Top-Off Basic Fluids in Your Car

Don’t be afraid to peek under the hood of your vehicle with these beginner’s tips on checking the transmission, coolant, brake, and windshield washer fluids.

| January 2017

  • Get familiar with the general maintenance of your car.
    Photo by Fotolia/LovePhy
  • “The Useful Book: 201 Life Skills They Used to Teach in Home Ec and Shop” by Sharon and David Bowers.
    Cover courtesy Workman Publishing Co.

Sharon and David Bowers have written The Useful Book (Workman Publishing, 2016), a veritable encyclopedia of do-it-yourself — whatever “it” is, learn to cook it, build it, sew it, clean it, or repair it. Not only do the authors walk you step-by-step through handy repairs and projects, but they include illustrations, charts, and lists to keep their explanations simple and accessible. Like a shop teacher and a home economics teacher combined in print form, this book will have you prepared for anything!

You can purchase this book from the GRIT store: The Useful Book.

There are a number of different fluids in your car, each with a way to check and fill as needed. As part of general maintenance, and especially when planning a road trip, check the oil and the transmission, coolant, brake, and window washing fluids. This is a great way to get familiar with what’s under the hood, and is among the simplest and most satisfying ways to take your car’s upkeep into your own hands.


• Coolant
• Windshield washer fluid


1. Pop the hood and prop it open. With the engine running, start by checking the transmission fluid — the cap is probably located behind the oil cap and a bit lower down. The transmission fluid should have a dipstick — pull out the dipstick, clean it, reinsert, remove, and check the fluid level. If the fluid level is low, that’s a big problem — the transmission shouldn’t leak. Head to your mechanic to find out what’s going on.

2. Check the coolant. Make sure the engine is off and cool (not cold) before you touch the radiator. Check both the radiator cap (if your car uses a radiator) and the plastic coolant reservoir. If your car has a radiator, it’s right behind the grill; the coolant reservoir should be to its side. Check that the coolant reaches the fill line on the coolant reservoir. If fluid is low, add coolant until it reaches the fill line.

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