January 18, 2012  |  Comments
What’s leaking from my car? Identifying fluid leaks

Photo By  Dame Tenshi

Creative Commons photo via Flickr.

What’s leaking from my car? Identifying fluid leaks

Most of us have been there; you walk into the garage to get into your car and notice a puddle of fluid sitting under it. Mystified as to its origin, you wonder if it’s something serious and if your vehicle’s reliability record has been breached.

To get to the bottom of things, there are typically three key clues to look for when trying to determine what that pesky leak may be trying to tell you: color, consistency, and location.  Listed below are some of the most common fluid leaks, with tips on identifying each so you can communicate these clues back to your mechanic.

Engine oil

Dripping engine oil is the most common type of leak and is dark brown or black in color. Oftentimes the signature “rainbow” effect appears on the surface of an oil puddle. Slick to the touch, engine oil leaks typically originate from the oil pan, valve covers, oil filter, or rear engine seal area.

Photo By arbyreed

Creative Commons photo via Flickr.

Anti-freeze or coolant

Anti-freeze comes in a variety of bright colors – yellow, pink, green, red or blue oftentimes – and  has a consistency slightly thicker than water. The fluid is slippery to the touch and possesses a very distinctive sweet smell. Found at the front of the vehicle, anti-freeze leaks typically originate from the radiator, radiator hoses, water pump, or overflow container.

Transmission fluid

Transmission fluid is typically red and very slippery and found in the middle or towards the front of the car — some transmission fluid that is old may be brownish in color. The consistency is close to engine oil.

Brake and power steering fluid

Brake and power steering fluid share a close resemblance, with power steering fluid a shade darker in color (often light brown); both fluids are slick to the touch. If you find either of these fluids leaking, they should be fixed immediately as they could be a significant safety concern.

Windshield washer fluid

Windshield washer fluid is offered in a variety of colors and has the consistency of water. It has minimal odor, and these types of leaks typically originate from the windshield washer reservoir or corresponding hoses.


A fuel leak can pose a significant safety hazard and should be fixed by a qualified mechanic immediately. If you have a fuel leak, more than likely you will be able to smell it.


You’ll often discover puddles of water beneath your car as you pull out of a parking lot on a  hot,  humid day. The air conditioner removes moisture from the passenger compartment and drains via a rubber hose on the underside of your car. This is normal.

Automotive fluid leaks can be difficult to pinpoint, but knowing how to properly identify that mysterious puddle under your vehicle can help prevent small mechanical problems from turning into major ones.

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