Identifying Leaks from Your Vehicle
Your vehicle is filled with fluids for example oil, coolant, brake fluid, transmission fluid and water. When a leak develops it is both annoying and potentially damaging to your car, the environment and not to mention your driveway or garage floor. Being able to recognize what is leaking and where it is leaking from can save you and your auto technician time and money.
A quick and easy way to determine what is leaking onto your garage floor is to place a sheet of cardboard under your car for the night. In the morning you will be able to see the color of the fluid leaking and determine an approximate location. Below is a quick list of common fluids and what they look like:
Fluid #1: Engine Oil
Engine oil usually has a thick, dirty brown appearance and will generally have a burnt smell. Fresh motor oil has a yellow, honey-ike appearance and consistency.
Fluid #2: Antifreeze/Coolant Fluid
Anitfreeze has historically been green, but now you can also find coolant dyed red, orange and yellow depending on the brand and vehicle make. Coolant has a sweet smell, and is extremely dangerous to pets so any leaks should be cleaned up quiclkly.
Fluid #3: Automatic Transmission Fluid (ATF)
ATF is Red or a very dark pink depending on the brand. Also, transmission fluid lines run to the front of your car to a transmssion cooler built into your radiator so transmission leaks can occur in the front of the vehicle as well.
Fluid #4: Brake Fluid
Brake fluid can be identified by its light amber color, almost clear and has a rather bitter odor. It is extremely damaging to vehicle paint, and a brake system leak is a potentially life-threatening problem which requires immediate repair.
Fluid #5: Water
In hot humid climates such as ours car air conditioning systems produce a fair amount condensesd water. This is harmless and a normal part of operation, however many people become concerned when they see "something" leaking under the car.
Once you have determined the type of fluid leaking, the next step is to pinpoint the leak. Typically leaks occur at the weakest point, in cars and light trucks these are generally at gaskets, seals or hoses that are passed their used by date, and can be fairly easy to spot by virtue of seeing the damp spots in the area. However, sometimes the exact location of the leak can be difficult to determine. In this case, professional technicians like those at Elite Transmissions will often use a specialized test kit such as the one pictured. They will add a dye to the system to help them identify the exact spot and therefore make recommendations for repair. A quick word here, it can be incredibly frustrating for all involved to think a leak has been solved to have another one pop up a few days, or few weeks later (this occurs more often in older cars). Fluid moves down hill so to speak, and it will always move through a path of least resistance, so once an old leak is fixed then it may just move down the system and find the opening it needs to leak again. Is there a solution? Well it depends on the severity of the leak, older cars will typically always have some seepage at certain points, but if you are constantly refilling the fluid, or there is a definite steady drip/leak you should have it inspected by a certified automotive technician as it may provide important clues to a potentially larger problem.
A way to prevent or stay on top of leaks is to follow your vehicles recommended service schedule as these will provide regular inspections of the cars systems, flush out contaminates that can deteriorate seals and gaskets and hoses, while conditioning seals and gaskets to help them do their job of keeping fluids in their rightful places.