Types of Leaks in Vehicles and How to Tell What They Are


If you notice a puddle or a few drops of liquid beneath your car, it could be a variety of things. Color alone might not tell you what it is, so you need to know how to tell in the future. To ensure that you determine what’s leaking, you need to know where it is coming from and use your senses.

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Amber, Black, Dark Brown, Other Colored Liquids

If you notice black, amber, or dark brown fluids under the car on the pavement, it is likely motor oil, but it might be brake fluid. If the fluid is reddish or slightly brown, it’s an indication that your transmission is leaking, but it could also be the power steering. In the past, antifreeze was green in color, but now it comes in many different colors, making it harder to tell.

Next, you should see if you smell anything. Gasoline has a pungent and noticeable smell; if you smell gas significantly, it is a severe issue because you shouldn’t drive if you’re leaking gasoline. It can combust, or a spark from the road could cause it to explode while you’re driving.

If gasoline isn’t the problem, you should touch the fluid with your finger or a paper towel to see the color. You can also smell it and rub it between your fingers to see how it feels. You may also want to see where the liquid is leaking from and use your owner’s manual to determine the reservoir’s location.

If you notice fluid that is odorless and colorless, it just means that water has drained from your air conditioning system, though it might be windshield washer fluid. Neither of these issues is severe, though you may want to get the windshield washer reservoir checked out so that you have fluid when you need it.

If you think the liquid is coming from beneath the hood, you might want to put a piece of cardboard under the car’s transmission and engine after you drive it. Wait a few hours and check the cardboard to see what color the fluid is and whereabouts it was located.

How to Identify the Leaking Fluid

Typically, engine oil is amber if it is fresh. However, it can be brown if it has been used normally. If you haven’t changed the oil in over 10,000 miles, it could be black. However, many oil manufacturers claim that you can go much longer with the same oil, so that might not be an indication anymore. If you touch it, you’re likely to feel slickness, and the oil won’t easily wipe off.

Transmission fluid is usually slick to the touch and reddish, though it can be found in other colors and might be thicker/thinner than oil from the engine. You should periodically check the fluid levels to determine if you have a leak.

The power steering fluid is also reddish, and it might be the same fluid as in the transmission, depending on the type of vehicle. You can check the reservoir for power steering to determine if there is a leak, either from the hoses or reservoir.

Engine coolant (antifreeze) can be pink, yellow, green, or some other color. Therefore, you should check the overflow tank to see the color and what’s in your radiator. If the tank is empty, you’ve likely found the issue. Coolant can smell sweet and feels like water with slime mixed in. You can check the overflow tank, water pump, and radiator reservoir, but you should wait several hours after driving so that the engine is cold, and you don’t risk getting sprayed with hot fluid.

Your vehicle has many components that require liquid to run smoothly, and any of these components can start leaking, so it is essential that you know what fluid colors there are and what it might feel like to determine the cause.

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Types of Leaks in Vehicles and How to Tell What They Are

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