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Leak in your car? How to find the source.

Updated on June 29, 2012
Investigate any leaks
Investigate any leaks

You’re running late, you rush out the door, walk quickly past the front of your car and come to a sudden halt when you see dark spots on the ground. You’re sure the spots weren’t there last night. You have a leak. Where is the leak from? How long has the leak been there? Ignoring a leak even if you don’t notice any symptoms can lead to expensive and serious problems for your car and your safety.

Here are five steps to help your mechanic quickly diagnose the source of the problem. These steps could save you money as you’ll fast track the mechanic’s diagnosis of the source of they leak.

Find the source of a leak

With the exception of petrol and windscreen/windshield solution, any other liquids shouldn’t get used up and shouldn’t escape outside of the engine or its components.

1. Know the fluid used in your car:

  • · Coolant – usually green or blue and sticky
  • · Brake fluid - clear or yellowish liquid with a very slippery consistency
  • · Windscreen washer fluid – blue and watery
  • · Petrol – usually evaporates if it does leak out but has a distinctive smell
  • · Gear oil - honey or dark-coloured thick fluid with a chestnut smell
  • · Engine oil – honey coloured, dark to black and greasy
  • · Power steering fluid – slippery reddish fluid
  • · Automatic transmission fluid - slippery reddish fluid

2. Open the hood (bonnet in the UK) and visibly inspect the engine compartment for wet patches. You don’t need to know the name of the fluid or the part of the engine to see the source of the leak.

3. Inspect underneath the engine and the car with a torch, again you’re looking for wet patches or drips.

4.. If you don’t see evidence of a leak on the engine compartment of underneath of your car, place a large piece of cardboard on the ground and park your car so the engine sits over it, mark the position of the wheels on the cardboard.

5 . Leave the cardboard underneath the car overnight. Remove the cardboard the following morning and circle the drips with a marker pen.

Take the cardboard to your mechanic, this will help him diagnose the source of the leak and potentially save you money on the repair bill.


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    • Sherry Hewins profile image

      Sherry Hewins 5 years ago from Sierra Foothills, CA

      It looks like simple and practical advice, thanks.