What is leaking from my car?

12 minute read Published on Dec 27, 2023 by BrokerLink Communications

A closeup of an oil spill next to a car

There are a lot of things that can go wrong with a car, and one of them is that fluid starts leaking from it. Below, we explain the different fluids that could be leaking from your car and how to determine which it is. We also provide information on whether car insurance will cover you for leaks and what to do if you find a leak.

Types of car leakage

In order to understand what fluid is leaking from your car and what it means, you must have an idea of the different types of car leakage out there. Below we explain some of the most common forms of car leaks in Canada:

Oil leaks

Perhaps the most common type of leakage that your car may experience is an oil leak. The telltale sign that oil is leaking from your car is if you see a dark brown or yellow-coloured puddle underneath your car. Some of the most common causes of an oil leak include a hole in the oil pan, a deteriorating engine gasket, a worn out oil filter, a broken oil seal, a broken or missing filler cap, or a shoddy connection on the valve gasket. If you want to get a better idea of whether the fluid leaking from your car is in fact oil, you can crawl underneath it to check it out. However, if you don’t have much knowledge about cars, your best bet is to take it to a professional mechanic.

Please note that oil leaks can be expensive to fix, costing anywhere from $50 to over $200 on average . However, there are several ways to prevent them, such as by changing your oil regularly. You should take care to change your oil every 5000 KM.

One of our insurance advisors can also explain how long an oil change takes and the importance of preventative auto maintenance.

Brake fluid leaks

A brake fluid leak is another possibility if you notice fluid coming from your car. They can be a bit trickier to identify as brake fluid varies in colour from clean to light brown. However, generally speaking, brake fluid is thin and oily in texture, and if it’s leaking, the leak will likely be located near the wheels or on the passenger side of the car. A telltale sign of a brake fluid leak beyond the fluid leaking from your car is if you notice that the brake pedals feel weird when you press down, such as if you have to use more force than normal. In addition, if fluid comes out of your car when you press the brake pedal down, this is a sign of a major issue.

Since brake fluid is what allows your car to brake properly, driving with a brake fluid leak could impact your car’s ability to stop, making it a hazard to drive. Thus, it is worth emphasizing that brake fluid leaks must be taken extremely seriously as they can make driving very dangerous. If you suspect a brake fluid leak, stop driving immediately and call a tow truck to take your vehicle to the nearest auto body shop.

Lastly, some of the most common reasons that your car may be experiencing a brake fluid leak are loose bleeder valves, worn brake pads resulting in caliper seal failure, or one of the rubber hoses, brake calipers, wheel cylinders, or master cylinders are leaking.

Water leaks

Water leaks are another extremely common type of fluid leak in cars. Water leaks typically happen because of the exhaust system, the air conditioner in your car, or the windshield washer system. One easy way to tell if it is water leaking from your car as opposed to another type of fluid is to smell it. Water will be clear and odourless. If you see water dripping from your car, it’s likely coming from the air conditioner. Thankfully, this isn’t a serious issue so you should be able to continue driving. However, it is worth letting your mechanic know the next time you take it in.

Transmission fluid leaks

Another common type of car leak is a transmission fluid leak. A warning sign of a transmission fluid leak is if you notice a thick red or brown fluid coming from your car. If your car is parked, the fluid may be located underneath your vehicle in the middle. Your vehicle may be especially prone to transmission fluid leaks after a transmission fluid change, so be sure to check your car for this type of leak in the days and weeks following the change. General causes of transmission fluid leaks include a broken pan gasket, debris on the road, a problem with the torque converter, or the pan not being put back in place properly following a fluid change. Given that driving with a transmission fluid leak can permanently damage your car’s transmission, we recommend taking your vehicle to an auto body shop as soon as you notice the signs of this kind of leak. In addition, it’s worth noting that transmission fluid changes are a crucial part of auto maintenance, including winter car maintenance and car maintenance for road trips.

Power steering leaks

A power steering leak is another possibility if you notice fluid leaking from your car. This type of leak is usually located at the front of the car and will look like a thin, red or brown liquid. Causes of this type of leak usually have to do with the o-rings. Either the o-rings and seals are worn and have lost mass or the o-rings have broken up into chunks that then start circulating in the fluid. Since both of these causes relate to high mileage and wear and tear, power steering leaks are more common in older cars. Beyond visible fluid dripping from your car, you might be able to tell that you have a power steering leak on your hands if you are having trouble turning your wheel while driving or if your car makes a faint noise when turning the wheel.

Antifreeze leaks

Antifreeze leaks are one of the most obvious types of leaks to notice. Why? Due to the colour that this type of leak results in. If antifreeze is leaking from your vehicle, you will notice a green, pink, or yellow-hued substance beneath or around your car. It will be sticky in texture and could be caused by everything from a hole in your radiator or damage from debris on the road to your car’s radiator tubes being corroded, a blown head gasket, a worn hose, or a worn sealing gasket. As with the other types of leaks on this list, an antifreeze leak should be addressed as soon as possible, as this type of leak can cause major problems, like overheating or engine failure. If you don’t already know, antifreeze is what protects the engine in your car from overheating.

Questions to ask if you notice a leak coming from your car

If you notice a leak coming from your vehicle but you aren’t sure what is leaking, ask yourself the following questions:

Where is the leak located?

For example, is it underneath your car, near the wheels, on the passenger side, etc.?

What does the fluid look like?

Consider the colour, odour, and texture of the fluid.

Do you maintain your car regularly?

Think about when the last time was that you took your vehicle in for maintenance. If it was recently, then perhaps there was a problem when one of the fluid types was replaced. Alternatively, if you rarely take your car in for maintenance, the leak could be a sign of a more serious problem.

Have you noticed any other warning signs recently?

Ponder whether you have noticed any other signs or strange occurrences with your car, such as a new noise or trouble steering or braking.

If your answers to these questions indicate an issue, contact your nearest auto body shop or car dealership and schedule an appointment as soon as possible. If you are unable to answer the questions above, it is likely still worth scheduling an appointment with a mechanic to have your car checked out.

What to do if your car is leaking

Beyond taking your car to a mechanic as soon as possible, which is what you should do no matter what type of fluid you suspect to be leaking from your car, there are a few steps you can take on your own to clean up the leaking fluid. The way to go about it depends on what type of fluid is leaking from your vehicle, so you will first need to identify that, which you can do using the information above.

What to do if oil is leaking from your car

If oil is leaking from your car, take a photo of the leak and take notes on its smell, colour, and texture. Since oil can be dangerous, especially if ingested by animals or children, you will need to clean it up. It should also be cleaned up to prevent anyone from slipping on it. To clean up an oil leak, grab some baking soda from your kitchen cupboard and sprinkle it over the oil. The baking soda will absorb the oil and once it is dry, you can pour water on it and scrub it with a brush or sponge. For extra power, scrub it with a paste that is made up of baking soda and water (a 1:1 ratio). Finally, rinse the area with water and let it air dry.

What to do if transmission fluid is leaking from your car

If transmission fluid is leaking from your car, you can remove the stain using a common oven cleaner. Pour the oven cleaner on top of the stain and let it sit for ten or 15 minutes. After it has had a chance to set in, grab a nearby sponge or brush and scrub as hard as you can. Rinse the area with water, ideally using a high-pressure hose if possible.

What to do if antifreeze is leaking from your car

If it is antifreeze that you suspect to be responsible for your car leak, you will need to cover the fluid with an absorbent, like absorbent, or more common items such as sand or cat litter. Let the sand absorb the coolant and then wipe up the material with paper towels. We recommend wearing rubber gloves or other protective gear during this clean-up as antifreeze can harm your skin.

Why auto maintenance is so important

Auto maintenance is crucial if you want to prevent issues with your car, such as leakage. Regular maintenance can minimize the odds of any type of fluid leaking from your car, as well as other problems from occurring. Continue reading to learn more about what makes preventative car maintenance so important.

Safer driving

There’s nothing more important than having a safe, reliable vehicle. Regular car maintenance will ensure your car remains safe to drive. By taking your car into the auto body shop periodically, it can help you avoid breakdowns and other problems, such as braking malfunctions. If you fail to take your car into the shop regularly, you may not notice a warning sign, like your vehicle leaking. Depending on the type of leak that’s happening, this could be a major hazard, especially if something like the oil or brake fluid was leaking. But if you take your car in for regular maintenance, you can catch issues early and avoid them altogether.

Better performance

Who doesn’t want a car that performs as well as it possibly can? That’s what you get with preventative auto maintenance. When you take your car in to be serviced every year, you can expect increased steering stability, tire traction, and even a smoother engine.

A longer-lasting car

Wondering how long cars last in Canada? The answer depends on the type of car you drive and how you treat your car. For instance, regular maintenance can increase the lifespan of your car, since maintenance ensures everything is in working order and catches small issues before they turn into big ones.

Money savings

Did you know that taking your car in for maintenance can actually save you money? It’s true. Although the upfront costs might be greater because you’re paying to have your vehicle serviced, the long-term cost savings are worth it. As you now know, regular maintenance will allow you to catch small issues early. If you failed to take your car in, these small issues would likely turn into big ones, and by the time you have it checked out, the repairs would be far more expensive.

Time savings

More than money, having your car services regularly can also save you time. If you don’t take your car to be inspected regularly, you run the risk of a small problem turning into a big one. Not only are big problems more expensive to fix, but they often take longer to fix as well. This could mean the difference between your car being in the shop for a day or two and your car being in the shop for weeks on end. To make matters worse, unless you have a type of auto insurance known as loss of use coverage, you won’t be covered for the cost of taking alternate transportation while your car is being repaired. Thus, you will likely lose a lot of time and money if your car requires extensive repairs. If you pay someone else to do your vehicle maintenance you can spend more time doing the things you love while you let a professional handle your vehicle.

More value

Cars in good condition retain their value more than vehicles in poor condition. Thus, another reason that auto maintenance is so important is that it will help your vehicle retain its vehicle. When it comes time to sell your car and buy a new one, the more your car is worth, the better. If you save the receipts from the work you have completed you can justify an elevated asking price as you have proof that you have maintained your vehicle.

Increased fuel efficiency

If you want your car to run as efficiently as possible, preventative auto maintenance is a must. Car maintenance can make your vehicle more fuel efficient by ensuring everything is functioning as it should. If you don’t schedule a professional inspection every now and then, you run the risk of the wear and tear on your car causing it to burn through gas or oil more quickly, costing you more money.

Where to book a maintenance appointment for your car

There are two main places where you can book a maintenance appointment for your car, and they are the same two places where you can also take your car if you notice fluid leaking from it. These are a car dealership and an auto body shop. There are pros and cons to each option. If you choose to take your car into a car dealership, the mechanics at the dealership will likely have specialized knowledge of the model of car you drive, which could translate to better service. In addition, the car dealership you purchased your car from likely has a record of your vehicle, including its history and part recalls, both of which can help when a professional is inspecting or repairing your car. On the other hand, car dealership maintenance tends to be more expensive than auto body shop maintenance. In contrast, auto body shop maintenance appointments are usually cheaper. However, the mechanics who work at your local auto body shop may not be aware of your car’s history or have experience with a car of your make and model before. To make the best possible choice, call around to auto body shops in your area and ask them if they have experience inspecting or repairing your model of car.

Car maintenance includes insuring your vehicle

One last note on the importance of vehicle maintenance - car insurance is a key part of keeping your vehicle safe. The right auto insurance coverage offers financial protection should something go wrong, such as fluid leaking from your vehicle following a collision.

It is worth reminding drivers in Canada that auto insurance is a mandatory requirement, meaning you cannot get behind the wheel without valid coverage. Valid coverage looks different in every province. For example in Ontario, it includes the following four coverage types:

Contact BrokerLink for more information on car leaks

If you are having trouble identifying what is leaking from your car or want help understanding whether your insurance company will cover a car repair, contact BrokerLink. We are auto insurance experts who can explain the different types of car insurance and how to get an affordable policy. We can also explain what may impact your insurance rates, like getting into an at-fault accident. For more on used cars that have been in an accident, contact BrokerLink. Modifying your vehicle can also affect insurance. Contact BrokerLink today to get started and request a free car insurance quote.

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