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When you first notice a puddle of liquid beneath your vehicle, your mind is apt to think the worst. While a leak can be indicative of a major issue, it could also be a simple fix. Before assuming the worst, try to first identify what is leaking for a better idea of what is wrong.
You don’t need access to a laboratory to identify the type of fluid that is leaking from your vehicle. For the most part, you can identify the type of fluid just by looking at the color:
Blue: Most likely windshield wiper fluid. Some late model Hondas use blue coolant.
Clear: AC condensation (which is thin like water) or newer brake fluid (which has a medium consistency and an oily feel). Typically, brake fluid with over 10K miles is darker in color.
Dark brown: Brake fluid or motor oil. Brake fluid will have a more slimy feel than greasy.
Green, orange, or yellow: Antifreeze or radiator coolant.
Light brown: Gear lubricant (which has a bad odor) or newer motor oil. Old automatic transmission fluid may turn brown with extended use.
Pink or red: Power steering or transmission fluid.
Orange: Antifreeze, AC condensation, or transmission fluid (all of which may be discolored by rust or age).
Now that you know, or at least suspect, what is leaking from your vehicle, you have an indication as to what may be wrong. This allows you to estimate the severity of the problem.
Here are some potential issues based on the type of liquid that is leaking:
Windshield wiper fluid: Your vehicle may have a hole or crack in the fluid reservoir or system-related tubing.
AC condensation: If you’ve run your air conditioner for any length of time, it’s not unusual for a little clear condensation to escape your A/C system. In this case, it’s likely there is no problem at all, and you can go about business as usual.
Brake fluid: Although it is relatively easy to confuse older brake fluid with motor oil, a brake fluid leak is not an issue to take lightly. Brake fluid maintains the hydraulic pressure in your brake system, and without it, brake failure is a high possibility. If you suspect the liquid beneath your vehicle (usually around the wheels or just under where the brake pedal is situated) is brake fluid, call a mechanic. Do not take the risk of driving.
Motor oil: Oil leaks at the front of your vehicle can be indicative of a wide range of problems. These include a worn gasket, corroded oil line, improperly attached oil filter, or a stripped or leaky drain plug. Before driving further, be sure to verify the oil level in your vehicle is not dangerously low.
Antifreeze/coolant: Cars manufactured prior to fuel injection used coolant containing silicates to help seal small leaks. Modern cars cannot use silicates, so even minute pores can allow small amounts of coolant to leak. If, however, the leak is more severe, it could indicate a faulty water pump, loose clamp, damaged hose, or worn O-ring. Since antifreeze is poisonous to pets and local wildlife, such leaks always merit a call to a mechanic.
Gear lubricant: This type of leak – often on or near the wheels – suggests a worn seal or that it is time to service the gearbox.
Power steering fluid: If your power steering fluid leaks around the front of your vehicle, it is indicative of a faulty fluid line or worn seal. This type of leak is typically accompanied by a high pitch whine.
Transmission fluid: When this fluid escapes, usually around the center of your vehicle, it may be indicative of a leaking gasket, seal, or cooler line. Some modern transmissions do not have dipsticks to verify fluid levels, so if you suspect a transmission fluid leak, it is best to have the vehicle serviced as soon as possible to avoid further damage.
A top-rated mobile mechanic will come to your home or office to determine the type and source of the fluid leak, and will then provide a detailed inspection report that includes the scope and cost of the necessary repairs.
Fluid leaks can be a harrowing experience, but they don’t have to be. A skilled technician will be able to identify the source of the leak, as well as provide an estimate for repair. Some repairs are straightforward. Others may be more in depth, and require more time. Either way, it's important to know what type of fluid and repair you're dealing with. Book one of our mechanics to perform a thorough inspection as soon as possible.