What is Your Car is Leaking


It never feels great to look under your car and see a puddle or a stain or trickle. The telltale sign that something is leaking. Then you get to play the guessing game. What is it? Is it serious? Is it normal? Can I drive or am I about to be stranded?

There are a lot of liquids under the hood, and as your car ages, sometimes those liquids don't stay quite where they're intended to. But knowing what it IS can help you know if it's just something to be expected or something that needs attention.

COOLANT: It'll be bright and easy to identify. Usually green, occasionally orange or pink. It's sticky if you touch it (which you probably shouldn't). It's a common leak, not super serious, but you do need to take care of it. Coolant regulates the temperature, and overheating due to low coolant is NOT ok. The other reason it needs to be addressed is that it's toxic, but sweet. So if there's a puddle, an animal may want to taste it and that is really bad news.

GAS: You'll know it when you smell it. Gas leaks smell like gas, so if there's a small puddle by the gas tank, that's what it is. Not super serious, but worth getting taken care of, and it's usually a cheap and easy fix. The biggest annoyance is that leaking gas means you're losing gas that you paid for.

OIL: If you see a sticky dark brown puddle after your car has been parked for a bit, that's oil. We notice it when it leaves the mark on the garage floor. Oil leaks are annoying because there are so many possibilities, some cheap and easy fixes, and some really expensive ones. If you have a high mileage car, you probably have a leak from some gasket or other that's worn out. Depending on the issue, your mechanic will let you know what you can do. I've got an oil leak now, and since the expense to fix it is more than the car's worth, I'm just keeping an eye on my oil pressure.

BRAKE FLUID: Harder to identify. It's yellowish and slightly oily and will probably be near the wheels. But it's a big deal, so if you even SUSPECT that it's brake fluid, DON'T DRIVE, because low brake fluid can cause brake failure. Now, to be honest, my brake light came on out of the blue, with no noticeable leak, and I topped off the fluid and it was fine. I had my mechanic check for a leak, since I hadn't seen one, and he said brake fluid leaks are REALLY rare. My dip in level wasn't cause for concern and was mostly because the car was getting old.

WATER: This one makes me laugh because it ALWAYS makes me nervous and causes well meaning citizens to tell me there's a river running from under my car, which, given the age and mileage of my car, makes me panic. However, if it's a hot day and you've had the A/C blasting, it's not a leak. It's condensation from the air conditioner.


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