Maintain Your Vehicle by Checking Its Fluids

Your vehicle is comprised of many moving parts, and for them to function properly, they need the right fluid levels. It is recommended that drivers check them every 3,000 to 7,000 miles or every few months for this reason. There are five essential fluids to maintain, so we suggest learning more about them in detail and contacting a Herb Chambers service center if you need a hand with the procedure. Doing so will ensure your vehicle's internal mechanism continue to operate properly, protecting its longevity and value. 

Engine Oil

First and foremost, never check the oil when the engine is hot. As best practice, check the oil only after the vehicle has cooled down for 10 minutes or in the morning before any driving takes place. This will prevent burns and give you a more accurate reading because all the oil will collect back into the pan.

To begin, open the hood and prop it up securely. Next, locate the oil tank near the engine. The dipstick is usually color coded with a yellow handle. Pull out the dipstick, wipe it down with a cloth, and reinsert it. Pull it out a second time, and you can clearly see where the oil line ends. The correct level is oftentimes marked on the dipstick with verbiage such as "full." If the oil is beneath the required measurement, then re-fill it as necessary.

Before you re-fill your oil, check your owner's manual to determine the right oil type for your model. Generally, there are five different types: conventional oil, premium conventional oil, full-synthetic oil, synthetic-blend oil, and high-mileage oil. Each one has different characteristics, which is covered below, and are classified in terms of viscosity. Put simply, viscosity refers to "a fluid's resistance to flow," and is labeled as "XW-XX" in the automotive industry. The first set of numbers indicates how much the oil thickens in the cold, and the latter indicates how much the oil thins in the heat. In other words, a lower number for the first set (such as 0W-30) is better for colder climates whereas a higher number for the second set (such as 10W-40) is better for hotter climates because the oil's properties can adapt to the surrounding temperature.

Brake Fluid

Brake fluid is made of a compound that becomes pressurized when heated. It adds power to the braking system so you can bring your vehicle to a stop successfully. You will therefore want to inspect its levels on a regular basis, too.

The brake fluid tank is normally cylindrical or rectangular in shape and can be found near the back of the engine. Like the power steering fluid, it is important not to get dirt and dust inside, so clean the vicinity before you open it. Most of the time, the cap can be unscrewed, but you may need a screwdriver to help remove supplemental clamps. Like the radiator, the fluid should reach about a half-inch from the top. If it is low, refill it with the brake fluid suggested in the owner's manual. Bear in mind, if the color of the liquid is dark, it may be time for a fluid flush.

Power Steering Fluid

As its name implies, power steering fluid serves as a salve for the steering unit. Without the right levels, you will find it much more difficult to maneuver your vehicle because you cannot steer the wheels efficiently. Thankfully, this fluid is by far the easiest to refill.

The reservoir for the power steering fluid is usually located near the belts on the passenger's side and has a cap branded "steering" which makes it easy to find. The container itself is usually semitransparent, so you should be able to verify the fluid level visually. If not, then clean the surrounding section with a cloth to make sure debris does not enter the system, and open the cap. Within, you will find a dipstick and follow the same method of checking oil and transmission. Add more steering fluid if its levels are low. During this time, it is a good idea to examine the outer casing for any leaks.

Transmission Fluid

Transmission fluid is similar to oil in that it acts as a lubricant for moving parts. However, it also acts as a hydraulic fluid. Specifically, its objective is to keep the transmission system running well by promoting smooth gear shifts. You can usually find its compartment at the back of the engine near the firewall which is where the transmission unit is often positioned. To differentiate it from the oil dipstick, the transmission dipstick is customarily color coded in red.

Unlike oil, transmission fluid should be checked when the engine is warm. Objects under the hood will be hot, so proceed with caution. To measure its levels, remove the dipstick and wipe it clean with a cloth. Reinsert it back into the tank and pull it out to see how high the fluid reaches on the stick. At this time, you should inspect its quality as well. The liquid should be light pink in color or transparent and be clear of any particles. If both these qualities are abnormal and the fluid smells burnt, then this should be your signal to flush it out and replace it.

Coolant / Radiator Fluid

Radiator fluid, sometimes referred to as coolant, exists to keep your engine from overheating. Operating a vehicle with low radiator fluid puts stress on the engine and may cause a breakdown, leaving you stranded on the road. That is why radiator fluid should be examined on a routine basis.

Unlike oil, you want to check radiator fluid after the vehicle has been in use because its contents are pressurized and can measure inaccurately when cold. You will likely find the radiator toward the front and center of the engine compartment. Using a rag, remove the cap and be cautious because the liquid will be hot. If you can see the fluid near the top of the container, then your vehicle is fine to operate. Otherwise, add more and screw the cap back on tightly.

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