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Car Care: Important Automotive Fluids to Know

Your car is an essential part of your daily routine, and like all machines, your vehicle needs regular maintenance to keep it operating smoothly. To help you understand when your vehicle needs service, check out this primer on the fluids that keep your car running like a well-oiled machine.

Motor oil

Motor oil maintenance is an essential part of car care. Generally, motor oil can be broken down into three categories — conventional, synthetic and blended. Conventional oil is the most affordable, although it degrades quickly compared to the other options. Synthetic oil can cost more than twice as much as its conventional counterpart, but it also lasts longer. Blended formulas strike a balance between longevity and affordability. Different vehicles take different formulations of motor oil, so consult your owner’s manual to decide which is right for your vehicle. Although manufacturers’ recommendations vary, most experts recommend an oil change every 3,000 miles for conventional oil, 5,000 for blended oil and every 5,000-10,000 miles for synthetic oil.

To check your motor oil, wait until your car has been off for ten minutes or more, then open the cap and insert the dipstick. If it’s at the minimum level or below, refill it immediately. Also make note of the oil’s color and texture — if it’s gritty or coffee-brown, your vehicle is due for an oil change. If it’s milky, antifreeze may be leaking into the oil.


Also referred to as coolant, antifreeze helps regulate the temperature of your vehicle’s components. Although coolant is often overlooked, it also needs to be refilled and replaced as it ages. Old coolant undergoes chemical changes that cause it to degrade rubbery parts, like gaskets and seals. To maintain the health of your car, flush and fully replace the coolant every three years. However, some automakers claim their vehicles need to have an antifreeze flush only every 10 years. To help you decide when a flush is necessary, master technician Paul LeBlanc recommends that you have the coolant’s pH checked at every oil change.

Brake Fluid

It’s easy to take brake fluid for granted — until something goes wrong with your car’s brake system. Modern cars have a hydraulic brake system, so brake fluid plays a key role in maintaining your safety. If your car’s brakes feel spongy, too firm or perform erratically, check the brake fluid. Check the brake fluid and make sure it’s within the recommended range, refilling it with a compatible automaker-recommended formula when necessary. Although brake fluid can be a variety of colors, it should always be translucent. Cloudy or gritty brake fluid signals that it’s time for a fluid flush and replacement. Furthermore, old brake fluid can degrade your car’s brake lines, so it’s a good idea to have it replaced every two to three years.

Transmission fluid

To keep your car shifting smoothly, make sure that you maintain its transmission fluid. Although some vehicles are equipped with lifetime transmission fluid, ill-maintained fluid can lead to difficult driving and rough shifting. To check your vehicle’s transmission fluid, shift it into neutral or park. If you can access your vehicle’s transmission fluid, check its level and color. Healthy transmission fluid is red or yellowish, while cloudy or gritty fluid signals that it’s time for maintenance by a professional. Although you can check most transmission fluid levels at home, some models accessed by professionals with the right equipment.

Power steering fluid

Before the advent of power steering fluid, cars took a lot of muscle to steer. Nowadays, power steering fluid is a key part of keeping your car functional and easy to drive. You can check your vehicle’s power steering fluid with a dipstick, or inspect a reservoir in the engine bay. If it’s low, it’s critical to replace it with a manufacturer-approved fluid, since a non-matching formulation can damage your car. Because there aren’t guidelines as to how frequently you should replace the power steering fluid, simply check it regularly and have it serviced if your car becomes difficult to steer.

If your vehicle has chronically low fluid levels, or is in need of a fluid flush, take your car to a dealership service center for professional maintenance.

This article is presented by VanDevere Auto Group.

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