It’s annoying to see puddles or mysterious stains underneath your car. You leave your car parked for a while and come back to it to find odd looking or smelling fluid under your vehicle. It’s a sign that you may have a car leak.
Importance of identifying and addressing car fluid leaks
A car shouldn’t normally leak. There may be a bit of water under your car after you wash it or after a rainfall, of course. But under normal circumstances, the components of your car should not leak fluids.
Common Types of Car Fluid Leaks
There are several common types of car leaks. Take note of whether your car leaks just when it’s stationary or parked, or whether there is fluid leaking as you drive.
Let’s take a look at some common types of car leaks.
Why is the car leaking oil?
If the stain under your car is black, brown or amber in colour, it’s probably an oil stain. Modern vehicles should not leak oil. If yours does, it may have worn or damaged seals or gaskets.
Transmission Fluid Leak
A red or reddish-brown stain under your vehicle may be a sign that your car is leaking transmission fluid. When it’s new, transmission fluid is red in colour (which is why some mechanics call it the blood of the vehicle). It gets darker over time, changing from its original bright red colour to a brown (then possibly black) appearance.
Transmission fluid should not leak from your vehicle. It helps keep your engine lubricated and keeps all of the moving parts of your transmission running smoothly. So if your car is leaking transmission fluid, you’ll want to bring your vehicle in to see us. We can assess the cause of the leak and put a stop to it before any further damage happens.
A coolant leak produces a colourful (pink, red, green or blue) puddle under the car. Some coolants have a watery consistency, and when they leak onto hot surfaces (hot pavement, a hot exhaust pipe), they can create noticeable steam.
A coolant leak can be a sign of loose clamps, a leaking water pump or radiator failure. It may also be the result of an overheating issue, which is causing the coolant to overflow.
Brake Fluid Leak
You definitely do not want your brake fluid to leak, as that could lead to faulty brakes or problems with your gears – potentially dangerous and expensive if ignored.
If the stains under the car are yellow, or there are clear puddles that aren’t water, these may be an indication that you have a brake fluid leak.
Power Steering Fluid Leak
Pink or red drops on the ground under your car are likely a sign that you have a power steering fluid leak. It takes time to accumulate, so you may only see a small number of drops. A slightly larger puddle may form if your car has not been driven for a while.
A power steering fluid leak happens over time as the supply and pressure hoses start to age. They may develop holes through which the fluid can leak.
If fuel is leaking, the puddle will look brown and then multicoloured when the light hits it. The easiest way to identify a fuel leak is by its smell, as petrol and diesel have very strong odours.
If the puddle has that strong, distinctive smell of a petrol station, it’s probably a fuel leak. And obviously, if you haven’t driven your car in days and the gas gauge has dropped dramatically, you may have a petrol leak. (This may seem obvious, but if you park your car outside on dirt or grass, you may not notice the stain or puddle underneath.)
Is it normal for a car to leak water?
A little bit of water under your car is usually nothing to worry about and quite normal. If you’ve had your car’s air conditioning system running on a hot day, you may see some water under your car. The AC produces condensation and the system collects the water in a drip tray below the evaporator. The tray then drains through a small tube under the car.
You may notice a few drops of water leaking from the exhaust pipe. This is also condensation – not from the air conditioning system, but from the engine cooling down.
If there is excessive water leaking from your car – noticeably more than the drops from the AC or the engine cooling – you may have more serious issues. Larger amounts of water leaking could indicate you have a blown gasket causing a blockage between the cylinder head and the engine. You should bring your car in as soon as possible to have this looked at.
Identifying Car Leaks
If your car is leaking fluid, you’ll likely either see a puddle or notice an unusual smell.
Inspecting engine and undercarriage
If you’re confident and knowledgeable around the different parts of your vehicle, have a look under the bonnet/hood and under the vehicle itself. Have a look for puddles around the engine or on the ground.
If you suspect your car is leaking fluid, place a clean piece of cardboard under your car when you park it at the end of the day. Leave it overnight and have a look at the stain in the morning. If you can identify one of the colours listed above, you may have a better idea of what fluid is leaking.
Identifying leaks by distinct odours
Some people can actually identify the type of car fluid leak by its smell. Here are some handy tips.
If the leak smells like cooking oil, it may be an oil leak from your car. If there’s also a burning smell when you drive, that is usually a strong indication that you have an engine oil leak or problem with your car engine.
As we’ve already said, if the leak smells like fuel, it’s probably a petrol or diesel leak.
A coolant leak smells sweet, a bit like maple syrup. A brake fluid leak can smell like fish oil. A power steering fluid leak smells like burnt marshmallow. And a windshield wiper fluid leak smells like glass cleaner.
Checking Fluid Levels
Newer model vehicles don’t require you to manually check fluid levels. They have built-in monitoring and warning signals that tell you when any of the fluids are running low.
But older model cars may require a bit more attention. The easiest way to check your oil level is by using a dipstick which will have low/high marks on it, making it easy to check your oil level.
Checking coolant levels is also fairly straightforward. Make sure the engine is cool before you do this, though. Most coolant tanks have indicators that show where the coolant level is sitting.
You can check the power steering levels by using a dipstick in the fluid reservoir. You may also notice stiffness in the steering if your car is leaking power steering fluid.
There is also a reservoir for brake fluid in the engine bay. Checking the level of brake fluid in many cars involves simply looking at the level of brake fluid in the reservoir. If you’re unsure about this one, or any other type of fluid check, don’t hesitate to give the team at Mt Roskill Collision Centre a call on 09 242 1870.
Tightening loose connections
Often, the cause of a fluid leak is a loose connection between parts. For example, small holes in your radiator hoses, or loose connections between hoses and the cooling system could be the cause of a coolant leak.
A fluid leak might also be caused by damaged seals between hoses or parts, loose bolts or drain plugs.
An oil leak may be happening because of degraded engine gaskets, oil pan leaks, or bad oil seals and connections.
Replacing damaged hoses or seals
Loose connections, damaged hoses or seals and faulty parts that lead to fluid leaks from your car may be the result of age and wear and tear, or they may be caused by damage sustained in a collision.
It’s important to have any damaged parts repaired or replaced to minimise or stop the fluid leak as quickly as possible. You may be able to do this yourself if you’re confident working on your car.
Often, it’s a lot quicker for us to diagnose the problem and rectify it. We have all the tools and equipment required, and we usually have the necessary parts to replace damaged hoses or seals on site.
When to consult a mechanic
If you aren’t knowledgeable about checking your car or confident in making any of the minor repairs it may need, it’s best to consult a mechanic for any leaks your car has.
Start by placing a clean piece of cardboard under your car and leaving it overnight. In the morning, take note of the colour and smell of the leak, and the amount of fluid that has leaked. Is it just a few drops or a puddle?
Then give us a call and tell us what you see. Sometimes we can even tell you instantly over the phone what you’re looking at. We’ll help you assess whether it’s something you can fix yourself if you want.
Preventing Future Leaks
The easiest way to prevent future leaks is by having regular car service appointments where any potential problems can be spotted early – before they become more serious issues.
If you’re concerned about any car leaks you have, please get in touch with the experienced team at Mt Roskill Collision Centre.