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How Do I Check the Fluids on My Car?

I always hear that I should check the fluids on my car.  What fluids are there to check, and where do I find them? 

While every car is just a little bit different, there are 6 main fluids you should regularly check on your vehicle:

  1. Engine Oil
    While this one seems obvious, it is often forgotten.  No matter how new your car is, it is always a good idea to check your oil level every few times you fill up.  The oil dipstick is usually located toward the front of the engine, and (most of the time) has a yellow handle.

    To check the level, pull out the dipstick, wipe it off, and reinsert it again to get an accurate reading.  Most dipsticks will have a “Low” and “High” line.  If it is in between those two lines it is within a safe operating zone.  Add 1 quart of oil if the level is below the “Low” line (there is often an oil cap on the top of the engine where you would add the oil).  Once you add a quart, always recheck the level on the dipstick to make sure it doesn’t need any more.

  2. Coolant
    Most cars have a coolant overflow bottle that is usually located close to the radiator, towards the front of the engine.  These are often designed with the same idea as the oil dipstick – there’s a “High” line and a “Low” line.  You want to make sure the level is in between those two lines.  If the level is slightly low, you can often add only water to top off the level.  If the level is significantly low, or the overflow bottle is completely empty, you may want to add a 50/50 mixture of coolant and water to make sure the coolant doesn’t get too diluted.

    Also keep in mind that if the overflow bottle is completely empty, you may need to open the radiator to see if the level is low in the radiator itself.  If you have never done this before, it is usually a good idea to have a mechanic inspect the fluid level since the radiator can build up quite a bit of pressure once the engine is warmed up (the last thing you want to do is take off the radiator cap and get hot antifreeze spray up at you!)

  3. Brake Fluid
    The brake fluid has a smaller container that is located towards the back of the engine, usually on the driver’s side.  This fluid is pretty simple to check.  Just like the coolant bottle, if the level is below the “Low” line, then you’ll want to add fluid to get it up to the proper level.  If you find that the fluid level is low, be sure to have your brake system checked at your next service.
  4. Washer Fluid
    This bottle can often be confused with the coolant overflow bottle, because they can often be the same size and/or shape.  Some of these bottles will actually have a dipstick attached to the cap that will show you how full the level is.  There is no need to worry about overfilling this fluid.  Simply top off the fluid with water, or add washer fluid concentrate to the mixture if the level is very low.
  5. Transmission Fluid
    If your car has a manual transmission, there isn’t an easy way to check the fluid under the hood.  It is usually needs to be checked from underneath the vehicle.  If, however, your vehicle has an automatic transmission, it is usually possible to check the fluid level.  Many vehicles will be equipped with a dipstick that is similar to the engine oil dipstick, except that it is usually located more towards the side or rear of the engine, and will often have a red handle instead of a yellow one.

    To check the level, first make sure the engine is running, and the car is in Park.  Pull out the dipstick, and clean it off (just like you do with the engine oil), reinsert it, and then pull it out again to get an accurate reading on the level.  There will be a “Low” and a “High” line.  Follow the same rule of thumb as engine oil when adding oil – only add more when it’s below the “Low” line.  The big difference here is that you will often need to add the fluid through the same tube that the dipstick is located.  So, if you ever need to add fluid, you’ll want to make sure you have a funnel handy

  6. Power Steering Fluid
    This fluid usually has a smaller reservoir (usually a black color) with a small cap on the top.  It is often located on the passenger side of the engine, but can vary a lot depending on the car.  This fluid is pretty simple to check – just unscrew the cap, pull it out of the reservoir, and you’ll see a little mini “dipstick” that will show you if the fluid level is low or not.  Just like with the other fluids, it will have a “Low” and a “High” line.  Some cars will even have a clear bottle that has the markings on the side, so you don’t even need to unscrew the cap.

Final Words
When adding fluid to your vehicle, always be careful to not overfill the fluid.  Fuller is not always better.  Always shoot to have your fluid level remain within the “Low” and “High” zones, and you’ll be on the right track.

Every car is a little different.  Some cars don’t even have some of these fluids, or don’t provide a means to easily check them .  If you ever need help learning where these items on your specific car, we’re always happy to show you where they’re located

Ask Dan! – What Does My Cabin Air Filter Do?

What does my cabin air filter do, and why should I bother replacing it?

Cabin Air FilterSimply put – your cabin air filter filters the air that comes into the cabin of the car.   If your car is equipped with a cabin air filter (and not every car is), then all the air that comes out of the heater and AC vents passes through the cabin air filter.  

The cabin air filter is designed to filter out any dust, pollen, or allergens that are in the outside air before allowing the air to travel through the heater vents. Regularly changing the filter allows you keep those nasty buggers out of your car and out of your nose. In extreme cases when the cabin air filter has been neglected to be changed, it can even restrict the airflow through the vents, causing issues that can impact the vehicle’s ability to defrost the windows quickly. 

So in short, the cabin air filter keeps the inside of your car clean and allergen-free, making for a more pleasant ride for all.


Have a question for Dan?  Send it to

Dan Amundsen is a Master ASE Certified Technician, with over 40 years of automotive repair experience.  He has been the owner of Juanita Firs 76 since 1978.  He runs a true family business with his two children, three nieces, and many just-like-family employees that have been with the company for over 15 years.

Ask Dan! – What Does My Timing Belt Do?

“What does my timing belt do, and why is it such a big deal to replace it?”

A Technical Description

The timing belt keeps the upper and lower half of the engine moving in sync. It connects the crankshaft (lower half) to the camshaft (upper half). The crankshaft control the movement of the pistons and the camshaft controls the opening and closing of the valves. If these get slightly out of sync the car can knock, run very poorly, or not run at all. If the timing belt breaks or slips, the car will not run and may potentially damage the engine. Regularly replacing the timing belt helps to ensure the belt won’t break which keeps the engine running and prevents costly engine damage.

Timing Belt Configuration

A Timing Belt is Like the Conductor of a Symphony

Think of it this way: A smooth running engine is like a symphony. There are many pieces that have to work together in perfect harmony. The timing belt is like the conductor that makes sure that every piece of the orchestra is playing its part at just the right moment. If the conductor were to walk off the stage during the middle of the song, it would be impossible for every member of the orchestra to make their entrance at the correct moment. The result? The symphony falls apart. Everyone will likely play their part at the wrong time, creating a train wreck of a sound and then… stop. If the timing belt breaks, the internal parts of the engine no longer work in perfect harmony and the symphony of the engine…stops.
Why Does it Cost So Much to Replace It?
The biggest cost in replacing a timing belt is the labor involved. The timing belt is usually located in an area that requires that many other components be removed before the timing belt can even be reached. Another contributing factor to the cost is the number of other parts that are typically replaced when the timing belt is done. Because the timing belt runs on a number of pulleys, tensioners, and (usually) the water pump, it is prudent to replace these items at the same time the timing belt is replaced. Think of it this way: You wouldn’t want to pay for 5 hours of labor to replace the timing belt, and then find out six months later that the water pump is leaking and that you now have to pay another 5 hours of labor to replace the water pump that was located in the same area as the timing belt. Replacing all those parts at the same time can save quite a bit of money on future labor costs.
Have a question for Dan?  Ask it here or send it to
Dan Amundsen is a Master ASE Certified Technician, with over 40 years of automotive repair experience.  He has been the owner of Juanita Firs 76 since 1978.  He runs a true family business with his two children, three nieces, and many just-like-family employees that have been with the company for over 15 years.