How to check your car’s fluid levels

We don’t always give it a lot of thought, but our cars need a range of fluids to keep them in good working order. If we don’t keep them topped up, something will eventually break down. “Well, that’s what my garage is for,” you might say. That’s all well and good if you have your car serviced frequently, but the chances are you’ll need to check them yourself in between garage trips, particularly if you do a lot of driving. Here’s what you need to check and how to do it.

Checking your car’s fluid levels

  • Engine oil
    Rule number one when it comes to car maintenance is: keep your engine oil topped up. After your fuel, oil is the most important fluid for your car as it keeps everything running smoothly. Check it: park on a flat surface, then make sure your engine has been turned off for at least ten minutes so the oil has cooled and settled at the bottom of the tank. Find your dipstick and wipe it clean. Then pop it back in and pull it out again. Your dipstick will have minimum and maximum lines to show your current oil levels. Ideally, it should be close to the maximum line. If it’s close to or below the minimum line, it’s time to top up! Your engine will most likely be damaged if you don’t. Oil condition is also important. Smear the dipstick oil between your fingers. If it feels smooth, all should be well. If it’s gritty, you may need to empty the tank and refill it. The oil should be yellow or amber rather than dark brown, black or milky.
  • Coolant/antifreeze
    Your car’s engine produces a lot of heat, so it needs coolant to stop it overheating. You don’t need to check this as often as your oil levels, but if you suspect that there’s a leak it’s important to know what to do. Check it: wait until your engine is completely cool before doing this. If your car has a coolant expansion tank, check whether the coolant level is between the minimum and maximum indicators. If not, open the radiator cap to see if the coolant is filled up to the top. Before you add any coolant, make sure it’s the recommended type for your car and give your radiator a few minutes to release any trapped air bubbles before putting the cap back on.
  • Power steering fluid
    This fluid improves your steering and parking experience. Again, it doesn’t need checking as often as your oil, but it’s good to know how to do it. Check it: look for a dipstick or reservoir in your engine bay and check the markings. Top it up if the level is low, but make sure you use the right type for your car. If you’re having to top it up frequently the chances are there’s a leak. Get it checked out or you’ll find that steering starts to become a real chore.
  • Brake fluid
    It goes without saying that your brake fluid is important. If you’re experiencing a delay or strange feeling when you press your brake pedal, the first thing to check is your brake fluid. Leaks can occur, and brake fluid can become contaminated, causing the brake lines to rust, giving you that spongy feeling no one wants to experience. Check it: look for the brake fluid reservoir and check that your brake fluid is within the minimum and maximum levels. Top up with a compatible fluid if needed. If your brake fluid appears dark or cloudy, it’s worth getting it replaced.
  • Transmission fluid
    This fluid cools and lubricates your engine components. If you’re experiencing strange noises, rough gear shifting or uncontrolled surging, your transmission fluid may be at fault. Check it: you may have a dipstick that allows you to check minimum and maximum levels (keep your engine switched on and the gear in neutral or park), but if not it’s worth taking your car to the garage. Your transmission fluid should be smooth, and either red or amber. If it looks gritty, dark or cloudy, get it checked out. If you’re able to top it up yourself, move through the gears with your foot on the brake to allow the new fluid to flow through.
  • Windscreen washer fluid
    While this won’t impact the performance of your car, washer fluid is important if you want to be able to see where you’re going and stay safe on the roads! Check it: grab a bottle of washer fluid from a petrol station, supermarket and fill it to the top.
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Our Top Up Service will top up your car’s oil, coolant and washer fluid as well as adjusting your tyres to the correct pressure. We’ll also complete some other essential checks to give you that extra confidence.