Preventative car maintenance can be a pain in the ass. Or a hassle. Or a headache. But you know what’s more of a pain in the ass? Dropping hundreds (or thousands) of dollars and having your car stuck at a mechanic’s shop. THAT is a hassle. THAT is a headache. And a lot of the problems that can land your car in the automobile hospital can be prevented.
I’m assuming just now that you’re terribly excited to learn how to solve the problems before they happen. Just by simply taking the time to check the levels of your vehicle’s fluids and knowing the correct way in getting rid of low levels or old fluids.
Part One is going to tackle the fluids that you, as a vehicle owner, can check with relative ease and learn how to maintenance and get rid of any low levels.
For all of these fluid checks/maintenance/getting rid of low levels, you’ll want to have the following handy:
- Cleaner (usually an ammonia based window cleaner will cut through any grim you come across)
- Heavy duty soap if you decide to forgo the gloves (Lava is my favorite brand, but any soap that is says something like “removes auto oil” is a good one. An ex of mine accidentally found that those Rockstar energy drinks can remove tough auto grime off your hands, so if you have a case of those lying around…)
- Flashlight (we’d recommend a Maglite like one sold on Amazon)
- Flathead screwdriver or a putty knife or anything that can help pry the tops of gaskets
- Tarp (a bit excessive for me, but if you are in a very nice and clean garage and going about this, it might be worth considering)
Safety Warning & a PSA about Auto Fluids:
I am no professional mechanic. And I do not play one of T.V. (score if you got that reference!) I am, however, a person who feels it is a good idea to know how to do some basic vehicle maintenance on your own. That being said, please be smart and safe. Don’t do anything stupid like jack up your vehicle and not use jack stands to support your vehicle. And wear the right gear – closed toe shoes, long pants, and a shirt (you know who you are).
And if you do not feel comfortable with any of this, PLEASE PLEASE go to a professional mechanic and have them service your vehicle (that is what they are getting paid for after all).
Once you’ve gone about getting rid of your vehicle’s low fluid levels and if you find yourself with used and old fluids (especially if you decided to go full steam ahead and change your oil instead of topping it off), it is important to dispose of them properly. Many county garages in rural communities and city garages in larger areas have scheduled times during the year when you can drop off old vehicle fluids for FREE. Or go to a site like earth911.com to find a place near you to drop your fluids off.
Now, onto vehicle maintenance and getting rid of low fluid levels!
Fluid #1: Windshield Washer Fluid
This is as easy as making a PB&J. Seriously. My eight year old cousin can do it when she’s around and wants to help, so I know you can too.
When to Check: It’s a good idea to check once a month. But if the air is dirtier than normal where you are, definitely check it once a week.
Things you need:
- Windshield Wiper Fluid (you can find this at any big box store, gas station, even some grocery stores. I usually go with an all-weather and season type – it just covers all the bases, if you want to upgrade, you can always get Prestone’s Bugwash at Amazon)
1. You’ll need to locate the windshield fluid reservoir. The gasket top will look like this.
2. Now, open up the washer fluid reservoir. And take a look inside. Since the fluid is a blue color, it is really easy to see if it is low. If it’s low, you’ll need to get that jug of fluid and open it.
3. Fill the reservoir. Pour in the washer fluid until the level is at the bottom of the neck where the gasket top fits on to.
4. Replace the gasket top and wipe up any spills that might have happened. Put away the fluid jug or recycle it if it is empty.
You’re done! BOOM!
Fluid #2: Power Steering Fluid
This is a fluid that never has to be replaced, according the professional vehicle fixing people. And this fluid should never really drop drastically, so if it is REALLY low go to a mechanic to check it out.
When to Check: Once a month is plenty often. But if you hear grinding or feel a creaking when you turn, check it out. Just in case.
Things you need:
- Power Steering Fluid (consult either your mechanic or the owner’s manual for the kind that is preferred for your particular vehicle)
1. Locate the power steering fluid reservoir. The gasket top will look like this
2. Check the fluids. Slowly remove the cap since there is a small dipstick looking thing usually
attached to the inside of the cap. Take a look inside the reservoir and see how the level is.
3. Fill the reservoir until full. If there’s a LOT of fluid gone, you’ll want to contact your local repair shop to get to the root of the problem.
4. Replace the gasket top and wipe up any spills that might have happened.
You’re done! BOOM!
Fluid #3: Coolant/Antifreeze
This is a fluid you definitely want to keep tabs on, I mean, you want to keep an eye on all your vehicle’s fluid levels, but coolant is a big one. Without it, your vehicle will overheat and some serious damage can happen.
When to Check:
Minimum of 2 times a year – when Winter turns to Spring and when Fall turns to Winter. But it’s a good idea to check it every once in a while if Summer is particularly hot.
Things you need:
- Coolant/Antifreeze (please make sure that you use the same brand that is already in the reservoir – ask your mechanic what they normally use)
1. Locate the reservoir.As with the other two, you’ll want to look for the cap to locate the reservoir (since this one and the other two are usually the same shade of industrial opaque white). The cap can look like one of these:
Either way, please please PLEASE note that it will say in big shouty words “DO NOT OPEN HOT”. Follow that command. Wait until your vehicle has had a chance to cool for a bit or do this before you start your vehicle so the engine and radiator are cold. Otherwise you could get hurt (read: bad burns).
2. Check the fluid.Okay, so. Once you’ve got that cap off, look inside the reservoir. There will be lines on the inside of it to indicate at what level the coolant should be.
3. Replace the fluid. Fill the reservoir up to the line – there’s no need to overfill. It’s not going to help anything.
4. Clean up. Replace the cap and clean up any spills you might have accidently made while pouring the fluid in.
Ta-Da! All finished.
So far so good, huh? I told you checking your vehicle’s fluid levels and learning how to get rid of any low levels would be easy. And part two will be super easy too. Promise.