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How to Identify Different Car Leaks

Your vehicle requires many different types of fluids in order to run properly and safely. From engine oil to coolant, it’s important to keep an eye on each fluid to ensure your car is running in tip-top shape.

While regularly having your car’s fluids inspected is crucial, it’s also important to identify any leaks and puddles accumulating around your vehicle. This is the first step in diagnosing a potentially larger problem.

In order to better understand your vehicle’s fluids, here are nine leaks you can easily identify:

1. Coolant Leak

Coolant is used in vehicles to transfer heat as well as add antifreeze protection. Some vehicles require coolants with specialized additives, especially if it is a high-mileage car.

This fluid is typically bright green but can sometimes appear as pink or yellow. The fluid itself is slimy with a sweet odor.

However, coolant leaks can sometimes look orange if there is rust in your cooling system.

Not having enough coolant in your vehicle can lead to serious engine damage so it’s important to have this addressed if your car is constantly losing coolant.

2. Transmission Fluid Leak

Transmission fluid is used to lubricate the bearings and metals parts inside your vehicle’s gearbox and prevents them from wearing down as they move. It also keeps the transmission cool.

In vehicles with automatic transmissions, it also provides hydraulic pressure and friction to make all of the parts work. 

Transmission fluid is usually a reddish to brownish color and feels oily and slick as it is thinner than engine oil. You may also notice a petroleum smell.

If your vehicle does have a transmission fluid leak, you may also notice delayed shifting when the engine is cold.

3. Oil Leak

Engine oil was originally formulated to simply lubricate the engine but nowadays synthetic motor oils are used to provide wear protection, prevent acid buildup, and clean the engine components.

Oil leaks are easy to identify because they regularly appear as black or brown with a rainbow sheen. They can develop from the gaskets and seals and can be found under the front end of your vehicle.

4. Power Steering Fluid Leak

Power steering fluid is used in the steering system to create a hydraulic link between the steering wheel and your vehicle’s front wheels as well as lubricates the moving parts within the steering system. This decreases the effort needed to turn the wheels.

Power steering fluid looks red to reddish-brown, depending on how old it is, and smells similar to transmission fluid. These leaks typically occur in the engine bay.

If your power steering fluid is leaking, you may also notice that it is very difficult to steer your vehicle.

5. Gear Oil Leak

Gear oil lubricate is made for transmissions, transfer cases, and differentials. 

If your gear oil is leaking, you’ll notice a thick substance oozing out of your car and can indicate a damaged gasket or transmissions. This fluid doesn’t puddle – instead, it sticks to the side of your car.

6. Brake Fluid Leak

Brake Fluid Leak with wheel taken off to reveal brake disc

Brake fluid is used in hydraulic brakes and clutch applications to transfer force into pressure and amplify braking force.

Brake fluid starts out as light yellow and gets darker over time. It will feel oily to the touch and may smell like fish oil.

If you find a brake leak, it is not safe to drive your car! Without brake fluid, your brakes can seize and put you at risk of accident and injury.

It’s important to have your brakes inspected right away!

7. Wiper Fluid Leak

Windshield wiper fluid is used to clean your windshield with the wipers while you are driving your car.

The color of this leak depends entirely on the color of windshield fluid you use but, typically, they are blue or pink.

You’ll notice a puddle of fluid near the front of your car and are usually caused by damage to the wiper tubes.

While it may not seem imperative to have this fixed right away, a dirty windshield can be a safety hazard. 

Plus, who wants to keep stopping to pour water or throw snow onto their windshield to keep it clean?

8. Differential Fluid Leak

Your vehicle’s differential ensures that your tires rotate at different speeds when you take turns to prevent skidding and sliding. Oil is used to lubricate the internal components of the differential to prevent wear and other major problems.

This fluid looks like transmission fluid but will leak from the rear of the car. 

9. Water Leak

Finding a colorless and odorless puddle likely indicates there is water leaking from your car. Most of the time, this is no cause for concern – especially if your A/C has been running and creating condensation.

However, if you haven’t been running your air conditioning, it’s worth checking out to ensure that it is actually water and not any other type of fluid.

10. Gasoline Leak

A gasoline leak will leave spots on the ground underneath your parked vehicle and have a strong smell of, well, gasoline. 

This can be caused by issues with the fuel line or damage to the fuel tank. No matter the cause, this should be addressed right away.

How Serious is My Leak?

Generally, a puddle that is 3 inches or wider is cause for concern and indicates a serious leak. These should be addressed immediately.

If the puddle is 1-2 inches wide, this is referred to as “seepage” or a “drip” and, unless it is brake fluid or gasoline, it isn’t a serious condition but should still be inspected by an expert mechanic.

Keep in mind too that after your vehicle is serviced you may notice some fresh fluid which is normal – but should be addressed if it continues past that first day.

Our expert technicians at Park Muffler can help you identify and fix any leak your vehicle may be experiencing. Don’t leave it to the last minute and risk serious damage to your car.

Contact us today!


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