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Fluids and Liquids

3 min read
Petrol isn’t the only fluid that drives your car. Learn how other liquids, such as engine oil and radiator coolant, keep the different parts of your vehicle running smoothly.

Engine oil keeps the engine’s moving parts lubricated. When this oil is lacking, the engine will start to grind before it seizes up and stalls.

For an accurate oil check, let your engine cool down for at least 10 minutes. Remove the dipstick and wipe it with a clean cloth. Insert it back into the engine, then pull it out again — the engine oil level should be between the minimum and maximum markings, preferably closer to the maximum. In addition, the oil should be light in colour, and feel smooth when rubbed between your fingers.

There are three types of engine oil. Mineral oil, extracted from naturally occurring crude oil, offers the least protection and should be replaced often — every 5,000km or three months, whichever comes first. Fully synthetic oil provides enhanced performance and lasts longer than mineral oil — replace it every 10,000km or six months, whichever comes first. Semi-synthetic oil, an amalgamation of man-made oil and mineral oil, should be replaced every 8,000 –10,000km.

Radiator coolant prevents the engine from overheating. While the temperature gauge should provide indication of such trouble, be suspicious when there is unusual odour, a thumping or ticking sound, or coolant on the ground where you parked.

Never remove the radiator cap when the engine is hot or running as the contents are pressurised. Wait a while before removing the cap with a cloth. If the fluid is not visible from the top, you can top up with water as a temporary fix to let you safely drive to a workshop.

In automatic cars, the transmission fluid is essential in delivering power from the engine to the transmission components, as it lubricates, cools and protects the moving parts. If the fluid is not optimal, it becomes hard to shift gears when driving, and may affect acceleration and cause transmission to fail.

To check this fluid, leave your gear in park or neutral, and the engine running. Before removing the dipstick, wipe the area around it with a clean cloth to prevent dirt from entering the gearbox.

Remove the dipstick and wipe it with a clean, non-fluffy cloth. Replace it gently so as not to force fluid back up the dipstick tube, which would give a false reading. Immediately withdraw it and check the level.

Check the fluid on the dipstick for specks of dirt or metal — consult an expert if there are as it indicates wear and tear. Check also the colour of the fluid; if it has darkened or turned black, the fluid needs to be replaced.

The hydraulic power steering system uses pressurised fluid to make turning the wheels effortless. If the fluid level is low, steering will become increasingly difficult.

Clean the area around the cap before removing it so that dirt doesn’t get into the system. Use a dipstick to check the fluid level or gauge visually if the reservoir is see-through. Only top up with fluid specified for your vehicle. If you find yourself having to constantly top up, there may be a leak.

Most modern cars have hydraulic brakes — the fluid connect the pedals directly to the brakes. If there is any delay or if your brake pedal feels spongy, check the brake fluid.

Most cars have a brake fluid reservoir in the engine bay. The fluid level should fall between the maximum and minimum indicators. The fluid should be translucent, not cloudy or dark.

If the air conditioner doesn’t seem to be working, there may be a leak, leading to low refrigerant levels. The leak needs to be fixed. To top up this fluid, head to your air con workshop.

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