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How To Check Your Oil, Water and Brake Fluid

If you'd like to keep your car or truck running well for many years, consider checking your own oil, water and brake fluid. Doing this regularly can help prevent inconvenient and expensive breakdowns and repairs. If you are mechanically inclined and familiar with the inner workings of your own vehicle, you may already know how to check fluid levels. It's a good idea to consult the manual first just to make sure you understand all the steps and to see if your vehicle is different in any way. If you are not familiar with your vehicle, consider asking a local La Jolla auto repair shop for some instructions. Your favorite are usually happy to share their knowledge and will take you through the steps.

To check your vehicle's oil level, follow these basic steps:

  • 1. Check oil level at least once a month. If it is dirty or smells of gas, it should be changed.
  • 2. The car's engine should be cold, off for at least 10 minutes.
  • 3. Pull out the dipstick and wipe it on a clean, lint-free rag.
  • 4. Insert the dipstick back into the tube.
  • 5. Pull out the dipstick again and check the film of oil on the end of the stick.
  • 6. If the level is low (below the "Add" indicator or half-way point), add oil. Don't add oil to the tube that holds the dipstick. Re-insert the dipstick.
  • 7. Look for a screw-off cap on top of the largest part of the engine, sometimes labeled "Oil Cap." Unscrew the cap and add the oil. You can buy the type of oil you need from your local auto repair or gas station and some super markets and drugstores.

To check your vehicle's water and coolant (antifreeze) level, do the following:

  • 1. For most vehicles, do not open the cap on the radiator.
  • 2. Instead, locate the coolant reservoir (plastic bottle next to the radiator) and check the fluid level on the side. It should reach the "Full" line.
  • 3.If the liquid level does not reach the Full line, add coolant until it does. (Some older vehicles do not have a reservoir and you will have to add fluid directly to the radiator.)
  • 4. Check with your local auto body shop to make sure you have the correct coolant. Most vehicles require coolant that is half water and half coolant. Most coolants you buy are pre-mixed, but you should check first to see if you need to add water.
  • 5. Avoid adding water and never add coolant to a hot engine. To avoid being burned, don't open reservoir or radiator caps while the engine is hot.
  • 6. Coolant is normally red, green, blue or yellow. If the coolant in your vehicle turns colorless or rusty, it should be changed. If it is oily or sludgy, it could be a head gasket leak and you should have it looked at as soon as possible.
  • 7. While you're checking the coolant level, check the radiator hoses too and replace them if they are leaking or cracked.

To check your vehicle's brake fluid, do the following:

  • 1. Locate the brake fluid reservoir on your vehicle. On newer vehicles, it is a plastic canister located on the brake master cylinder with a screw-off cap. On older vehicles, the master cylinder is a little metal box with a lid you must remove by prying off with a screwdriver.
  • 2. If your vehicle has an anti-lock braking system, consult your manual. For some brake systems, you must pump the brake pedal 25-30 times before opening the reservoir.
  • 3. Clean the top of the reservoir before opening it to avoid having dirt fall into the brake fluid.
  • 4. Open the reservoir and check the brake fluid level. It should be within half an inch of the cap.
  • 5. Add brake fluid if necessary. Don't leave the reservoir or the brake fluid container open for more than 15 minutes to avoid having moist air ruin the fluid. If the reservoir is empty, you may have to bleed the brakes (remove extra air) before adding fluid. Your local auto repair shop can do this for you, unless you know how.
  • 6. Check the color of your brake fluid. If it has turned a dark color, ask your mechanic to replace it. You should replace brake fluid completely every two years.
  • If you need help with the brake fluid process, there are several San Diego brake service companies located in or close to La Jolla including LJ Automotive on Draper Ave and Dualtone on Mission Bay Dr next to In-N-Out.


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