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Car Care: Automotive Fluids


Staying hydrated is key to maintaining good health, and especially so in the summer months. The same need to stay quenched applies to your vehicle, which relies on several vital fluids to operate. Knowing what function these fluids serve and how to check and maintain them will help you to keep your vehicle driving better longer.

Engine oil

Engine oil helps your vehicle’s engine regulate temperature by reducing friction between moving parts and keeping surfaces clean. The owner’s manual for new vehicles might recommend following an oil change interval ranging between 5,000 and 15,000 miles, and it is important to stick to that schedule to ensure optimal performance as well as the longevity of your engine. Going too long without an oil change won’t just hurt performance and fuel economy in the short term, but it can also lead to catastrophic engine problems over time.

Checking your engine oil is an easy process. With your vehicle’s engine cold, find the engine oil dipstick and remove it. Clean any oil off with a rag, reinsert into the receptacle and withdraw it once again to determine if it is at an acceptable level. If the oil appears too dark, too thick or too thin, you may be due for an oil change.

Engine coolant

Coolant, or antifreeze, serves a wide range of functions for your vehicle, the foremost of which is regulating temperature to prevent freezing in winter and overheating in the summer. Stored in the radiator, this fluid is mixed with 50 percent water for maximum effectiveness. You typically don’t need to worry about performing a coolant flush more than once every few years; refer to your owner’s manual for exact recommended intervals.

To check your coolant levels, you’ll want to look for the coolant fluid reservoir and remove the cap only when the engine is cold. If the radiator is not completely filled, you can easily top it off with a 50:50 mixture of water and the appropriate recommended coolant. If you note any signs of dirt or discoloration, you may be in need of a flush and replacement.

Brake fluid

Brake fluid for modern hydraulic braking systems is vital for bringing your vehicle to a sudden stop when necessary. If your brakes don’t seem as responsive as normal, the fluid may be the culprit. The variance between recommended replacement intervals is quite wide, with Cars.com noting that some vehicles do not even provide recommendations in the owner’s manual. As such, it’s important to make inspecting your brake fluid levels a part of your maintenance routine.

Brake fluid is typically stored in a translucent reservoir with lines indicating minimum and maximum levels. If your brake fluid is below the minimum level, fill it to at least minimum capacity immediately and have your vehicle inspected for possible leaks or brake issues. You’ll also want to have your system inspected if the color of your brake fluid is dark brown or black.

Your engine oil, coolant and brake fluid are just three of the fluids essential for your vehicle’s health. To maintain all of your vehicle’s needs, check your owner’s manual and stay apprised of your maintenance schedule by speaking with a trusted auto technician.

This article is presented by Bill Marsh.

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