Campus Auto Blog

Matt Says: Check These 5 Fluids Regularly

Posted by Matt McMurray on Jul 7, 2015 4:12:00 PM

Campus_Auto_GarageKnow what the difference between maintenance and repairs is? Often, it can be several hundred dollars.

One of the most important and easiest things you can do to maintain your car is check your fluids regularly. Here are 5 fluids you should be checking regularly to keep your car running smoothly. Anyone can do this as long as you can pop your hood and follow our simple instructions.

Engine Oil

I don’t know about you, but one of the first things my dad taught me about cars was how to check the oil. It needs to be done on every car, and they all have pretty much the same basic process to check it. 

  • Pop the hood
  • Find the oil dipstick (your car manual should have a diagram or photo showing you where it is)
  • Pull out the dipstick
  • Wipe it down
  • Put the dipstick back in
  • Pull the dipstick back out and you’ll have your oil level

If the level is in the safe zone, you’re in good shape. If it’s not, you’ll need to add more oil. If you find that you need to add oil quite often, it’s worth getting in touch with to find out why.

Many people check their oil every time they fill up the gas tank, but as long as you’re checking it once a month, you’re safe.

One question that there’s been a good bit of discussion about lately is how often you should be changing your oil. Some people say every 3,000 miles while others say that modern cars can go 5,000 between changes. So who’s right? Well, both camps. Here’s what Matt Says about oil changes.

Transmission Fluid

Transmission fluid is what keeps the gears operating smoothly. One important thing to note about your transmission fluid is that it is part of a closed system on your car so the level should always be consistent. If it’s not, you’ll definitely need to come see us.

Checking your transmission fluid is a lot like checking your oil with two primary differences:

  • Your car should be running
  • Rather than looking at the level, you need to look at the color

Transmission fluid that’s in good shape should be red and not have a burnt smell. If the fluid is brown or smells burnt, you’ll need to have it replaced. Because this one is so vital to the operation of your car, you should be checking it every month.  The schedule for a transmission fluid change will vary depending on your car and transmission type, but it will typically be every 50,000 – 100,000 miles.

It can take a while to put that many miles on a car, which only underscores the importance of keeping an eye on the fluid. If you notice that it’s going bad sooner than it should, that may indicate a problem, and a transmission fluid change is way more affordable than a new transmission.


If you’ve ever seen someone on the side of the road with steam pouring out from under the hood, you’ve seen one possible effect of having low coolant in your radiator. As big of a hassle as that can be for people – often it can involve having to the car towed to the shop just to be refilled with coolant – it’s just as simple to avoid.

Coolant is probably the easiest fluid to check. All you have to do is remove the radiator cap when the engine is cool (never when it’s hot or still running) and look inside the radiator. Most cars have a line at which the coolant should reach. If it’s low, pour in more of the same type of coolant that’s already in there.

Coolant is so easy to check and refill that there’s no reason not to do so every time you pop the hood. Pop off the cap and take a peek, that’s it. But if nothing else, you should absolutely check it before summer and before winter.  A coolant flush will do your engine a lot of good every 30,000 miles.

Brake Fluid

Remember when we said that your transmission fluid is part of a closed system and should remain at a consistent level? Your brake fluid is the same. But even closed systems spring a leak every now and then, so it’s a good idea to keep an eye on the fluid.

If your brakes start to feel different or “soft” when you push the pedal, the first step is to check the fluid. Here’s how you do it:

  • You really don’t even need to open anything
  • Look at the outside of the brake fluid reservoir (your manual should help you find it)
  • Reservoirs are typically located on the drivers side of the car
  • If the fluid appears to be gold in color, it’s in good shape
  • If the fluid looks brown, it’s time to change it. 

Just like your coolant, there’s no reason not to take a glance at the brake fluid every time you pop the hood. With nothing to actually unscrew or open, it’s a simple thing to do. Schedule a brake fluid flush every 15,000 miles will keep your brakes in great condition and ready for any quick stops you need to make, as long as you are, too.

Power Steering Fluid

Have you ever heard someone’s car – or maybe even your own – make some really strange sounds in the morning when the steering wheel is turned? Some people call that morning sickness. We call it a problem, and it’s directly related to steering fluid.

Steering fluid is there to make sure your steering stays smooth at all times. If it gets low, that’s when you’ll hear the creaking or whining sounds. Power steering fluid is just as simple to check as brake fluid – all you have to do is find the reservoir and give it a glance.

The level should always stay consistent so if you notice that it’s dropping, you’ve most likely got a leak and should come see us. 

Most recommendations are to check your power steering fluid at least monthly, and Matt suggests flushing it every 30,000 miles. 

So that’s it for the 5 fluids you should check regularly. These are often areas of a car that people tend to neglect, but can also lead to the most costly repairs. Should you find yourself in need of those repairs, we definitely have the expertise to take care of you. But wouldn’t you rather avoid the expense all together?

You might notice that some of Matt’s recommendations are at different intervals than what most “experts” have to say. Why is that, you might ask? Well aside from the fact that he’s got personal experience with his own cars and thousands of customers over the years, it’s important to realize that those expert recommendations are usually industry averages meant for the masses.

But we don’t treat customers like the masses. We treat you – and your car – like an individual.

Curious about other tips that can do yourself to keep your car running smoothly, and maintain its value over the long term? Sign up today to receive emails and our upcoming guide full of quarterly at home maintenance tips.


Send Me The Quarterly Maintenance Guide

Topics: Matt Says

Winter - Such As It Was - Is Over!

Get your vehicle ready for spring.

Spring in the New River Valley means hiking, brewery and winery tours, camping, golf, road trips, and more. Each of those activities has one thing in common - you need your car to be in good shape to get you there. Even as uneventful as this winter was, don't underestimate the long term effects of colder temperatures and occasional slush on your car. Let us help you get your car ready for the road.

Roadtrip Checklist:

Subscribe to Email Updates

Recent Posts