Written by: Matthew Guy
Every single vehicle on the road today – gasoline, electric, and hybrid – has some sort of fluid coursing through its mechanical systems. Not all cars use the same fluids but we will focus on the most common ones here.
Learning about the different types of fluids in your car is time well spent, as running low on any of these could spell anything from minor inconvenience to major disaster.
Let’s start with the easiest and most common fluid: windshield wash. Make sure to look for seasonally appropriate wash liquid, as the stuff sold in summertime will quickly freeze and clog up the system when the mercury drops. Most cars will illuminate a warning light when only a few cups of fluid remain, giving drivers time to pick up a new jug or two at the next gas station.
From the most common fluid to the most important one: motor oil is the lifeblood of your internal combustion engine. Without it, metal pistons would grind against their cylinder walls, making expensive noises and grinding the car to a halt. Additives in motor oil create anti-wear properties, allowing an engine to operate at peak efficiency.
Over time, thanks to countless heat cycles, motor oil will break down. Given enough time, it will lose its effectiveness and fail to protect the engine against metal-on-metal damage. This is why it is crucial for drivers to follow their car’s recommended maintenance schedule and heed any oil-related warnings that appear on the dashboard.
In most vehicles, a dipstick resides under the hood with which one can check the engine’s oil level. As all machines are different, so check your car’s owner’s manual for instructions on how to perform this quick visual check.
This fluid lubricates the gearbox and is essential if you want your car to move forwards and backwards. Without it – or with an insufficient amount of it – the transmission won’t be able to engage its gears, leaving the driver with a fist full of no-go.
An increasing number of new cars are binning the under-hood transmission dipstick, making it difficult for the average driver to check this fluid level. If you feel hesitation or odd behaviour during acceleration, ask your mechanic to confirm all’s well.
Most engines regulate their temperature using this liquid that is constantly circulating in a closed system. At the risk of oversimplification, coolant (also referred to as antifreeze) is pumped out of the engine, through hoses, and into the radiator. Here, it is brought to a neutral temperature and drawn back into the engine where it is tasked with removing some of the heat being generated by internal combustion before being pumped back out to repeat the cycle.
A poor head gasket or other engine problem can result in the loss of coolant, meaning there is a chance the motor will be operating at an increased temperature. This can lead to permanent and catastrophic engine damage. If your car’s engine temperature gauge starts to creep northward, be sure to seek repairs as soon as possible.
Our Consumer and Technical Services (CATS) team receives questions about car care, buying a new or used vehicle, auto repairs, vehicle inspection, driving costs and more. If you have a question for CATS, call 1-866-464-6448 or email: email@example.com.