What is leaking from my car?

by Vivaan Khatri | 08/09/2018
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It has happened to any car owner. You walk into the garage and see a puddle lying under your car, then you start to wonder whether your car will explode if you drive it to work.

A car has many kinds of fluids inside to allow it to operate properly. Sometimes a leak is meant to happen, and sometimes it is not. Knowing what that mysterious puddle under your car is may prevent small mechanical problems from turning into a staggering mechanic’s bill.

1. Coolant

If you see a car leak and you can smell a certain distinctive sweet odor, it is likely to be a coolant leak. Coolant (or antifreeze) can be green, orange, pink, or blue, but green coolant is the most prominent. It has a thick consistency with a sticky and slimy feel.

Coolant is one of the most common car leaks. Even though it is not very dangerous, if left unchecked, coolant leak can lead to engine overheating and the car dying on the side of the road. 

A coolant leak can happen almost anywhere around your car, because of all the coolant hoses that surround your engine. However, the most common place for that kind of leak is the radiator, through which the coolant is pumped. The place to look is behind the grill in the very front of the car. If the coolant leak happens somewhere else, take a quick glance at the coolant reservoir. The tank is usually see-through and sometimes has high-low markings on it. If the tank is empty, or if you are not sure what you are seeing, you should check inside the coolant reservoir. To do that, you have to remove the radiator cap but not until the engine cools off completely. Otherwise, you risk burning your face with hot coolant or steam. If no coolant is to be found inside the tank, a coolant leak is highly possible.

Green coolant inside a coolant reservoir

Most coolants have a greenish colour

2. Water

It is a hazy, hot, and humid summer day, and you have the AC of your car blasting from the moment you get in till the moment you get home. As you leave, you detect a steady drip of liquid coming from your car’s underside. Before you freak out thinking about the possibility of your car exploding, take a breather and remember this: The air conditioner needs to remove the humidity it draws from the air inside the car, so it drains the water onto the ground via a rubber hose. On extremely humid days, the AC leak will pour out like from a faucet and form a little puddle under the car until the cabin moisture is almost completely rid of.

Most cars have one rubber hose from which the AC water runs out, but in bigger cars like minivan or SUV, there can be two rubber hoses, one in the front and one in the rear.

Water leak under a car

This water puddle is nothing to worry about

3. Engine oil 

Another common fluid to drip from your car is engine oil. Oil can have a variety of colours, from pale yellow for new oil to black for older oil.

While oil leak can come from different sources, if your car seeps oil slowly from various part of the engine, it is not abnormal. Oil seepage often happens to cars, especially to high-mileage ones. However, if you see engine oil drips from under your car, take it to a mechanic as soon as possible, because without enough oil in your car, the engine can be permanently damaged.

7 different possible oil colours

Engine oil can come in various colours


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4. Automatic Transmission Fluid

Just like engine oil, automatic transmission fluid comes with a range of colours. The fluid is pink or light red when it is new and is dark red or brown when it is old. 

Transmission fluid works as a lubricant as well as a coolant in the transmission, allowing smooth and correct shift. If there is a transmission fluid leak, your car will first rev without going into gear. In case the level of fluid is really low, the car does not move at all, and there is a chance of grinding or burning the transmission to destruction. Replacing the transmission can cost a fortune, so getting the leak inspected by professionals is recommended.

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Transmission fluid leaks can be found near the front or middle of the car, particularly near the transmission filler tube, near the transmission fluid drain hole, at the selector shaft, or between the transmission and engine.

Red fluid near the front under a mini

If it leaks red near the front, it is likely to be a transmission fluid leak

5. Power Steering Fluid

Power steering fluid, in contrast to its name, allows you to steer your car without exerting much power. In most cars, when the wheel is turned, power steering fluid flows into a cylinder in the steering system, which applies a force onto the wheel and makes steering easier. Without the fluid, turning the wheel is some serious labour. 

In many cars, automatic transmission fluid is doubled as power steering fluid, so if there is a red tinge to the leak under your car and it is hard to turn the wheel, chances are it is a power steering fluid leak. However, some cars use a fluid specifically designed for power steering systems. It has a yellow to brown colour rather similar to the colour of engine oil. Because of the complication, you should check your car manual to see what kind of fluid is used for the steering system.

The steering system usually lies towards the front of the car, the leak can be found here.

6. Gasoline

Gasoline leak has a dead giveaway: the odor. So the puddle under your car smells like gas? It is probably gas!

Gasoline leak may be one of the most dangerous leaks out there but no need to get anxious, some people drive their cars with gas leaks for months and nothing happens. That being said, it does not mean that you should just ignore the leak and go on with your day as it is a fire hazard. Therefore, contact a mechanic to get the leak taken care of immediately. If you have to drive to the mechanic, be careful on the way, avoid any fire and do not smoke in the vehicle. 

Gasoline leak can be found almost anywhere. If it is near the rear of the car, you likely have a leaky gas tank. If the puddle is near the front, the fuel pump probably has some problems. The fuel lines can also be a cause for the leak.

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