How to Check the 5 Essential Fluids in Your Car

Schedule Brake Pad Replacement
Service Area

$124.62 - $450.29

Price range for all vehicles
Average rating from 10,770 customers who received a Brake Pads Replacement.

One of the easiest and most important things you can do for the longevity of your vehicle is to ensure that the fluids are kept at the proper level and in good condition. Performing the scheduled maintenance services addresses the condition of the fluids, but it’s also important that the fluids remain at the correct level between these services.

Here’s a brief rundown of the five most important fluids found in most cars, and how to check the levels.

1. Engine oil

checking car engine oil level

Description: All internal combustion engines require engine oil to lubricate the many moving internal parts. Without oil, these parts would overheat and could completely seize.

Precautions: Motor oil is a potential carcinogen, so please be sure to wear gloves if you have them, and wash your hands thoroughly after handling motor oil.

Risks associated with low fluid levels: Letting the oil get below the minimum level of the operating range can have detrimental effects on engine performance, including the possibility of complete engine failure.

How to check the level: Most vehicles have an oil dipstick, with maximum and minimum marks, for checking the oil level. Pull the dipstick all the way out and wipe the bottom clean with a dry rag. Then re-insert the dipstick completely, and remove it again, this time keeping it held upright or flat so the oil doesn’t run up the dipstick causing an inaccurate reading. Where the dipstick is now covered in oil is where the level is; ideally somewhere between the maximum and minimum marks.

2. Engine coolant

engine coolant

Description: Heat is a normal byproduct of the internal combustion engine. Engine coolant absorbs this heat and dissipates it through the radiator, allowing the engine to remain at a designated operating temperature.

Precautions: The engine coolant can be quite hot and under a lot of pressure. This can make opening the system very dangerous. If you do have to open the system, please be careful to only do so on a cold engine, and do it very slowly, or you risk getting seriously burned.

Risks associated with low fluid levels: A low coolant level can lead to engine overheating, which can cause severe damage.

How to check the level: The best way to check your coolant is after the car has been sitting for several hours, usually before starting after sitting overnight. Some vehicles allow you to check the level simply by looking through a translucent coolant expansion or overflow tank, and verifying that the level is between the minimum and maximum marks. Others require that you open the radiator or pressurized expansion tank (commonly found in German cars) to check the level.

2. Brake fluid

brake fluid

Description: When you depress your brake pedal, the master cylinder (which is attached to the brake pedal) moves brake fluid through the brake lines and into the brake calipers or wheel cylinders where it is used to apply the brakes.

Precautions: Brake fluid is hygroscopic, meaning it absorbs moisture in the surrounding environment. Keep all brake fluid containers and reservoirs tightly sealed until you need to add fluid, then immediately seal them up again after adding the fluid. Brake fluid is also extremely damaging to paint, so if you spill any, be sure to thoroughly wash the area with soap and water right away.

Risks associated with low fluid levels: If the brake fluid is allowed to get too low, you could experience a loss of brake pressure, or even a complete brake failure.

How to check the level: Most modern vehicles use a translucent plastic reservoir that allows the fluid level to be checked without opening the system. As with the other fluids, you are simply viewing the fluid level through the reservoir; ensure that the fluid level is between the minimum and maximum marks.

4. Power steering fluid

power steering fluid

Description: Many manufacturers now equip vehicles with more efficient electric power steering systems, which reduce parasitic drag on the engine, resulting in better fuel economy. Despite this, there are still plenty of vehicles using older hydraulic power steering systems. These systems use pressurized power steering fluid to assist you in turning the steering wheel.

Precautions: Power steering fluid varies between manufacturers, and some are potential carcinogens. Just to be safe, I suggest wearing gloves and thoroughly wash your hands after handling the fluid.

Risks associated with low fluid levels: Low fluid levels can cause a loss of steering assist or a total failure of the power steering system, which could result in an accident.

How to check the level: Many power steering reservoir caps have a dipstick built into them, or they use a translucent reservoir that allows you to view the fluid level from the outside. The process is similar to checking engine oil: Remove the dipstick, wipe it clean, and then re-insert and remove it again. The level should be between the minimum and maximum marks. If it's the type with the translucent reservoir, just look through it to ensure that the fluid level is between the marks.

5. Windshield washer fluid

windshield washer fluid

Description: Windshield washer fluid does exactly what the name implies–– it washes the windshield of your car.

Precautions: Washer fluid is pretty innocuous, though depending on the alcohol and detergent content, it is a potential skin irritant. If you get some on your skin, you can simply wash it off with soap and water.

Risks associated with low fluid levels: The only risk of having low washer fluid is that you may run out of fluid and be unable to clean your windshield when you need to, potentially limiting your visibility while driving.

How to check the level: The nice thing here is that you don’t actually need to check the level. Most vehicles don’t even have a way to check the level. Instead, if you run out or you believe the fluid is getting low, you can just fill the reservoir all the way back up to the top any time you want –– there’s no risk of overfilling it. Some vehicles have a built in level sensor to warn you when the level is low.

A friendly disclaimer

This list is not all-inclusive, nor is it vehicle-specific. It's a general guide to the most important fluids in the majority of cars on the road. If you’re having trouble locating any of the fluids listed above, your vehicle owner’s manual will usually have a diagram specific to your model.

All of these checks should be performed when the vehicle is stationary, on a level surface, and with the engine off. If any of the fluids are found to be low, it is strongly suggested that you top them off with the correct fluid (e.g., the correct weight of oil, not just any oil you have lying around) and have the vehicle inspected by a certified mechanic, such as one from YourMechanic, to diagnose why the fluid level was low.


Next Step

Schedule Brake Pad Replacement

The most popular service booked by readers of this article is Brake Pad Replacement. Yourmechanic’s technicians bring the dealership to you by performing this job at your home or office 7 days a week between 7AM-9PM. We currently cover over 10k cities and have 100k+ 5-star reviews... LEARN MORE

SEE PRICING & SCHEDULING

The statements expressed above are only for informational purposes and should be independently verified. Please see our terms of service for more details

Recent Brake Pad Replacement reviews

Excellent Rating


YourMechanic Brake Pad Replacement Service

Average Rating

4.9/5

Number of Reviews

10,770

Rating Summary
10,265
323
67
33
82
10,265
323
67
33
82

Arturo

25 years of experience
42 reviews
Arturo
25 years of experience
Volkswagen Tiguan - Brake Pads Replacement (Rear) - La Jolla, California
Arturo was efficient and extremely professional. I'll refer him to friends and family and call him for any issues related to my car. I am very happy with the service!
Kia Forte - Brake Pads Replacement (Front) - San Diego, California
ARTURO is great! very professional , fast, replaced my front brake pads and oil an filter change. everything now works and works well. Brakes have much improved stopping power and engine is smooth and quiet.Arturo is also kind and thoughtful. "Your mechanic" is very fortunate to have Arturo Lopez represent your company. I enthusiastically recommend him and "Your mechanic> as a fine operation Best regards to the Team Peter Marto

Travis

11 years of experience
312 reviews
Travis
11 years of experience
Ford Explorer Sport Trac - Brake Pads Replacement (Rear) - Minneapolis, Minnesota
Travis is great! This is the second time he has come and serviced our truck. I recommend Travis for any service ned you may have!
Subaru Forester - Brake Pads Replacement (Front, Rear) - Rosemount, Minnesota
Thank you Travis for your fast, easy, honest work on my vehicle today!! The first thing you did upon arrival to my home was find me a discount coupon for $50 off my service estimate. You did only what needed to be done in record time. You not only saved me lots of money, but did things in a profession manner. I've been looking for an honest auto mechanic for my whole life and would love for you to be it!! Thank you, thank you, thank you!! You're the best!!!

Scott

32 years of experience
346 reviews
Scott
32 years of experience
Hyundai Sonata - Brake Pads Replacement (Front, Rear) - Denver, Colorado
Arrived on time and worked quickly. Gave me detailed information on his completed work and the details of my car. Answered all of my questions thoroughly.
Lexus IS250 - Brake Pads Replacement (Rear) - Denver, Colorado
Always on time, speedy, professional, and pleasant to interact with. The work is always consistent and we'll done. I can't reccomend Scott highly enough!

Nicholas

9 years of experience
251 reviews
Nicholas
9 years of experience
Lexus GX470 - Brake Pads Replacement (Rear) - Clayton, North Carolina
Nicholas texted me 30 minutes prior to arrival. Showed up on time as scheduled. He confirmed the work that I requested be performed. He completed the work, performed the road tested, and delivered my keys along with recommendations of other work that might be in my best interest. Was very pleasant, professional, and cleaned up after he was done. I was so impressed with the service he performed and the speed at which the services were completed. I have already scheduled a future service with Nicholas and will schedule any and all future repairs with him if he is available.

Need Help With Your Car?

Our certified mobile mechanics make house calls in over 2,000 U.S. cities. Fast, free online quotes for your car repair.

GET A QUOTE