The first thing you may think is, am I going to be able to continue driving today with this leak? Some fluids are fine with a small leak until you can get it checked by a mechanic, but many others should be cause for concern and send you off to the experts immediately.
What Does the Fluid Look Like?
Many of the fluids in a vehicle are different in terms of their looks and smell, but first, what does the fluid look like? You can dab the liquid with a paper towel to more accurately check its colour.
- Green: antifreeze
- Blue: windshield wiper fluid
- Pink: power steering fluid, transmission fluid, antifreeze
- Yellow: antifreeze (radiator coolant)
- Brown/Black: motor oil, brake fluid, gear lubricant, gasoline
- Orange: rust mixed with antifreeze, transmission fluid
- Red: power steering fluid or transmission fluid
- Clear: just water from the AC system
Obviously if the fluid is clear and just water, then you don’t need to worry about taking your vehicle to get inspected, and if it’s windshield wiper fluid you can likely delay an inspection to a more convenient time. However, if the fluid leaking is pink, brown, black, orange, or red, you should head to the mechanic as soon as possible. While you can just keep topping up these fluids, its literally money draining out of your car, and you could get low enough to do damage.
What Does the Liquid Feel Like?
It’s often not recommended you feel any mystery fluid coming out of your vehicle, but if you have a pair of heavy duty gloves, texture can give you a hint as to the fluid.
- Thin and watery: windshield wiper fluid, water, gasoline
- Thick and sticky: antifreeze
- Slick and oily: motor oil, brake fluid, transmission fluid, power steering fluid
What Does the Liquid Smell Like?
If you don’t want to touch the liquid, each liquid also often has a distinctive smell. Most people can quickly identify gasoline or diesel from all the times they’ve been at the gas pumps, or ridden a school bus. But there are other smells that can come from vehicle fluids to help you identify a mystery fluid leak. As an added note: Never taste test a mystery fluid from your vehicle.
- Gas smell: gasoline
- Burnt, sweet smell: power steering fluid
- Fishy smell: brake fluid
- Candy smell: antifreeze
- Cleaner smell: windshield wiper fluid
- Cooking oil smell: motor oil
- Petroleum smell: transmission fluid
- Odourless: transmission fluid, water
When to Call an Expert
If you have any concerns about a mystery fluid that is coming out of your vehicle, then the safest bet is always to contact an expert and get the leak checked out. Other than just water coming out of your vehicle from below, any other fluid means you have a leak that needs to be fixed sooner or later, and most are sooner.