If you drive a vehicle with more than a few miles on it, there’s a good chance you’ve noticed an occasional drip underneath it that leaves spots wherever you park. Identifying what is leaking from your car will help you determine whether or not it’s a cause for concern, and what to do about it.
There are seven liquids a car can possibly drip: oil, gas, brake fluid, transmission fluid, gear oil, water, and coolant. How do you tell the difference? This article aims to help your know-how.
Gasoline is obvious, it smells like gasoline. Fortunately gas doesn’t typically leak, but when it does it produces a strong smell of fresh gasoline. If you notice your car always smells like a gas station, you should get the leak fixed immediately; it’s not only a serious fire hazard, but gas is too expensive to waste.
Brake fluid typically appears close to wheels, and you may even see it on a tire. It is nearly clear, and will often have a “dry” feel. Check your brake fluid level and consider whether the brakes feel normal. Leaking brakes usually cause a noticeable difference in braking and fluid levels soon after a leak begins. Brake system leaks must be fixed immediately for obvious reasons; you don’t want to lose your brakes while driving.
Oil, transmission fluid, and gear oil from the rear end (on rear-wheel-drive cars,) all have similar viscosity and appearance, and it can be difficult to determine which one you’re seeing. Put some on your finger and look at it closely in good lighting - oil will be black or brown, transmission fluid is typically red or reddish and more clear than oil, and gear oil will be a dark and bad smell. Transmission fluid smells bad too...the best way to check is to pull the transmission dipstick, observe and smell the fluid on it, and compare it to whatever you found underneath the car. Transmission fluid will appear at the front of the car or at most beneath the middle of the car, while gear oil leaking from the rear end will be at the back of the car. You can compare the smell of oil on your dipstick to the smell of liquid underneath your car as well, to help determine if motor oil is the culprit. Oil and transmission fluid can leak from multiple places around bad seals and gaskets, both visible and not. Inspect your engine and transmission carefully. If the leak appears to start from the top, it’s likely a valve cover gasket, which is an easy fix. If you cannot tell where the leak is coming from or it drips from between the engine and transmission, you may have a more complicated issue. Either way, if it is a small amount it isn’t necessarily causing concern, just keep an eye on your fluid levels, and get it fixed as soon as you get a chance and before the problem worsens.
Coolant and water can appear similar and have the same texture. Often, water condensation will drip on warm days while your car’s air conditioning runs...this is perfectly normal, but people often see it and assume there is a problem. If you are sure you’re only dripping water, there’s no reason to worry. Coolant is a different story. Coolant will appear faintly green, has a sweet smell, and feels slightly oilier than water. If you are leaking coolant, keep a close eye on your coolant level and temperature gauge, and get the leak fixed immediately. Coolant systems are pressurized, and a leak can go from bad to worse in an instant if neglected. Coolant leaks will often be accompanied by a hissing sound when an engine is at operating temperature, the sound of pressure being relieved like a hole in a basketball. Coolant leaks can occur because of bad hoses, broken radiators, or failing water pumps. If you see steam anywhere, you have a coolant leak.
If your car is dripping anything, keep an eye on your fluid levels. All of them are there for a reason, and all of them have a very important job to do. If you see a small drip, don’t panic, but do bring your car by for us to look at it. Hale's Automotive in Marion has handled leaks of every variety, and one of our mechanics can diagnose a leak, advise you whether you should be concerned or not, and fix aforementioned leaks, even the stubborn ones. Save time and money you are wasting refilling fluids, make sure your car is safe, and keep your driveway looking good by having leaks stopped whenever you notice one. If your driveway is collecting spots, talk to us today.
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