There are certain things we see in this world which simply make our stomachs sink when we see them. The sixteen-year old daughter bringing home the twenty-three-year old boyfriend with the spiked pink hair and the bullring nose piercing is one thing that comes to mind. On a slightly lesser scale (yet still just as scary) is the always bothersome, unexpected puddle in the driveway. There are two things that cause this to be a headache for most vehicle owners: 1) It’s often hard to determine exactly what type of fluid it is; and 2) Since we don’t know what the problem could be, it often draws the image of dollar signs being sucked into a very large bottomless pit. Determining what type of fluid is causing the spots in the driveway will go a long way towards determining what the problem could be, and how much it will take to fix it.

How Do I Determine What Fluid It Is?

The first thing to remember is that you’re dealing with chemical fluids from a mechanical object – taste testing is out of the question. Secondly, several of these fluids are flammable, so smoking while you’re checking is never a wise decision. The best thing to do is to stick your finger in the fluid and see if you can tell what color it is. Determining the fluid’s color could pinpoint exactly what type of liquid you’re playing around in. Don’t worry, as long as you wash your hands afterward you won’t suffer any ill effects from touching the fluid.

What Does the Color Mean?

Each fluid in your vehicle usually has a color all its own. By traditional standards, red was transmission fluid, brown or black was engine oil, green was coolant, blue was washer fluid, and clear was brake fluid or power steering fluid. With the advent of more vehicles being equipped with electronic power steering, that eliminates the need for power steering fluid on many vehicles. So, if your fluid is clear or a filmy, hazy clear, you probably have a brake fluid leak. Unfortunately, nowadays the rest of these fluids come in all different colors. Antifreeze can now be green, yellow, pink, orange, or even blue. Transmission fluid has stayed red for the most part, so it should be very distinguishable. Engine oil has also remained the same color through the ages.

What If I Can’t Tell the Color?

When you’re dealing with small spotting under your car, in other words a very minor leak, it’s often hard to get a gauge on exactly what color the fluid is. There are two things to do here. The first is to see if you can get just the tiniest bit of the fluid on your finger from the ground. Feel the texture of it. If it is very smooth, oily and slick, it is probably one of your major fluids. If it is very thin and watery, you could be leaking washer fluid. Remember, you’re A/C system will give off condensation as well. There is a plastic drain tube (on the passenger side of most vehicles, but it does vary) that will leak water from the A/C condensation. Many people mistake this for a leak. If the puddle on the ground is very thin, make sure it’s not simply water from the drain tube.

It’s Oily, What Now?

If the fluid is oily but you still cannot tell what color it is, you have two more choices. The first is that you can always take it to your local repair shop and have it inspected for leaks. This is the preferred method for most vehicle owners since it will probably end up there anyway. However, if curiosity has got you by the tail, you could always lie down under the front of your vehicle (not with it running), and see if you can find where the fluid is coming from. If you can find the spot, you should be able to at least tell what color it is as well as a general direction of where it’s coming from. Either way, it’s best to get it repaired as soon as possible. Your fluids are a crucial part of your vehicle’s operation. Running them low can be hazardous to your vehicle’s condition. Most leaks are from very minor items like seals, gaskets, and hoses. These items can much more inexpensive than many people fear when the dreaded fluid spots show up in the driveway.

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