Nothing can make a car owner panic more than a puddle—or even a few spots—on the ground underneath their car. The good news is that those spots of fluid may mean nothing; the bad news is that fluid under your car can signal a major problem. The key to figuring out the difference between a non-issue and a major auto repair is getting down on your hands and knees and determining the color of the fluid (to make identifying the fluid easier, put a sheet of paper under the leak):
Clear = water. If you find water leaking after your AC is running, don’t worry. It’s normal to have water dripping under your car off of the AC condenser.
Yellow = coolant. Coolant leaks can mean any number of minor or major problems, from a leaking radiator, coolant pump or heater core. A major signal that your problem is your heater core: smelling a strange odor whenever your heater is on. If you suspect a coolant leak, schedule an appointment with your mechanic. Your car needs coolant for various functions and controlling the temperature of your engine; repairs need to be made. The cost of the bill depends on what the problem is.
Black = engine oil. Usually oil leaking is from a degrading gasket or seal, and should be checked by a mechanic so it doesn’t get worse. Even though an oil leak is a common car leak, it’s not normal for a car to lose oil. Remember, oil is vital to proper lubrication in your engine; make sure you ask your mechanic the next time you schedule an oil change appointment.
Reddish brown = power steering fluid. Ever notice how easy it is to turn the wheel of your car and turn it? That’s because of power steering fluid and the power steering pump. If you notice power steering fluid leaking, most likely the seals and O rings are starting to break down; if the leak persists, the whole system could fail. Make sure you talk to your mechanic about the leak at your next oil change.
Red or brown = transmission fluid. Your car uses transmission fluid to shift gears, so a long-term transmission fluid leak can cause transmission failure—a very costly auto repair. To keep your transmission shifting, and you on the road, make an appointment to have your transmission fluid flushed every 30-60,000 miles (or as low as 15,000 miles for workhorse vehicles) and all leaks of that thick red or grimy brown fluid fixed.
Clear or brown = brake fluid. As a general rule, please DON’T mess around with brakes or ignore failing brakes; they are crucial in preventing accidents and keeping you on the road safely. Leaking brake fluid can signal a major problem, and should be taken care of as soon as possible by scheduling an appointment with your mechanic. If your brake warning light comes on as well, pull over and call for a tow (920-261-8111). You need your brakes for stopping; don’t procrastinate or take chances when it comes to a brake fluid leak.
If you have any questions about the fluid under your car (such as “WHAT IS IT?”), schedule an appointment with your mechanic to diagnose the problem and get a quote for repairs. The mechanic can stop the leak, and fix any underlying problems that may affect you in the future. Best yet, they can give you peace of mind that the leaks are gone, and you won’t be stranded on the side of the road.