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Car Fluids: How to Do Your Own Top Ups

pouring car engine oil with funnel shutterstock

Much like us humans, it’s important for cars to keep their fluids up to perform at their peak. As a car owner, it’s good to know exactly what these fluids are and how to top them up yourself – after all, you may not be able to wait to see a professional everytime, and you most certainly don’t need the help of a professional to top up most of these fluids. You’ll be surprised at how easy it is! So, let’s get into it – what fluids should you be looking at when checking out your engine?

How to Know When Your Fluids Need Changing

Windscreen Wiper Fluid

Windscreen wiper fluid serves to help loosen the gunk, dust, and debris that builds up on your windscreen as you drive, helping your wiper blades remove these materials with ease. Thankfully, topping up your wiper fluid is the easiest DIY task you can do at home. You can determine how much you need basically by how much you use it, and of course by checking the level under the hood. Make an effort to check this level (along with that of other fluids of course) every few months as there is no light that presents itself when this fluid is low.

Engine Oil

Motor oil is essential to the function of a car. It lubricates the entire engine and ensures everything runs smoothly. Thankfully, with the engine oil, your car will indicate that you are running low with a light in your front display; however, this will indicate that it’s running critically low, and you don’t want the situation getting that desperate. So, on that note, you can also check your engine oil manually by opening the bonnet and checking the dipstick. Before you do this, ensure that your car has cooled completely and has not been driven for 10 minutes. This is to avoid burning yourself on the engine or oil and to ensure the most accurate reading possible.

You can identify the dipstick as the yellow handle protruding somewhere in your engine. There is an indicator line along the stick to show where the oil level should be at its max and minimum. To check your oil level, take the dipstick out of the tank and wipe the oil off with a cloth. Then place the stick back into the oil and pull it out once more. Check where the oil reaches along the dipstick. If it’s closer to the minimum line, then it’s probably about time for a refill. Also, if the oil is a dark colour this is also an indicator that it might need changing. The oil should resemble honey when it’s in a good state.

yellow engine oil stick shutterstock

Coolant

Coolant, as the name suggests, keeps your engine cool. This is to stop your engine overheating. On the other end of the spectrum, it also keeps it from freezing in cold conditions or the snow – in fact, in most other countries, coolant is often called antifreeze. The level of your coolant can be determined by looking at the indicator on the outside of the usually clear tank that it sits in. Just as with the engine oil, make sure your car is off and cool when checking the coolant, as the heat of your car can affect the level. Do not open the cap of the coolant if your car has just been used or the engine is hot. This is dangerous and can cause burns. 

You should not have to top up your coolant too regularly. If you do, this could indicate a leak. To determine if this is the case, place a piece of cardboard under your car while it is parked and check it the next time you use your car. If there seems to be fluid dripping, you should take your car to see a professional and seek advice and assistance. As fluid plays a very important role in regulating your engine’s temperature, it’s important to get a leak sorted pronto.

Brake Fluid

The single most important fluid in your car has to be brake fluid. No brake fluid, no braking. It’s that crucial of a component. That’s because the brake fluid is part of a hydraulic system that creates pressure for your brakes to work efficiently and without too much effort. The fluid pushes pressure down to your brakes, pushing the pads into the discs, which causes your car to slow. The more pressure there is, the less effort you have to exert in pressing down the brake pedal. Similar to engine oil, brake fluid has a dipstick to check its levels. Over time, moisture can build up in the reservoir which can reduce its effectiveness, therefore it often gets changed during a service. However, you can top this fluid up yourself, provided you purchase the right type of brake fluid. You won’t find yourself doing this too many times as brake fluid doesn’t dissipate that quickly, so if you’re finding your brake fluid runs low quickly, get a professional to check your car for leaks as soon as possible. 

How to Top up Your Fluids

Windscreen Washer Fluid

When it comes to windscreen wiper fluid, do make sure to use washer additive to this fluid. While you can add just water, it doesn’t always do the greatest job at cleaning your windscreen (washer will remove dirt and gunk a whole lot easier, preventing damage to your windscreen and wiper blades!) and if left to sit in the tank for extended periods of time, this water can get pretty gross, and it can grow bacteria, such as legionella, which can be dangerous when sprayed around. Most windscreen wiper fluids contain a mix of detergents, solvents, anti-freeze, ethylene glycol, and isopropanol, which work to keep the tank sanitised, and the windscreen protected from damage and clean. If you only have water, however, try to use distilled water as your sprinklers will be less likely to clog from the minerals in ordinary tap water. To use the washer, simply buy the windscreen wash additive from your local auto shop – there are many brands to choose from – and add it to your distilled water according to the product instructions.

windscreen wipers pixabay

Engine oil

To top up your engine, you will need one litre of the appropriate engine oil (you will need to research this because it is specific to each car and car engine), a funnel for accuracy, and gloves and cleaning equipment incase of a spill. It’s a good idea to keep checking the dipstick to determine how much more you need. 

Coolant

To top up your coolant, you will need coolant fluid, distilled water (this is if the coolant is not already diluted), a funnel, and gloves and rags to help minimise mess. Make sure you read the difference between concentrated and diluted coolant because it has a vast difference on the performance and purpose of the liquid for the engine’s health. If the coolant is concentrated you will typically need a 50/50 ratio of coolant to distilled water. However, check the user manual to determine your car’s specific ratio, as it may vary slightly. You will also need to determine what type of coolant is best for your car. We explain what the difference is between the different types of coolants in one of our recent articles – check it out here

Brake Fluid

To top up your brake fluid, it’s important to first check which type of brake fluid your car needs – this will be written on the cap of your brake fluid container, otherwise it will be in your owner’s manual. Brake fluids are categorised by a Department of Transportation (DOT) number which defines the fluid’s characteristics and boiling point, with DOT 3 and 4 being the most common. To change your brake fluid, you’ll once again need gloves and some disposable rags. Firstly, wipe away any residue from the brake fluid container to minimise contamination. Then open the cap and top up the fluid with the correct category of fluid. Only use brake fluid from a sealed bottle that is no older than two years as this fluid contaminates very easily. As contaminated brake fluid can be damaging to your entire braking system, it’s important to be extra cautious with your brake fluid.

odometer fuel light

Keep up With Professional Maintenance

Whilst you may now have the knowledge, and therefore, power to check and top up your car’s fluids, this by no means cancels out the vital services your car should be receiving each year. Keep up with your scheduled log book services to protect your vehicle against damage from the inside out. 

Windscreens are often neglected components that don’t get the servicing they need; however, they are an important part of your car and play an critical role in shielding you from the elements and debris. Further, if your windscreen wiper fluid hasn’t been doing its job very well, your windscreen may have already suffered some serious damage, detracting from vehicle visibility. Get your windscreen looked at by one of the trusted professionals at Novus Autoglass – a simple windscreen repair job may be all you need to get your windscreen back in perfect condition. Book at appointment with Novus today on 13 22 34.