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Kate on Cars June 2013 - What To Do When Your Car Leaks Fluid, Part 2

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Kate on Cars June 2013
What To Do When Your Car  Leaks Fluid, Part 2

by Kate Jonasse

Last month, we wrote about what types of fluids can leak in your car and how to tell which fluid is leaking and whether or not it’s normal. This month I’ll elaborate and share more information with you on the subject.

Leaks can turn into expensive repairs in a short period of time. A simple valve cover gasket leak can slowly drip oil all over the entire engine, getting all over the sensors, wiring, mounts, bushings, and anything else in its way, potentially causing them to have to be replaced. And it doesn’t stop there – the oil gets blown back onto the transmission, the drive-line, and the entire undercarriage including braking system. Not a pretty sight, and definitely a safety issue. Potentially an expensive one. But the good new is if an oil leak is addressed properly and promptly, there is little chance of it getting this bad.

But it doesn’t take long for oil to do this – sometimes as little time as a few days or weeks can cause permanent damage to a component and shorten it’s life, kind of like smoking cigarettes or eating junk food can shorten ours. Our bodies can often rejuvenate themselves if we start feeding them the good stuff again, but cars aren’t so lucky. We occasionally meet new customers who have been told “it’s just an oil leak,” and by the time the car has come to us, it is necessary to perform engine mount or control arm “surgery” to save the life of the vehicle. This inconvenience and expense could have been prevented!

When you bring your car to a repair shop and a trained technician inspects your vehicle for fluid leaks, they use a special procedure and special tools. The first step he or she will perform is to open the hood to check the fluid levels and check visually for leaks and other things amiss in the engine compartment. The tech will typically use a high quality flashlight and a telescoping mirror to do so. Then the tech will put the vehicle on a lift and continue the inspection underneath the vehicle.

A skilled technician with a keen eye can spot a minor leak before it turns major, and potentially save you hundreds if not thousands of dollars by doing this. The leak might cost a few hundred bucks to fix now, but in a couple months that few hundred could turn into a few thousand in subsequent damage. Oil changes are a convenient time for a trained technician to take an extra few minutes to do this preventative inspection, so make sure your shop does this. I realize there’s a great temptation to get that immediate-gratification quick-lube oil change, but it’s really worth the few extra minutes it takes to have your vehicle properly inspected and cared for - under conditions where the techs aren’t under pressure to get your car in and out in 10 minutes.

If the leaks have not been repaired promptly, and fluid ends up getting all over the place, then special procedures may be necessary to pinpoint the exact source of the leak. This procedure includes steam cleaning the engine and undercarriage (at a facility designed to catch and purify the run-off in an environmentally safe way) and adding an ultra-violet sensitive dye to the system suspected of leaking. If it is engine oil that is leaking, then dye will be added to the engine at the valve cover in the same place where you top off the oil. Then the vehicle needs to be driven to spread the dye out and give the leak time to show. Special yellow glasses and a UV dye light are used to see and locate the dye at the exact source of the leak.

If the leaking fluid is coolant, in addition to the steps above, a cooling system pressure test is performed to pressurize the system to make the leak visible.

If you think you have a fluid leak, please don’t wait – call your certified repair shop to schedule an appointment immediately. It’s cheaper to fix problems promptly rather than waiting and having your vehicle potentially unsafe to drive, as well as leaking fluids that could damage your garage and harm the environment.

Make your summer driving safe and enjoyable for you and your family.