Seven Fluid Levels Every Car Owner Needs to Know About

To allow all the parts of the complex machinery in your vehicle to function at their best, your car is equipped with different fluids that assist in creating hydraulic pressure as well as cooling and lubricating different parts. As a car owner, there are seven fluid levels you should be aware of and maintain.

1. Brake Fluid

Purpose: Provides hydraulic pressure, which powers the braking system. It also lubricates the antilock braking system, brake valves, and pistons. Brake fluid can’t be compressed, so it provides force when the brake pedal is pushed. The force applies to all rotors on the vehicle, stopping or slowing the movement of the vehicle. Brake fluid works under very high temperatures.

How to Maintain: Brake fluid must be replaced periodically. Since there are a variety of different types of brake fluid (and installing the wrong kind could lead to malfunctioning of the braking system), always refer to your owner’s manual before replacing it to ensure you use the best option for your vehicle. The frequency of replacing should also be listed in the owner’s manual. Staying up to date on replacing your brake fluid can help prolong the life of your brakes and increase the safety of your vehicle.

2. Differential Fluid

Purpose: Differential fluid cools and provides lubrication to the rear differential.

How to Maintain: Differential fluid is the longest-lasting fluid in your vehicle, so you won’t need to change it as often as the other fluids. Changing the differential fluid is a complicated task best left to an experienced technician, who can skillfully remove all the old fluid so it does not contaminate the new fluid.

3. Engine Coolant

Purpose: Engine coolant cools the engine, lubricates the water pump, and provides heating fluid to the climate control system. Coolant prevents damage to the engine that could potentially be caused by boiling or freezing temperatures.

How to Maintain: As the technology with engines improves, the time between needing to change engine coolant increases. Modern vehicles can go 10 years without changing the engine coolant. Refer to your owner’s manual for specific recommendations for your vehicle on the frequency of changing your engine coolant.

4. Engine Oil

Purpose: Engine oil provides lubrication to the interior of the engine. Engines are equipped with many small, fast-moving parts that can malfunction if they wear out or cause too much friction. Engine oil also draws heat away from the fast-moving parts, cooling them and preventing overheating.

How to Maintain: Engine oil should be changed regularly for your vehicle to run properly and to prevent engine failure. Checking your engine oil is a simple procedure you can do whenever your car is parked and cooled. You can add additional oil if your oil levels are low, but expect to completely change your engine oil about every 3,000 to 5,000 miles.

There are different types of engine oil with additives that can provide additional benefits, such as corrosion inhibitors (to prevent rust formation), viscosity index improvers (to help the oil perform better in extreme temperatures), or dispersants (to prevent a buildup of sludge in the oil). The more additives in the oil the higher the price. The oil that works best for your car and your budget is up to you, although your manufacturer or mechanic may have specific recommendations for your vehicle.

5. Power Steering Fluid

Purpose: Power steering fluid is a hydraulic fluid that creates pressure by transmitting power in the steering system of your vehicle. It allows you to turn the wheels more easily. It also protects the pump, rack, and pinion of your car from excessive wear.

How to Maintain: Like engine oil, you can use a dipstick to check the level and condition of power steering fluid in your car under the hood. Power steering fluid that is brown or black has most likely been contaminated. A mechanic can help you find the source of the contamination and replace the fluid. Clear, pink, or amber power steering fluid can be refilled to the correct level, but err on the side of too little fluid (instead of too much) since the fluid expands as it gets warmer, and an excess of the fluid could cause damage.

6. Transmission Fluid

Purpose: Transmission fluid cools and lubricates the interior of the transmission and all of its parts.

How to Maintain: As the many transmission parts run, over time they slightly wear down, leaving the tiny particles in the transmission fluid and contaminating it. These contaminants may require the transmission fluid to be flushed or drained.

Just as with many fluids, the specific interval for when you should change your vehicle’s transmission fluid varies based on make, model, and year. Your owner’s manual will have a more specific recommendation for when to change the transmission fluid. It could be anywhere from every 30,000 miles to 100,000 miles. Changing the transmission fluid is not a simple procedure you should attempt on your own. Hire an experienced mechanic to help you.

7. Window Washer Fluid

Purpose: Window washer fluid is a cleaning solution for the windshield and headlights that is specifically formulated to not freeze. While window washer fluid is not vital to the running of the vehicle, if your car does not have an adequate amount of window washer fluid it could pose a danger to you should your windshield visibility become compromised.

How to Maintain: Your window washer fluid is one of the easiest fluid levels to maintain. When you run out of window washer fluid, fill in the internal reservoir with more.

Keep records of your vehicles to help you remember when you have these services performed, as excessive services could just be unnecessary and expensive. If you buy new cars, you should not need to worry about most fluid levels for a while, but if you buy used cars (and don’t have service records provided), you will want to make sure that fluid levels are good. If you buy a used car in Salt Lake City from TJ Chapman Auto (or if you buy from us online and have the car shipped), we’ll perform our comprehensive service inspection to make sure that your fluids are topped off and your car is ready to roll.