*Disclaimer! I am not a professional mechanic. My advice and tutorial here is based on things I learned in driving school, from my father, and from personal experience. I assume no responsibility in case something goes wrong.
Cars are machines, and machines require maintenance. “Duh, Lindsey,” you say. “That’s common knowledge.” Au contraire, says I. Things are only common knowledge if you’ve already learned them. Let me share an anecdote with you. A guy I knew in college, he had gotten a car his freshman year of high school. He put gas in it and drove it until his senior year of high school. And then it stopped running. Three guesses as to why. Give up? Oil. He never had his oil changed.
Now, when your car stops running because you never changed your oil, you might as well put it out to pasture because the only cure for that, as far as I am aware, is a whole new engine. There are other fluids you might not have thought about needing to be checked or replaced as well.
This entry isn’t going to show you how to give your car a full oil change. I will save that for another entry. What we’re going to talk about today, instead, is checking your fluids. I have to take a moment to tell everyone, Do not work on a hot engine! Let it cool down completely before trying to check or replace your fluids. Have your vehicle OFF. Follow warning labels on the fluid containers and owner’s manual.
A sticker placed at the top right of your windshield (here in the states, anyway) tells when the oil should be changed next and what type of oil was used last. A car can usually go longer than suggested but just to be safe, follow the guidelines here or in your car’s owner manual on oil type and oil change intervals. To check the mileage, look on your odometer located near yor speedometer.
The first step is popping the hood. Inside the car, near the driver side door on most models is a handle with a picture of a car with an open hood. Mine is a bit worn off but you get the idea.
This releases the lock but there is a hidden latch under the lip of the hood. Feel in the middle until you find it. Press it and lift up on the hood at the same time. Near the front of the engine is the dipstick and oil cap. The dipstick is a long, thin, metal stick that you use to check the oil level. The oil cap will be near the dipstick. This is what you open to add new oil.
To check your oil, first pull out the dipstick and wipe it off on a paper towel or a shop rag. Then reinsert the dipstick and pull it back out again. Look to the very bottom of the stick. There will be marks labeled F for full and L for low.
Mine is indicating that it is a little on the low side. Unscrew the oil cap. A funnel makes pouring the oil easier. Choose the right oil for your car and add a little at a time until the dipstick indicates your level is full. Oil bottles tend to be an unusual shape. This is to make adding oil easier so you can tip the bottle without spilling it everywhere. Pour with the spout at the top. If you do spill any, make sure to wipe it up.
Another important fluid to make sure you check is your engine coolant. It is also called antifreeze. Did you ever watch a cartoon where a car overheated and stopped, so the driver gets out, pops a steaming hood, and pours water into the radiator? Don’t do this. Besides the fact that engine coolant does its job much better than water, it isn’t called antifreeze for no reason. Water in your system can freeze in cold weather and that’s bad, mmkay?
The place for the coolant has lines on the side with an F for full and an L for low. You can see that mine is low.
It doesn’t take much and unless you have a leak, a gallon jug will last you a while. You don’t need to add that much at a time either so be watchful as you pour so you don’t over fill it.
On my car, the power steering fluid is right in front of the coolant.
This has 4 lines to indicate the minimum and maximum fill levels depending on the temperature. Mine, again, is a bit on the low side.
It can come in different sized or shaped bottles, but this is the one I see the most. Make sure this goes in the power steering fluid section and not the brake fluid reservoir. This can damage your brake system.
And speaking about brake systems, you may want to know how to check and replace your brake fluid. On my car, the reservoir is located to the back of the engine. On the side is the markings to indicate the fluid level. Some cars have brake fluid caps that say what type of brake fluid to use. If not, refer to the owner’s manual. It will be Dot-something like Dot 3 or Dot 4.
You may not even need to change brake fluid unless you have a leak. You can generally tell if you are in need of break fluid if you have to press the brakes fairly firmly to get your car to stop.
Brake fluid is toxic and corrosive, so wearing gloves and covering the area around the reservoir with paper towels or shop rags is a good idea in case you accidentally spill some.
If you take your car to a shop to have the oil changed, you can often choose a service option to have your fluids checked and refilled. It typically costs extra but you may feel it is worth it. Honestly, though, knowing how to check and replace the fluids in your vehicle is pretty important and it can save you money. Just make sure you wash your hands thoroughly when you are all finished.