Moving your car and spotting an ominous new puddle where your vehicle was parked is definitely a worrisome experience. The key to getting a handle on your fluid situation is knowing what’s in front of you (and underneath your car). The fluid color is often the best indicator of what’s leaking and can lead you to correctly identifying and remedying the issue.
Light brown to black
Motor oil appears between a thin light brown liquid to a thick dark black one depending on its age. You’ll spot this kind of leak in various locations of your car.
If the fluid is light brown with a bad rotten egg smell, the culprit could be a lube oil leak, especially if it’s coming from the center or rear axle or the manual transmission. An oil leak probably wont stop your car dead in its tracks, however, it could be the sign of an ongoing problem, which means it should be checked out when you get a chance.
Light yellow to dark brown
Brake fluid starts out clear to light yellow and becomes darker as it ages — much like motor oil. The key to distinguishing the difference between the two is the slickness in texture of brake fluid over oil. If the fluid feels very slippery, it’s likely brake fluid and not oil. If you suspect that your car is leaking brake fluid, it may not be safe to drive and should be checked by a professional immediately.
Red (or reddish)
If your car leak is reddish in hue, it’s generally power steering fluid. Power steering fluid will leak from under the front part of your car and is thin in texture. A common root cause is an issue with the power steering pump. A local repair shop can determine if this is the case and replace it.
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If the leak is from the center of your vehicle, and the fluid looks thick orange to reddish brown, it could be transmission fluids. However, rust from your radiator mixing with an antifreeze leak can appear orange-ish as well. However, rust plus antifreeze will be thin and can leak from various locations of a vehicle (not just the center). Take your vehicle into a professional if you can’t determine which one is the culprit. If you can determine that the issue is the transmission, the vehicle may not be road safe and should be taken into a shop for further diagnostics.
Yellow, Green or Pink
The brightest colored leaks are typically the easiest fluids to spot. More times than not, the cause of such bright puddles is a simple coolant leak. With coolant leaks, your vehicle’s age comes into play. Older cars tend to blow off a bit of coolant when the engine gets too hot, so a few little spots are nothing to worry about. Newer cars, however, recycle this blowoff coolant and shouldn’t be dripping any excess liquids. So if you have a newer vehicle leaving neon puddles, it deserves a closer investigation.
If it looks like water, it probably is water. Air conditioning can build up excess condensation and result in puddles of water underneath your car. There’s no need to worry about this one, it’s just a normal occurrence in a properly working vehicle.