Get vehicle leaks checked quickly
Leaks can quickly turn expensive if not repaired immediately. Gaskets are cheap and can usually be replaced for under $5. Some leaks may come from a loose part or filter that only needs to be tightened. Taking the time for proper repairs and maintenance will add years to the life of your vehicle and will help protect our streams for future generations.
Get a free leak inspection, learn how to prevent, check for and identify leaks, and find local mechanics on the Fix Car Leaks website.
What’s so bad about a little leak?
Did you know that more than 60% of water pollution comes from things like leaking fluid from cars, fertilizers and pesticides, and pet waste? Most auto fluids don’t dissolve in water. They last a long time and stick to everything from sand to bird feathers. Oil and other petroleum products are toxic to people, wildlife, and plants. One pint of oil can make a slick larger than a football field. Rain washes the fluids that leak from our cars onto driveways, roads, and into storm drains.
A few facts to consider
- Oil, antifreeze, and brake fluids contain heavy metals that can harm aquatic wildlife. The oil from just one oil change can pollute up to a million gallons of water.
- Used motor oil is the largest single source of oil pollution in our lakes, streams, and rivers. Americans spill 180 million gallons of used oil each year into our waters. This is 16 times the amount the Exxon Valdez spilled in Alaska (the oil spill that killed over half a million birds and other wildlife in 1989).
Tips for finding the source of vehicle leaks
Vehicle leaks can be elusive as there are a number of fluids in your vehicle and they can come from a variety of areas. Matching the color, odor, consistency, and location of the leak will give you a very good indication of its source. Here are some tips from the experts to help you in your search:
- Get a piece of white cardboard or use a white paper towel over cardboard and place it under your vehicle where you see the fluid stains or suspect a leak (a 2' x 4' section works best).
- Let the cardboard sit for several hours or overnight.
- Check the fluid color, consistency, and location with the indicator chart.
- Search online with the make, model, and year of your car along with the leak information to narrow the possibilities and help determine the issue.
- Take your vehicle to a mechanic and provide the information you have. For example: "I think I have a transmission leak based on the color, location, and consistency of the fluid I found under my car."
Identifying vehicle fluids by color, consistency, and location
Brown to black with thick consistency = Oil
Check to find exactly where the oil is coming from (could be engine, sump, filter, driveshafts or gearbox) and try to trace all leaks to their source (often oil will pool in one area but will originate from above). Clear away any dirt and grime to determine the actual leak. Most leaks come from failed plugs, seals, or gaskets.
Neon green, orange, blue, or red = Antifreeze
Usually neon blue-green in color and will be found leaking from the front of your vehicle (water pump, radiator, or thermostat housing). It often has a sweet smell.
Light clear brown or thick black = Brake fluid
Will often be found leaking from around the wheels.
Thick reddish or clear = Power steering fluid
Will most likely be found leaking from the pipe connections on the steering rack.
Reddish pink = Transmission fluid
Often has a burnt smell. Be aware that mechanics sometimes use transmission fluid interchangeably with power steering fluid.
Amber color with strong fuel smell = Fuel leak
Strong, distinctive odor will tell you if you are leaking fuel. This is very dangerous...you must take care of it right away!
Christi Cox (she/her)Surface Water Program Coordinator
24/7 Spill HotlinePhone: 425-806-6750
Please call us right away if you see a spill. We need to try to contain it before it reaches any storm drains or local streams.