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Find the Fluid: Identifying Your Car's Drips

We’ve all done it.  We back out of the garage or parking lot and there it is: a spot!  What is that?  Is your car leaking oil or something else?  How long has that spot been there?  Well, you don’t need to get out the flashlight and try to catch the leak in progress. 

There are six fluids that are most likely to end up spotting your driveway, and here’s how to recognize them:

Light Brown to Black: Engine Oil
It’s one of the most common substances to drip from a car—the amber-to-brown/blackish color of motor oil is an easy one to spot. A little drip is likely not a serious issue—the engine oil through many gaskets and seals where a drop can seep out, but it’s probably a good idea to track down the origin before a tiny leak becomes a bigger one.

Reddish and Thin or Brown and Thick: Transmission Fluid
Sometimes transmission fluid can look similar to engine oil, but is thicker and usually found near the center of the car—although many transmissions today have a reddish fluid that’s thinner than oil. These drips may come from a failing transmission seal or gasket.

Reddish or Light Brown and Thin: Power Steering Fluid
You may be saying: “Wait a minute—isn’t transmission fluid reddish and thin?  Yep, your power steering system may use a fluid that’s either identical or similar to your car’s transmission fluid. So how do you tell the difference?  Well, look at where the spots are.  If they’re around the center of the car, the transmission’s probably the culprit.  If they’re near the front, your power steering’s to blame.

Clear to Brown and Slick: Brake Fluid
This is a critical fluid.  New brake fluid is mostly clear, like mineral oil, but over time can turn brown in your engine.  The key characteristic to look for is its slickness—it’s even more slippery than engine oil.  If you find any of this, it’s a sign of a serious issue that should be looked at right away.

Yellow, Green, or Pink and Slimy: Coolant
This is the easiest fluid to identify: if it’s brightly colored, it’s coolant!  Older cars sometimes blow off a little coolant naturally when the engine gets too hot.  If you have an older car, a spot of coolant could be a harmless reminder for you to add some more.  Today’s cars, on the other hand, recycle blow off coolant, so if you have a late model vehicle and see a neon stain, it could be a sign of trouble under the hood.

Bonus Fluid: Clear, thin…it looks like water!
If you’ve ever seen a small puddle of clear water-like stuff under the front passenger side as you leave a parking spot, you don’t need to panic.   It looks a lot like water, and guess what?  It really is water!  Condensation builds up on your air conditioning hardware when you’re blasting the cold air, and it causes these mystery puddles all over town.

DeVere, J. (2011). Find the Fluid: Identifying Your Car’s Drips. Retrieved from https://blog.allstate.com/find-the-fluid-identifying-your-cars-drips/


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