We’ve all been there. We back out of the driveway and when we look back to where our car was parked we see it: a spot. What is it? Is it oil or something else? Is the spot new, or has it been building up for a while? Fortunately, you don’t need to sit and watch your car to determine where the leak is coming from. The spot on your driveway is usually caused by one of six fluids and they can be identified fairly easily.
Clear to Brown and Slick
New brake fluid will be mostly clear, a lot like mineral oil. Over time, though, it can turn brown. The key characteristic to determining if the leak is brake fluid would be its slickness. Brake fluid would even be more slippery than engine oil. This is a critical fluid, and if you find any of it under your car it is a sign of a serious issue. You should have it looked at right away.
Green, Pink, or Yellow and Slimy
Coolant is probably the easiest fluid to identify. If the spot is brightly colored, it’s coolant. Usually it will be green, but sometimes it will be slightly yellow or a bright orange or pink. Some older cars will blow off some coolant naturally when the engine is hot. So, if your car is older, finding coolant under it could simply be a reminder to add more. However, newer cars recycle the blow-off coolant. So, if you have a new vehicle and see a brightly colored stain it indicates trouble. Failing to check your coolant levels and repairing leaks can leave you stranded, overheating on the side of the road. Have your vehicle looked at right away to avoid such a problem.
Light Brown to Black
This is probably the most common fluid to leak from your car. The amber-to-brown to black color of motor oil is pretty easy to notice. A drip or two is probably not a serious problem. Engine oil runs through many seals and gaskets where a drop may escape now and then. However, it would be a good idea to determine the origin and repair it before the small leak becomes a larger and costlier problem. If you notice a larger spot, then have your car looked at right away as this could be a sign of a serious issue.
Power Steering Fluid
Reddish or Light Brown and Thin
Distinguishing power steering fluid from transmission fluid may seem a bit more difficult, as they are similar in color and texture as they leak. To help you distinguish where the leak is actually coming from, look at where the spots are located. If they are around your cars center, then the transmission is most likely the problem. If the spot is closer to the front of the vehicle, then the problem is most likely with your power steering.
Reddish and Thin or Brown and Thick
Sometimes, usually in older vehicles, the transmission fluid can look similar to engine oil, but it is thicker and will be found near the center of the car. In newer vehicles the transmissions have a reddish fluid that is thinner than oil. If you notice a transmission leak, it is probably coming from a failing seal or gasket. You should have your vehicle looked at as soon as possible.
Clear and Thin and it Looks Like Water
If you have ever noticed clear, water-like fluid pooled up under the front passenger side after you leave a grocery store, what you are seeing is actually water. It is condensation that built up on your air conditioning hardware while you were using it. It is harmless and nothing to worry about.