What’s Leaking From My Car?

If you have an old vehicle like me you may be wondering what’s leaking from it. Is it a cause for alarm or is it something not so important. My mechanic suggested the following to me and gave me some tips on what the different fluids might mean.

First, to capture exactly what’s leaking spread out some white butcher’s paper or even white posterboard underneath the car in the spot where the leak is happening. You will want to use a brick or rock to weigh it down. The white will show you the color of the liquid, an important clue as to what it is. If it just drops on the pavement, the dirt will usually make it black and harder to figure out.

Battery acid will have a distinct sulfur smell and will burn through your paper or cardboard. This means the battery is leaking and should be replaced ASAP. Be careful, the acid can cause burns.

Brake fluid will usually be clear with an almost watery texture. If you’re brakes are leaking get them repaired immediately.

Coolant or anti-freeze has a green or yellow tint with a sweet smell. It is tasty but toxic to pets so clean up any that’s spilled out. Look for loose hoses where the leak might be happening. This fix can be as simple as tightening a clamp. However, it you keep noticing this problem it may indicate a cooling system problem that you need to have fixed.

Gasoline is easily recognized by the smell. If you have a fuel leak this could indicate a number of problems that require a mechanics immediate attention. You don’t want your car to catch fire from such a leak.

Oil is thick and, of course, oily. A small leak isn’t surprising on an older vehicle although you may want to have it examined if you’re still under warranty. A large leak may indicate serious problems that need attention.

Power Steering and Transmission Fluid are usually the same fluid. It’s recognized by being a light, oily, and reddish. A leak here could mean serious problems so get it checked to determine the source.

Washer fluid is normally blue but sometimes comes in green. This liquid is usually also toxic to pets so clean it up.

Water, as long as it’s clear, is simple condensation from the air conditioning system, nothing to be worried about at all.

That covers the major ones I know about. Do you have any to add or any other ideas on watching out for problems with your vehicle? Leave me a comment and let me know.


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Comment by Cheap Anime Games
2008-07-11 04:05:16

I used to worry a lot about water leaking from our car. The water always seemed to be leaking from the front passenger side, not from anywhere else, and I would see it first thing in the morning (which made sense, because the car had been sitting overnight for some time).

I finally put two and two together — the car sat on a slight incline, and it was simply condensation running around the frame and dripping off at the lowest point — the front passenger side. Nope, I’m not much of a mechanic.

Comment by jfc
2008-07-21 20:43:27

Hi Anime,

We used to own a Caddy that had a blocked drainage tube in the cowling below the windshield. One day it rained really hard and when my wife went to the car there was about 2 inches of water standing in the floor of the car!

2008-08-14 20:49:02

Of course we never have to worry about such things if the bicycle is the mode of transportation. We have to worry about keeping the gears and chain lubricated, however. There are some nifty new spray-on lubricants made just for bicycles these days.

My dad taught me that power steering and transmission fluid were the same fluid and that knowledge helped me save money with my first car.

Comment by car service
2009-11-12 04:50:29

If you spread the butcher’s paper out underneath the entire car, the positioning of the leak could also be a clue as to where it is coming from. If you go to your mechanic armed with information like the color of fluid, the positioning of the leak and what it smells like when it’s fresh, there’ll be a lot less diagnostic time and lower labor costs for you! Putting a whiteboard underneath the car at the point where the leak usually occurs might allow to you not only see the color, but also to trap some of the fluid to show the mechanic. A bit like going to the doctor armed with your own blood sample … odd, but definitely saves time ;-) . Note - I do not recommend taking your own blood samples!

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