Car repairs can be inconvenient and expensive. Mechanics recommend that car owners be proactive and keep up with the general maintenance of their vehicles to ensure longevity and prevent repairs. Checking your car’s fluids is a simple way to identify potential problems and you don’t have to be a mechanic to do it. Here are some of the important fluids that help your car run and how to check them.

Motor Oil – Arguably the most important fluid to a car, motor oil keeps the inner parts of the engine lubricated and moving. Without oil, the motion creates heat and friction that could severely damage engine components. In the past, the general rule of thumb was to change your oil every 3,000 miles. Most automobile manufacturers have modified that and advise car owners to check their car’s manual or follow the oil life indicator on the instrument panel. Checking your oil between changes is always a good practice.

Refer to your owner’s manual to find your car’s oil dipstick. Once your engine has completely cooled, remove the dipstick and wipe it clean with a paper towel. Put the stick back into the opening as far as it will go and pull it back out. This will show you your oil level and color. Oil color should be a clear, golden color. If it is dark brown or black, it likely needs to be changed.

Brake Fluid – When people think of brakes, they rarely think of a fluid. Most modern brake systems use hydraulic pressure to make a car stop moving. Brake fluid within a brake line compresses when the driver presses the brake pedal, transferring the hydraulic force to brake pads, creating the friction that makes a car stop.

Your owner’s manual will help you locate the plastic reservoir that holds brake fluid. With most models, you can see the fluid level from the outside of the container. If you can’t, once your car has cooled, open the lid to see if the fluid level meets up with the levels indicated on the container. If the fluid is low, consult a mechanic. This could indicate a leak, which may cause brake failure.

Transmission Fluid – Transmission fluid cools and lubricates the moving parts of a transmission. Unlike checking motor oil or brake fluid, transmission fluid should be checked while the car is running. Using your owner’s manual to locate it, pull out the dipstick, clean it, reinsert and pull it out to check the level. The fluid should have a red hue. If it’s dark brown or black, it needs to be changed.

Coolant – Coolant, also called antifreeze, has a higher boiling point and lower freezing point than water. It collects an engine’s heat, returns it to the radiator, transferring it to the air to prevent an engine from overheating. In most vehicle models, the coolant reservoir is located near the radiator and is clearly labeled. Be sure your car has cooled for at least an hour before opening the reservoir cap. Scalding liquid could spray from a hot coolant reservoir when opened.

To replace coolant, be sure to consult your owner’s manual. Some vehicle models require a specific type of coolant. Be sure to also check the coolant bottle before pouring it into your car. Some products must be mixed with water, while others can be used at full strength.

Power Steering Fluid – Power steering fluid is part of the hydraulic system that helps make turning a car easier. Typically, power steering fluid levels can be viewed from the outside of the reservoir. Consult your owner’s manual for the location and proper level. Most cars require a specific type of power steering fluid, also noted in your owner’s manual.

Windshield Wiper Fluid – Windshield wiper fluid will not affect a car’s drivability, but is certainly important for a driver’s safety, cleaning the windshield of dirt and residue that can block a driver’s vision. Wiper fluid is easy to locate under a hood, typically in a plastic, well-labeled reservoir. Simply fill the reservoir when needed.

Cenex® provides a variety of high-quality engine oils, transmission fluids and lubricants. To learn more about Cenex® products, visit For more information about how to check your car’s fluids, visit this helpful WikiHow article.

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