How To Add Fluids To Your Vehicle

It's always a good idea to check your fluid levels before embarking on a summer adventure. However, you must follow certain guidelines before adding any fluids where levels are low, or you may do more harm than good.

The first thing you need to do is buy a funnel. Even if you have the steadiest hand in the West, a moderate wind will blow fluids all over the engine area of your vehicle as you attempt to pour them into narrow fluid fill tubes.

Checking and adding engine oil

You must check your oil with your vehicle on level ground to get an accurate reading. Wait at least ten minutes after driving because the oil will heat and expand when driving, and the oil level will appear higher.

The oil dipstick is near the front of the vehicle. Pull it out and wipe it clean, then reinsert it and remove it to check the level. Oil should cover the dipstick up to a point between the lower "add" line and the upper "full" line.

If the level is at or below the "add" line. add one quart of the type of oil that is recommended by the manufacturer of your vehicle, not a cheaper, substandard oil. You will add the oil by removing the metal cap atop the engine.

Do yourself a favor and use the funnel. Spilled oil smells terrible, and you will smell it for many miles before the smell dissipates. Don't forget to replace the cap and tighten it securely. Check the level again to ensure that the level is between the two lines.


Hot and humid weather can put a strain on the vehicle's cooling system. This is especially true when the air conditioning is used continuously on long trips. Coolant will heat and expand to the point where it flows out of the overflow tank that is designed for this purpose.

The overflow tank is a transparent plastic container that is connected to the radiator to compensate for the expansion and reduction of the coolant level as it heats and cools.

Coolant level is determined by examining the side of the overflow tank. The optimal level should be a midway point between the "low" and 'full" lines on the tank. This allows for expansion of the coolant without an overflow and spill. Overfilling should be avoided for environmental and safety concerns. Spilled coolant is poisonous to pets and small children, and its initial sweet smell and taste are tempting for them.

When adding coolant, you must use the grade of coolant that is suggested by the manufacturer of your vehicle. Cheaper coolants may not meet the vehicle's needs and result in overheating and a breakdown on the road.

Windshield washer fluid

While not an essential fluid for operating a vehicle, washer fluid is a blessing when traveling near the ocean and encountering swarms of insects. You will find the fill tube for washer fluid at the far left corner on most vehicles. It will have a large cap with a picture of windshield wipers stamped on top. 

Add washer fluid slowly until it reaches the top of the fill tube.

Brake fluid

Your brake fluid is stored in a clear plastic container near the back of the engine compartment. There are "add" and "fill" lines on the side of the container. You must be very careful when adding brake fluid because overfilling can cause seals to fail, and contamination of the fluid can result in brake failure.

If your fluid level is slightly low, you must add the brake fluid recommended by the manufacturer of your vehicle only to the fill line. Be careful not to allow dirt from the container cap to fall into the fluid container when the cap is removed.

If the level is substantially low, don't just fill it and forget it. You must take your vehicle to an automotive service center to have your brakes checked. Don't gamble with your life or the lives of your family.