Top-Off Basic Fluids in Your Car

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Get familiar with the general maintenance of your car.
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“The Useful Book: 201 Life Skills They Used to Teach in Home Ec and Shop” by Sharon and David Bowers.

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.

3. Check the brake fluid. Consult your owner’s manual to find the brake fluid reservoir, likely in the engine compartment. Make sure brake fluid fills the reservoir up to the fill line. It shouldn’t be low — if it is, take the car to the shop.

4. Check the washer fluid. This is likely in a plastic reservoir near the dashboard. Again, ensure that fluid fills the reservoir to the fill line. If needed, top it off. Car fluids can look quite similar (think radioactive blue), so be careful not to pour washer fluid into the coolant reservoir and vice versa.

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Reprinted with permission from The Useful Book: 201 Life Skills They Used to Teach in Home Ec and Shop by Sharon and David Bowers, published by Workman Publishing Co., 2016. Buy this book from our store: The Useful Book.