We cannot get by without our automobile and it is essential for life today. It's always nice to be able to go to a dealership and get a new vehicle and not have to worry about maintenance, but many of us have older vehicles which do not fare as well and from time to time we will start to notice some kind of substance on the garage floor -- leaking car fluid.
For a means of transport that basically takes us from point A to point B, the typical automobile is amazingly complicated. There are so many moving parts, which will wear out over time and the lubrication required will find its way out off perishing rubber joints and hoses, leading to leaking car fluid more often than we would like.
When you first notice something on the floor of your garage, you should try to identify what it is and where it is coming from. So many different types of fluid are within your vehicle, but they do vary in smell, color and texture. To pinpoint the source, try putting a piece of paper on the floor underneath the vehicle overnight to see where the leaking car fluid is emanating.
You should know that it is possible for a vehicle to leak water, coolant, brake fluid, engine oil, transmission oil and each has a different consistency. Depending on the size of the leak you may or may not need to worry. For example, if you have a large brake fluid leak you should not drive until it is fixed. However, an engine oil leak may not be an immediate problem and is something that you need to get checked in due course.
If you worried about an overheating engine, one of the first things you should consider is whether you have a split water hose or not. This may be the cause of the leakage and to check, run the engine and then open the hood and look to see if you can see any water spraying around. When it comes to leaking car fluid, water is the least expensive, of course!
When you have an older vehicle, it is sometimes a fact of life that whatever you do it continues to leak from here and there. If they are not serious and you can put up with them, make sure that you protect your driveway or garage floor with absorbent pads, however as this will help you to keep the area clean.
It is bad enough to have a leaking car fluid situation without having to worry about the additional effort and cost required to clean up the mess on an ongoing basis. By placing an absorbent pad, which is made of polypropylene and designed for this task, you will save yourself a lot of time and money.
Prevention is better than cure and you should often take your car for regular checkups to prevent problems from arising. Otherwise, if you find you have a significant leak and don't feel confident yourself, always bring in a professional and don't just put it off.
Every day when you head out in the morning you almost take it for granted that you'll be able to get in the car, start it up and go. Certainly we know enough to get it a (fairly) regular check up at the mechanics and many of us have enough car knowledge to know when to head to an auto car part retailer to buy certain parts to fix a problem with the air conditioning or heating system, or to replace a broken headlight cover.
What we often do not do is pay enough attention to the fluids that help keep the car going on a daily basis, which means more than just giving them the occasional top off. Fluids need to be replaced on a regular basis to stop them going bad and you also have to be careful not to overfill them, something that can be just as bad for the health of your car as too little fluid can be!
Troubleshooting Fluid Leaks can Save Your Car
Fluid stains on the garage floor can me a messy eyesore but they can also be the first sign of trouble within the car and should not just be ignored. But how can you tell which fluid might be leaking and just what that means? Here are a few pointers:
Bright Green - Most radiator coolants are bright green - although they may be orange, purple or red on some newer cars - and such a stain should never be ignored as a blown radiator cause all kinds of problems and even a small crack can be the beginning of something much worse that will end up being far more expensive to fix than a trip to a car parts retailer to pick up a few odds and ends!
Light through Dark Brown - This kind of stain is often common motor oil (how light or dark it is will depend on when your last oil change was.) and may be caused by anything from an incorrectly fitted oil filter (easily fixed) to a cracked oil pan which is far more serious.
Pale Yellow through Dark Muddy Brown: This will often indicate that your brake fluid is leaking, with the color again depending on how old the fluid is. This is not something you should try to guess at though, as the brakes are so crucial to your personal safety as well as that of your car. Instead take the car to a mechanic as soon as possible for a professional going over.
Amber - An amber is usually made by a petrol leak but you should be able to smell that it is petrol as well. A small petrol leak may be caused by something as trivial as a badly fitting petrol but it can also indicate breaks in you car's fuel lines or small holes in the petrol tank. Again, a professional should be consulted rather than trying to second guess the problem yourself.
Motor oil is supposed to course through your engine, providing a protective layer between the metal parts. As the parts move, the fluid provides lubrication. Without it, the parts inside the assembly would grind against one another, create friction, and eventually destroy each other. Motor oil prevents this from happening, and thus helps you avoid a costly repair bill.
In many cases, especially with vehicles that have high mileage, the engine begins to use oil at a faster rate than normal. Assuming you're checking the fluid level on a regular basis, you'll notice it drops quickly. We'll explain the reasons this happens below. None of the following will be pleasant news since it usually means expensive repairs are necessary.
Severely Worn Or Failing Valve Guides
During operation, the intake valves open to allow fuel into the engine's cylinders. The valves are connected to valve guides. Over time, the guides wear down, which impairs the valves' ability to seat properly. This allows oil to run down the guides into the cylinders.
Worn Piston Rings
Each cylinder contains a piston that moves up and down during the combustion cycle. The top of each piston has three rings. The top two rings regulate compression while the third ring controls the access of oil. If any of these rings wear down, fluid will be allowed to seep into the cylinders.
Is There An Oil Leak?
Another possible reason your car's oil level may be low is due to leaks. This is obviously unrelated to oil consumption, but is still worth mentioning since leaks can starve your engine of fluid. They can develop in several places, such as the valve cover gasket, oil pan gasket, and the front and rear crankshaft seals. They usually occur when heat causes the gaskets and seals to harden. They become less elastic.
In most cases, it happens so gradually (over several years) that the leaks go undetected. The leaks continue to grow larger until the driver notices his oil level plummeting. Fixing oil leaks may be a relatively simple job, or require lifting the engine from the vehicle.
Side Effects Of Worn Valve Guides And Piston Rings
So, what happens in your engine when the valve guides and piston rings wear down? In both cases, the assembly will experience a loss of compression. You may notice hesitation or sluggishness whenever you accelerate or place the engine under load. The severity of the hesitation is based on the compression deficit. The bigger the loss, the more sluggish the assembly.
Another problem is that the oil that gains access to the combustion chambers is burned alongside air and fuel. This causes excess deposits to form on the spark plugs. If the problem persists, the plugs will eventually become fouled.
Fouled spark plugs will cause your engine to misfire. This, in turn, creates a higher volume of emissions, which will escape through the exhaust valve. Not only will your car be likely to fail an emissions test, but the higher volume of hydrocarbons will cause your catalytic converter to work harder. It will eventually become plugged, and overheat.
Addressing The Problem
Of course, the most effective way to eliminate excess oil consumption is to fix the underlying problem. If the valve guides or piston rings are worn, have them replaced. Unfortunately, as implied earlier, both jobs are expensive, and particularly so given that the problem usually affects high-mileage vehicles. For this reason, a lot of people attempt to reduce the level of fluid consumption in their engines by taking other approaches.
There are additives that can help slow the rate at which your engine burns oil, but realize such fluids are a temporary fix. You can also use an oil with a higher viscosity. The higher the number, the thicker the fluid, and the slower the rate of consumption. Again, it's a short-term solution.
If you notice your car is using excess oil, pay close attention to the fluid level. Check it often, and replenish it when needed. Otherwise, you may find yourself stranded with an overheating engine.