Fall and spring are the best times to check your car’s fluids, being ahead of the coldest and after the hottest months of the year. Extreme temperatures can take a toll on your car, increasing the likelihood of a breakdown, which may lead to an expensive repair. Your fall car care routine should include checking these seven key fluids.
1. Motor Oil
Motor oil is to your car what blood is to the body: a vital fluid that allows both to function optimally. Engine oil must be changed regularly, but service intervals are generally much longer than the 3,000-mile schedule DIYers followed in the past. Furthermore, many new cars now require synthetic oils. Consult your owner’s manual for the correct type of oil and change interval. While checking your car’s oil dipstick at the beginning of fall is a good idea, inspecting the fluid on a monthly basis throughout the year won’t hurt.
2. Transmission Fluid
Transmission fluid lasts much longer than motor oil, but it still needs to be checked and replaced. Heat is one of the major concerns for transmissions and fall is the perfect time to see how the fluid handled warmer months. New fluid is typically red in appearance, but it will eventually darken as it ages. Once transmission fluid turns dark brown, it needs to be changed. Transmission fluid that’s even darker than brown is no longer effective. The dark color means that your transmission isn’t getting lubricated adequately.
3. Brake Fluid
If the fluid in the brake reservoir is below the minimum or “MIN” line, filling it to just below the “MAX” line is the proper course of action. Old or insufficient fluid can make it more difficult for your vehicle to stop. Not only should you determine brake fluid level and age, but keep an eye out for a leak. If a leak is present, the brake pedal could travel straight to the floor when depressed. Spotting a leak is relatively simple: look for pale yellow fluid underneath your car.
4. Radiator Fluid
Also known as coolant or antifreeze, radiator fluid regulates engine temperature, ensuring the motor doesn’t overheat — even on a wintry day. Add fluid to the reservoir as needed and change it periodically to maintain its effectiveness.
5. Washer Fluid
Although certainly not essential to your car’s operation, having sufficient washer fluid, as well as working windshield blades, is essential for seeing the road ahead. A winter blend will keep your fluid from freezing when you need it in frigid temperatures. Top it off and replace your front and rear blades as needed.
6. Air Conditioning Refrigerant
Colder temperatures mean you’ll be activating your air conditioning system less frequently. Therefore, it’s important to check that the system is working optimally for when spring comes around. You can test the system by turning the engine on, activating the air conditioner and setting it on high. Next, look under the hood and follow the hose from the low side fill port to the compressor. If the pulley is spinning, then the compressor is engaged. If it isn’t, then add the appropriate refrigerant as outlined in the owner’s manual.
7. Power Steering Fluid
A functioning power steering pump makes it possible to turn the steering wheel with ease. Power steering fluid flows from the fluid reservoir to the pump, but if it’s leaking or low, you’ll have trouble turning the wheel. Flush out the old fluid if it appears gritty, and top off as needed otherwise.
Complete your fall car care routine while the weather is still favorable and you won’t have to worry about a breakdown come winter.
Check out all the chemical products available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 16,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on fall car care, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.
Photo courtesy of Morguefile.
Matt Keegan has maintained his love for cars ever since his father taught him kicking tires can be one way to uncover a problem with a vehicle’s suspension system. He since moved on to learn a few things about coefficient of drag, G-forces, toe-heel shifting, and how to work the crazy infotainment system in some random weekly driver. Matt is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association and is a contributor to various print and online media sources.