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Checking Fluids



Burning Smell After Oil Change

Q:  A smell is entering the cabin of our truck when we are sitting at a stop light, stop sign, in our driveway, or when fresh air is entering (as opposed to having the re-circulate button pushed in).  The smell wasn't noticed until after an oil change and the dealer said there were no leaks anywhere and the oil level is fine.  Would you have an explanation for this?

A: One possible explanation may be that during the oil change, oil was spilled on the exhaust manifold or engine block. Now the oil is burning off when the engine gets hot and is releasing that smell. Inspect the area around the oil fill cap for any oil that may have spilled when the technician added oil to the engine. Another possibility is that when the technician replaced the oil filter the old oil filter gasket stuck to the engine block. Then when the new filter was installed, the two stacked gaskets cause the oil the leak. The oil could be leaking on the exhaust and burning off. Look around the oil filter for signs of leakage. Also check to make sure the oil plug is tight.

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Antifreeze or Engine Coolant

Q: What is the difference between antifreeze and engine coolant?

A: Antifreeze and engine coolant are commonly used interchangeably. Antifreeze is the actual product that is added to water to make engine coolant. Generally a 50% water to 50% antifreeze is the most common mixture for freeze and boil over protection used in engines. 

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Antifreeze Color

Q: Why is the antifreeze in my car orange? I thought antifreeze was supposed to be green.

A: Antifreeze comes in various colors depending on the manufacturer. However, there are basically two types: extended life antifreeze and standard (traditional) antifreeze. Both standard antifreeze (usually green) and extended life antifreeze (commonly orange or red) are ethylene glycol based, their differences exist in the rust inhibitors and additives. Since car manufacturers use different types and colors, always check your owner’s manual for the specific type of antifreeze in your vehicle before adding. When adding antifreeze, make a solution of 50% distilled water to 50% antifreeze. And remember, ethylene glycol based antifreeze is toxic to humans and animals – dispose of it properly.

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Antifreeze Mix-Up

Q: I accidentally poured a gallon of windshield washer fluid in the radiator overflow reservoir. What should I do?

A: If you have already run the engine, the two fluids have mixed. You should have the coolant flushed and refilled. Be sure to go to a shop that will actually "flush" the system, not just drain it. They should put a mixture of 50% antifreeze to 50% water back into the system. Also, check to make sure the shop uses an environmentally friendly way to recycle the old antifreeze. Depending on the coolant capacity of the system, the flush and refill process will cost around $75-$100.

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Antifreeze Testing

Q: How often should I test my car’s antifreeze?

A: Test the antifreeze in the fall and in the spring. Antifreeze protects against the coolant freezing when cold and boiling over when hot. Most car manufacturers require a mixture of 50% distilled water to 50% antifreeze. Use an antifreeze hydrometer to test the freeze and boil levels. Antifreeze mixed at 50/50 will have a freeze protection to –34 degrees Fahrenheit and a boil protection up to 265 degrees Fahrenheit. When testing the antifreeze, do not open a hot radiator cap. Severe burns could result. If you have to add antifreeze check in your owner’s manual to make sure you are adding the correct type.

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Brake Fluid Mix-Up

Q: I accidentally poured a small amount of windshield wiper fluid in my brake fluid container. What do I have to do to fix it? What is going to happen? My car is only a year old.

A: Your braking system will need to be flushed (all of the brake fluid completely removed) and refilled. If left in the braking system, the wrong fluid could end up ruining the brake calipers, brake master cylinder, rubber brake hoses, and other brake components – leading to brake failure. To be on the safe side, I would have the vehicle towed to your dealer, tell them what you did, and get their recommendation so you don’t void any warranty items.

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Engine Oil Checking

Q: How often should I check my car’s engine oil?

A: Oil is crucial to your car engine’s longevity. Get into the habit of checking the oil every time you fill up with fuel. Checking the oil often will help you identify oil leaks early. This simple task could save you thousands of dollars in repairs.

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Oil Recycling

Q: Why is it important to recycle used motor oil and where do I take it?

A: According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), improperly dumping oil from one oil change can contaminate one million gallons of groundwater. Many service centers that perform oil changes are required to accept used motor oil from do-it-yourselfers. Call local garages or your county’s environmental services department for collection locations. To find out more about the importance of motor oil recycling, go online to www.epa.gov or www.earth911.org.

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Transmission Fluid Servicing

Q: How often do I need to change the fluid in my automatic transmission?

A: Many technicians recommend 30,000 to 50,000 miles between transmission fluid changes, but it depends on the vehicle and driving conditions. Always consult your owner’s manual for service intervals. Tranny fluid is commonly changed using two methods. In the first method the transmission pan is removed to access the filter. This method removes only about 1/3 of all the fluid in the tranny. Another method, called flushing, removes all of the fluid. However, depending on the flushing method and the service facility, the filter may not get changed. I recommend getting the tranny flushed and the filter replaced. This will allow the technician to inspect inside the transmission for any metal shavings or debris that could predict a future transmission failure. This procedure may cost you $100 to $150, but is cheap insurance considering a tranny rebuild can cost $1500 to $2500.

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When to Add Oil

Q: When I checked the oil on my car it was about halfway between the ADD and FULL mark. Should I add the half quart of oil now or should I wait until it reaches the ADD mark?

A: It makes sense to keep the oil at the full mark. Many engines today only hold four quarts. If you allow the engine to get to the ADD mark and your engine only holds four quarts of oil, you are running the engine 25% low on oil. Keeping the oil at the full mark helps in lubrication, dispensing the contaminants through a larger volume of oil, and disperses the heat more efficiently. Just be sure not to overfill the crankcase. Too much oil in the crankcase can cause foam to form if the crankshaft whips the oil, lessening lubricating qualities.

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Windshield Washer Fluid

Q: Can I use water instead of windshield washer fluid?

A: It is not recommended to use only water. Remember, water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit. If you live in an area that the temperature gets below freezing, you will risk cracking your car’s windshield washer reservoir and pump. Windshield washer fluid, commonly blue in color, is formulated to protect against freezing and has chemicals to clean road grime from the windshield. Windshield washer fluid is inexpensive, usually $1.00 to $1.50 a gallon.

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Windshield Washer Spray Weak

Q: What is causing only a weak stream of fluid to come from the windshield washer spray nozzles?

A: The first thing to inspect is the spray nozzle itself. Carefully use a safety pin to clear the nozzle end. If that doesn’t work, inspect the hoses that go from the windshield washer fluid reservoir to the spray nozzles. Look for kinks or holes that may reduce flow. If you don't have any luck with that, you should disconnect the supply hose from the reservoir and blow compressed air through it. This should clear the hoses and nozzles of any dirt, debris, or scaling. Be sure not to be in the pathway of the spray nozzles. Wear eye protection to protect yourself from particles that may be dislodged due by the compressed air. If the hoses and nozzles seem clear, then you may need a new washer pump.

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