Small puddles of mysterious liquid appearing under your car, truck, or SUV? It might just be water that’s condensed out of the air onto your air conditioning system. It might just be that stray puppy that’s wandering the neighborhood. Or, it might be a serious issue with your vehicle that’s about to become a huge repair bill if something’s not done about it ASAP!
Here’s a quick reference guide to help you identify just what’s in those puddles, from most serious to least urgent.
The most serious two leaks are the brake and steering fluid. If either of these systems fails, it can be catastrophic not only for you and your passengers but for other motorists. Of the two, brake fluid leaks are probably more urgent, because there may be some residual steering (if you’re strong enough) to let you bring the car to a controlled stop in a safe place when the steering goes out. Losing your brakes, however, rarely ends well.
Brake fluid is clear to light brown in color and has an oily texture and consistency like mineral oil. If you don’t know how to check the level of fluid in the reservoir (it’s somewhere under the hood), then it’s worth going to your mechanic or service tech immediately. Tell him about what you’ve seen, and ask them to check. They’ll check all the important fluids, and probably several other things, and can quickly address the problem.
Like brake fluid, power steering fluid is critically important to your car’s safe operation. It’s usually red to brown in color and thinner than brake fluid. It usually drips and puddles under the front of the car (brake fluid also does this, but if there’s a leak in the system anywhere between the engine compartment and the rear wheels, brake fluid can leak from that spot). Since both of these are tremendously important, it’s usually a good idea to go straight to the mechanic.
Engine oil, transmission fluid, and coolant are less critical than brake and power steering fluid, but still, merit attention from a qualified technician if you suspect a leak in any one of them.
Transmission fluid is reddish to brown in color (very similar to brake fluid) but is thicker and tends to puddle in the middle of the car. It keeps the parts of the drive train between the engine and axles lubricated and moving freely. It also helps cool these parts from the heat that driving generates.
Motor oil, or just ‘oil’, comes in all colors from golden or light brown to black. It darkens with use, which is why used motor oil is very dark. When new, it has the consistency of a thin syrup, and it also thickens as it’s used. If you see a dark spot or puddle under your car, it’s probably motor oil, and your vehicle needs to be checked soon.
Coolant, also known as antifreeze, isn’t oily because it’s a water-based product. It’s generally a bit sticky and has a ‘sweet’ smell. It comes in a wide range of colors from mostly clear to green, pink, or yellow. It will leak from underneath the radiator or the hoses connected to the radiator. Your mechanic can easily check the level of coolant in your engine’s reservoir and may recommend a flush of the system and refill with new coolant if it hasn’t been done within the last 24 months. Running your car without sufficient coolant will make it run hot, and can literally burn your engine up!
Finally, it’s common in the summer for water to drip down from your car’s air conditioning system. The system gets very cold while it operates, and this makes moisture condense out of the air. You don’t notice it dripping down when you’re driving, but water puddles are a common thing to see in the summer. If you don’t notice any other problems with your car, and you’re up to date with your maintenance, water isn’t usually a problem.
Of course, when in doubt, it’s always best to have a professional check your car’s engine and drivetrain before you find yourself needing a tow truck!
But, just in case you do wind up needing a tow truck, visit us and see how CarDog’s wide range of enterprise-level features and capabilities can help your small to mid-sized auto dealership running smoothly while your competitors slowly drip… drip… drip away!