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Check Fluid Levels

Difficulty: Easy
Duration: 5-10 minutes
How often: See each case below

To keep your vehicle running smoothly, it’s important to check fluid levels regularly. It only takes a few minutes to check each one. Follow the steps below, but if you have any questions, please contact your nearest NAPA AutoCare Center.

Checking Coolant

Coolant should be changed every 30,000 miles or every two years as a general rule. Check your owner’s manual to see what is recommended for your vehicle.

Step 1
Locate the coolant reservoir under the hood of the car. See your owner’s manual for the exact location. Some cars only have an exposed cap.

Step 2
Check the fluid level. On the side of the reservoir, there are markings that show fluid levels. If the level of the liquid is low, add more of the proper coolant mix.

Checking Battery Level:

Most batteries have a three-to-five-year life span, but they can last longer with maintenance, including checking their fluid level.

Step 1
Look for the battery’s condition indicator, a visible window on the top of the battery that changes color.
Green/blue: Good
Red: Add distilled water
White: Needs charge

Check your owner’s manual or label on the battery for further information. The condition indicator should not be the only test done to determine if the battery is serviceable.

Step 2
If the battery needs more fluid, pour in a little at a time until the level reaches the top of the battery grids. Do not overfill. Always use distilled water, not tap or filtered water, to avoid contamination.

Important Tips
• Certain batteries (maintenance-free) are sealed, and it is not possible to add fluid to them.
• Not all batteries are in the same place. Some batteries are located under the rear seat, in the trunk or in the front inner fender.
• Any time a battery is serviced, safety gloves, eye protection and fender protection should be used to prevent injury and paint from being damaged.

Checking Oil

Under normal driving conditions, you should change your oil every 3,000 to 5,000 miles. Consult your owner’s manual for your vehicle’s specific needs.

Step 1
Park your car on level ground, turn the engine off and remove the keys.

Step 2
Open the hood of your car and secure it with the prop rod. Locate the dipstick; it’s usually labeled “Oil.”

Step 3
Remove the dipstick and wipe it clean. Return the dipstick to the tube, then remove it again and check the level of motor oil on the stick. If the level is below the minimum indicator, you need to add oil to your car.

Step 4
Check the color of the oil on the dipstick. Motor oil is usually a light clear fluid but will darken under normal conditions. If the oil is black, it should be changed along with the oil filter. If the oil is light brown and milky, this could indicate a coolant leak into the crank case.

Step 5
Feel the oil on the dipstick. If the oil feels gritty, change the oil.

Step 6
Smell the dipstick. If the oil has an odor of gas, it could indicate that the engine, fuel system or ignition system needs to be serviced.

Checking Brake Fluid

Check your owner’s manual to determine how often you should check your brake fluid. Once a year is usually sufficient.

Step 1
Find your brake fluid reservoir. They are normally located on top of the engine and are labeled.

Step 2
Clean the area around the cap with an approved aerosol cleaner before removing the cap. Any particles of dirt that fall in the fluid may result in a costly service.

Step 3
Open the cap and check the fluid level on the dipstick that is attached to the underside of the cap. If the fluid level is low, have the car serviced at a NAPA AutoCare Center soon because it could mean a larger problem. Never used old steering or brake fluids. Once opened and exposed to air and moisture, these fluids cannot perform the required functions and can harm the system.

Note: In some older vehicles, you need to check the master cylinder to check the fluid level. The master cylinder is a small metal box with a removable lid.

Checking Transmission Fluid:

Step 1
Follow these steps to check the level of your automatic transmission fluid. Pull out the transmission fluid dipstick located at the back of the engine near the firewall. Wipe it off, replace it and pull it out again. Check the level against the markings at the bottom of the dipstick. A low level should be addressed immediately with a transmission specialist.

Step 2
Check the color of the fluid; it should be clear pink. Any darkness warrants a fluid and filter change. Manual transmissions’ oil levels should be checked by a NAPA AutoCare Center when the engine oil is changed. Some vehicles no longer have a transmission dipstick and need to be checked by an automotive professional. Check your owner’s manual for details.

Caution: Always be sure you are using the correct transmission fluid. Using the wrong fluid can severely damage the unit.

Important Tips:
• Your car should be running when you check the transmission fluid level. Set the emergency brake and put the car in park when checking under the hood.
• Never open the radiator cap on a hot engine. Allow it to cool for 15 to 20 minutes before opening.
• Only dispose of used motor oil and filters at authorized locations.
• If you prefer, bring your car to your local NAPA AutoCare Center and they can change your oil for you.

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