What is leaking from under my car?

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Your car needs a number of fluids to keep it running smoothly; most of them essential. When you’ve got a fluid leak, it can be a worry, but if you can determine the color, smell and/or texture then you may know what fluid you’re losing – and what action you need to take.

Most fluid leaks require immediate attention.

  • 3 inch or greater puddle under the car is considered a serious leak that requires immediate attention.
  • 1 – 2 inches is considered a seepage and is not usually serious – unless it is brake fluid or gasoline which is always serious.

Jump to color

What fluid is leaking from my car?

Green, Yellow or Pink

Coolant

  • Smell: Sweet
  • Texture: Slimy
  • Symptoms: Overheating engine
  • Where to find: In the front part of the vehicle, under the engine/radiator

Coolant, also known as antifreeze is very toxic. Do not let small children or animals near it. Coolant comes in a variety of fluorescent colors.

Modern cars don’t typically leak coolant as much as older cars once did. In modern cars a coolant leak typically suggests a crack in your cooling system; this can cause serious damage to your engine.

Solution

A temporary solution would be to fill the radiator with cooling system sealer and taking it ASAP to a local garage. Though this presumes that you know that the leak is coming from the radiator.

Clear or amber/yellow to brown

Brake fluid

  • Smell: Fish oil
  • Texture: Oily
  • Symptoms: Spongy, soft or unresponsive brakes
  • Where to find: Often near the wheels

Brake fluid is one of the most dangerous fluids to be low on. Without adequate brake fluid you can’t safely stop the car.

It can be slightly confusing as brake fluid can be clear though it has a smell to it so it can be distinguished easily from water. Some liken the smell to fish.

If you have a brake fluid leak the pedal will feel spongy or soft due to air rather than fluid being compressed.

Solution

Do not drive the vehicle, it will very likely cause your engine to overheat. Call a local mechanic who can diagnose the issue and offer a repair.

Water

  • Smell: none
  • Texture: water
  • Symptoms: none

Water leaking from your car is most likely caused by the air conditioner condensing, it’s safe to ignore this.

Gasoline

  • Smell: Gasoline
  • Texture: Thin and watery
  • Symptoms: Strong smell of gasoline, using fuel quicker than normal

Typically clear, or may have some color if additives are used. Gasoline is best identified from it’s distinct smell.

Do not drive your vehicle if you suspect a gasoline leak. It is extremely flammable and very slippery, if it leaks on the road it can create a serious hazard for other road users.

Solution

Call your nearest repair shop for advice and help.

Black or brown

Engine oil

  • Smell: Cooking oil
  • Texture: Thick, slippery and oily
  • Symptoms: Burning oil smell, overheating engine
  • Where to find: In the front half of the vehicle

Engine oil is one of the most common leaks. You’ll probably find it around the engine block. Typically a leak is caused by a worn or damaged gasket; these are designed to be swapped out but it can be time consuming depending on the location.

Driving with an oil leak can be a fire hazard, seriously bad for your engine and dangerous.

Solution

Call a local mechanic for the best advice. Do not drive the car.

Power steering fluid

Power steering fluid can turn brown if it is very old, or reddish brown.

Solution

If you have only small drops of oil you can check the level and fill it up. The level should be within the minimum and maximum range of the dipstick. Or alternatively check your dashboard if your car has an indicator. Though you may not want to rely 100% on technology.

A quick repair is essential. Small leaks can quickly get bigger; If you’re driving when this happens you can fast lose all of your oil and your engine can become seriously damaged.

Red, Reddish Brown

Power steering fluid

  • Smell: Burnt marshmalllow
  • Texture: Oily but thinner than engine oil
  • Symptoms: More difficulty steering, especially at lower speeds
  • Found: Near the front of the vehicle

Typically found in manual cars, and some automatic cars power steering fluid can look like transmission fluid but the type of car should help to determine it, along with symptoms.

There’s nothing stopping you driving with a power steering leak, though handling will become more difficult. When the level drops enough the pump will run dry, and this can cause friction, excessive heat and costly repairs.

Small leaks can get bigger quickly and you can end up losing all the fluid fast.

Solution

Drive to a local repair shop as soon as convenient to diagnose and repair the problem.

Transmission fluid

Transmission fluid can be red, light pink, dark red or very dark brown.

Light Pink, Dark Brown or Red

Transmission fluid

  • Smell: Good transmission fluid should be mostly odorless or slightly sweet. If your transmission fluid is burnt, can will smell more like burnt toast.
  • Texture: Oily but thinner than engine oil
  • Symptoms: Delay in acceleration, strange vibration, grinding gears, burning smell, clunking noises
  • Where to find: Often in the middle to front of the vehicle

Transmission fluid can look like other fluids but will be found under the transmission where it seals onto the car’s axels close to the wheels. Transmission is associated with directing the right amount of power from the engine to the wheels, depending on the gear your in. If you have a leak then you can experience problems with gear changing, accelerating and experience vibrations or sounds.

Solution

If the fluid has been leaking for some time then driving can cause immediate damage. If the leak is recent then you should be able to drive to the garage for a repair.

Don’t delay, transmissions can be expensive to repair or replace if damaged. If you’re not sure how long the leak has been going, call for a mechanic’s advice.

Blue or bright orange

Wiper fluid

  • Smell: Window cleaner / alcohol
  • Texture: Watery
  • Symptoms: n/a
  • Where to find: Front of vehicle

Lost wiper fluid isn’t likely to cause a major problem, but it can be hazardous if you suddenly need to clear your windscreens. A leak can be caused by the washer fluid cap not being fastened properly – leading to spillage, or from damage to the washer fluid reservoir.

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