a leak, but rather when you check your oil levels you will see that the dip stick is covered with a mixture of oil and white lumps that smell very bad. If you notice this, arrange for your car to be serviced immediately.

What Car Fluid Smells Likes Vinegar?

A leaking fluid that smells like vinegar is most likely windscreen wiper fluid. The reservoir will probably smell OK, but very old screenwash tends to have a vinegar-like smell. Screenwash comes in a variety of colours, but always has a watery texture.

Petrol leaks are easy to identify. If it smells like petrol, it probably is. Gas leaks are not usually a sign that your car is about to die, but they are worth fixing, because they will increase your petrol bill. Motor oil tends to smell like cooking spray or burnt butter. It will be thick and slippery, and will not wash away without the use of soap. Oil leaks should be taken care of immediately.

No fluid leak could be considered a good thing, but as you can see, some leaks are far more urgent than others. It is a good idea to get into the habit of performing a visual inspection of your car before getting in to it. Look underneath before driving off in the morning to see if there is any fluid built up under the car. Check the lights and the tyres regularly to make sure they are in good shape, and check your oil levels regularly too. Keeping your car’s fluids topped up is one of the easiest ways of ensuring it performs well and is reliable for as long as possible.

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