Fluid Levels

Save money, maintain your engine’s longevity and protect your passengers by keeping the proper fluid levels in your car. A low coolant level is one of the most destructive things to an engine, and low washer fluid can present a dangerous situation. A quick check under the hood is all it takes in most cases.

Checking Coolant:

1. Locate the coolant reservoir under the hood of the car (see owner’s manual for exact location); some cars only have an exposed cap.

2. Check the fluid level. On the side of the reservoir, there are markings that show fluid levels. If the level of the liquid is low, add more of the proper coolant mix.

Checking Battery Level:

1. Look for the battery’s condition indicator, a visible window on the top of the battery that changes color.
Green/blue: Good
Red: Add distilled water
White: Needs charge

Check your owner’s manual or label on the battery for further information. This handy indicator should not be the only test done to determine if the battery is serviceable.

2. If the battery needs more fluid, pour in a little at a time until the level is near the top of the battery grids. Do not overfill. Always use distilled water, not tap or filtered water.

Note: Certain batteries are sealed, and it is not possible to add fluid. Not all batteries are in the same place: some batteries are located under the rear seat, in the trunk or in the front inner fender. Any time a battery is serviced, safety gloves, eye protection and fender protection should be used to prevent injury and paint from being damaged.

Checking Oil:

Under normal driving conditions, you should change your oil every 3,000 to 5,000 miles.

1. Park your car on level ground, turn the engine off and remove the keys.

2. Open the hood of your car and secure it with the prop rod. Remove the dipstick and wipe it clean. Put the dipstick back into the tube that you removed it from. Remove the dipstick again and check the level of your motor oil on the stick. If the level is below the minimum indicator, add oil to your car.

3. Check the color of the oil on the dipstick. Motor oil is usually a light clear fluid but will darken under normal conditions. If the oil is black, it should be changed along with the oil filter. If the oil is light brown and milky, this could indicate a coolant leak into the crank case.

4. Feel the oil on the dipstick. If the oil feels gritty, change the oil.

5. Smell the dipstick. If the oil has an odor of gas, it could indicate that the engine, fuel system or ignition system need to be serviced.

Checking Brake Fluid:

1. Find your brake fluid reservoir. They are usually located on top of the engine and are labeled.

2. Clean the area around the cap with an approved aerosol cleaner before removing the cap. Any particles of dirt that fall in the fluid can cause costly service.

3. Open the cap on each and check the fluid level on the dipstick that is attached to the underside of the cap. If either of these fluids are low, you should have the car serviced at a NAPA AutoCare Center soon because it could be a sign of a larger problem. Never used old steering or brake fluids. Once opened and exposed to air and moisture the fluid cannot perform the required functions and can harm the system.

Checking Transmission Fluid:

1. Check the level of your automatic transmission fluid. Pull out the transmission fluid dipstick located at the back of the engine near the firewall. Wipe it off, replace it and pull it out again. Check the level against the markings at the bottom of the dipstick. A low level should be addressed immediately with a trip to a transmission specialist.

2. Check the color of the fluid; it should be clear pink. Any darkness warrants a fluid and filter change. Manual transmission should be checked for oil level by NAPA AutoCare Center when the engine oil is changed. Some vehicles no longer have a transmission dipstick they need to be checked by an automotive professional (see owner’s manual).

Caution: Always install the correct transmission fluid. Using the wrong fluid can severely damage the unit.

Important Tips:

  • Never open the radiator cap on a hot engine. Allow it to cool for 15 to 20 minutes before opening.
  • Your car should be running when you check the transmission fluid level. Set the emergency brake and put the car in park when checking under the hood of a car that has the engine running.
  • Only dispose of used motor oil and filters at authorized locations.
  • If you prefer, bring your car to your local NAPA AutoCare Center and they can change your oil for you.