Identifying brown fluid leaks from the front of your car or truck
Ever back out of your parking spot and notice a strange puddle on the ground? I get asked a lot about this. Sometimes it may actually be from the car that was there before you and it makes you worry. My advice, when you get home, put newspaper on the ground under the engine and wait a few hours to see if it was really your car or not. Upon inspection, notice the color of the fluids and the relative location. Relaying this information to your mechanic is extremely helpful. I've even asked customers to bring in the paper so I can see it for myself. Knowing the what and where makes it easier to diagnose.
Common fluid color leaks are as follows:
Green or Orange is related to antifreeze
Pink or Red is related to the transmission or power steering
Brown or Black is usually engine oil
I do want to make it clear that this is very generalized! Some vehicles in different stages of wear or age can have fluids of different colors than what I just stated. For instance, some of the new Ford vehicles have gold antifreeze. Some vehicles have a light brown power steering fluid. But in general, the above statement will be true on a lot of vehicles.
As for location of the fluid drops, this gives the technician an idea of what part of the motor this may be coming from. On a front wheel drive vehicle, the engine is installed sideways and most of the belt driven components are on one side, usually the passenger side. A green leak on the right side of the car may be from the water pump. If the same leak is at the front of the car, probably the radiator is bad. Oil leaks from the motor that are visible on the ground usually come from the oil pan gasket or the sending unit. Oil leaks higher up on the engine tend to pool and get burned off while driving.
One puddle that may catch you by surprise on a very hot, humid day actually is supposed to be there. Usually this puddle is clear-ish and is right in front of the passenger seat area. This is due to the a/c system working as designed. To help keep the cabin cool and comfortable, the evaporator core in the dash pulls the moisture from the air and releases it out of a tube onto the ground. This is a normal function on all cars.
The cause of a leak is most commonly related to a gasket failure. A gasket acts like a seal between two surfaces to keep the proper fluids in and everything else out. Over time, the material, which is either rubber or cork in most cases, deteriorates and allows fluid to pass through. It's not great when fluid leaks out, but it's even worse when the fluid leaks in. Coolant leaking into oil passages can cause serious engine damage if not handled properly.
Most importantly, if you notice a fluid leak, check your fluid levels with the engine cold and off! Top off the fluid as needed to get your vehicle to the repair facility. The only fluid you should check with the car running is the transmission fluid. The worst thing about a fluid leak is that the fluid is there for a reason and if it's not there, it will cause damage.
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