How to Check Car Fluids: A Step-By-Step Guide

To keep your vehicle running smoothly, it's essential to check the fluids regularly. Armed with these instructions from the experts at NAPA Canada, you'll be able to check everything from brake fluid to transmission fluid in a matter of minutes.

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How to check transmission fluid
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How to check transmission fluid

  • Start your vehicle and leave it running. Ensure the car is in park with the emergency brake on.
  • Lift the hood and remove the transmission fluid dipstick. (You’ll find it near the firewall at the back of the engine.)
  • Using a rag, wipe down the dipstick and replace it.
  • Remove the transmission fluid dipstick again, and check the level against the markings. It it reads low, see a transmission specialist immediately.
  • Inspect the colour of the transmission fluid, which should be clear and pink. Dark transmission fluid is a sign you’re due for a transmission fluid change.
  • Note: Not all vehicles have a transmission dipstick. In these cases, your transmission fluid will have to be checked by an automotive professional.
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Photo: Shutterstock

How to check brake fluid

  • Your vehicle’s owner’s manual will indicate how often it’s necessary to check brake fluid. (It’s generally recommended you check brake fluid once a year.)
  • Locate the brake fluid reservoir. (It’s usually labelled, and can be found on top of the engine.) Note: In some older vehicles, the brake fluid can only be checked in the master cylinder—a lidded metal box.
  • Before removing the brake fluid reservoir cap, use an approved aerosol cleaner to remove any particles of dirt around the cap. (Contaminating the fluid with particulate could result in costly damage.)
  • Remove the cap and check the brake fluid level on the dipstick attached to the cap’s underside. If the dipstick indicates the level is low, have your vehicle serviced by an automotive professional as soon as possible.

Find out how to change brake fluid on your own.

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How to Check Coolant
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How to check coolant

  • * Your vehicle’s owner’s manual will indicate how often it’s necessary to check coolant. (It’s generally recommended you check coolant every 50,000 kilometres or every two years.)
  • Locate the coolant reservoir. The side of the reservoir is marked to indicate the level of coolant inside. If the level reads low, add more of the appropriate coolant mix, or have your vehicle serviced by an automotive professional.
  • Note: Always allow a hot engine to cool for 15 to 20 minutes before attempting to open the radiator cap.

Here’s how to change coolant on your own.

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How to check car battery fluid levels
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How to check battery fluid level

  • You can expect most car batteries to last between three and five years, but you can extend that lifespan even further with proper maintenance, including regularly checking the battery fluid level. (Check out more ways to extend the life of your car battery.)
  • Locate your car battery’s condition indicator on the top of the battery. The colour illuminated in the indicator window can be read as follows:
    Green/blue: Good
    Red: Add distilled water
    White: Battery needs charging. Here’s how to charge a dead car battery. (Note: Your vehicle’s owner’s manual will have more information on how to gauge a battery’s condition.)
  • If the indicator reads red (“Add distilled water”), pour distilled water into the battery a little at a time until the level reaches the top of the battery grids. Do NOT use filtered or tap water. Do NOT overfill.
  • Note: It’s not always possible to add distilled water, as some “maintenance-free” batteries are sealed.

How to check the oil

Click here for detailed instructions on how to check the oil in your car.

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