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One very common observation from our clients is that they find mysterious fluids on the floor of their garage or running down their driveway after their vehicle has been parked there for an extended period. Sometimes this is just a natural by-product of your vehicles systems and sometimes it is something more serious. Let’s take a quick look at how to determine what kind of fluid is leaking, how urgent the problem is, and a quick tip on how to determine where you are leaking from.
You can usually determine if your leak is coolant because it tends to have a very bright colour, usually green or orange but occasionally pink or blue. If you rub it between your fingers it feels oily at first but then becomes very sticky. If you give the liquid a smell it will smell faintly sweet. Note the location of the puddle (in front of tire, right, middle, that helps us diagnose).
Threat Level: Red. This is a serious one and you should come in and get it sorted before your regularly scheduled maintenance.
Engine oil leaks will look brown or black and, believe it or not, oily! It will have a smell of burnt butter or cooking spray from a frying pan left on the burner too long. It is very similar in colour and texture to power steering fluid, so it is best to note where found it leaking from when you bring in your vehicle.
Threat Level: Yellow. This happens from time to time. Be sure to check your oil level and top up if you are running low before your next maintenance.
Unless your transmission fluid is very old it should look red or pink in colour and it feels like a very smooth oil between your fingers. It will have a faint cooking oil type smell and requires soapy water to remove it from your fingers.
Threat Level: Red. Transmissions are so expensive to replace you want to nip this in the bud. Better to fix it before it escalates.
Brake fluid has a very unique slippery quality that feels like a thin silicone sheet between your fingers. It tends to be clear or have a translucent tan colour making it look essentially clean when it is on your garage floor. It will have a dry oily feeling between your fingers (some describe the feel like a dry tanning spray, but we obviously wouldn’t know anything about that!). It is very corrosive to your vehicle’s paint job so be sure to clean up any leaks right away with window cleaner or windshield washer fluid. It will smell very funny as well, a bit like fish oil or caster oil.
Threat Level: Red. Brakes save lives so we always give them top priority, and so should you.
People often notice water leaking from their vehicle, especially right after use. This is common and is not a problem at all. Often water will be dripping out of the air conditioning unit. As you use your air conditioning it creates ice in the cooling process. When you park your car it melts away and drips out the air conditioning drain.
Threat Level: Green. No big deal.
Power Steering Fluid
Power steering fluid is very much like engine oil, it is brown or black and very oily to the touch. It will probably have a bit of a unique burnt smell. Some say it smells like a marshmallow when it catches fire, which is delightfully specific, but this leak is serious business so it is best to get this one checked out right away.
Threat Level: Yellow. This could mean you need to replace the entire steering rack, so have it looked at before things go from yellow to red.
Top Tip: Put a piece of clean cardboard under your vehicle one day after you arrive home and bring it into the shop when you come in for maintenance. Since it is absorbent it is a quick and easy way to determine exactly where your leak is so we can diagnose it more efficiently.
Watch your leaks, give them the touch and smell test, and if you see a high threat level give us a shout and we can take a look for you. It is best to stay proactive and get out in front of problems before they escalate. Be in touch anytime.