There are various different fluids that can leak from your car, which often leave a stain on the ground, or leave you forever topping-up a specific fluid. Find out how to identify possible leaks, and whether or not the leak could make driving your car dangerous.
How can I tell what fluid is leaking from my car?
First of all it is vital that you make sure the fluid leak is coming from your car and not the vehicle that was parked in the same spot just before you. To do this grab a torch, crouch down, and have a look under your car. Look for a glistening or and drips that might indicate a leak.
If the fluid is coming from your car, the easiest way to figure out what is leaking from your car is by sight and smell. You may be able to clearly see the colour of the fluid or you may find it easier to slide a piece of white cardboard under your car and let the fluid drip onto it. This will reveal the colour and it might also help you work out where the fluid is leaking from.
My car is leaking clear fluid
My car is leaking water
If a car leak looks like clear water, and your car has air conditioning, it may not be a leak but condensation from the air conditioning system. If you’re driving on a hot day, a lot of condensation can be produced, which may drip a lot and look like a serious leak.
My car is leaking a clear or light amber fluid
If you see a clear or light amber puddle under your car that looks multicoloured when the light hits it, your car is probably leaking petrol or diesel.
Petrol and diesel both have very strong, distinctive scents, so a leak should be obvious. If you’ve just filled up with petrol on a hot day, and the car’s standing in the sun, the petrol may expand, and liquid or vapour may leak out through the fuel tank breather. Petrol can also leak if you park on a steep slope with a full tank of petrol. If the leak isn’t due to either of these causes, book your car in for a vehicle diagnostic to have the leak investigated straight away. Don’t drive your car until the leak is fixed, as leaking petrol is a potential fire hazard.
Diesel fuel has a distinctive oily smell (like domestic heating oil), and is a clear, oily substance. As with petrol, a recently filled tank may leak a little due to expansion. Any other leak is a cause for concern. Don’t drive your car until the leak has been fixed.
My car is leaking light brown fluid
My car is leaking a transparent, watery, light brown fluid
Brake or clutch hydraulic fluid is a very pale golden colour, transparent, thin and almost watery. Old hydraulic fluid gradually darkens. Compare the colour of the leaking fluid with the contents of the brake or clutch fluid reservoir on your car.
Brake fluid usually leaks from the area around or under the brake fluid reservoir in the engine compartment, but may also appear around the wheels or the brake pipe connections under the car. Clutch fluid leaks usually come from the pipes that carry the hydraulic fluid, or from damaged or faulty seals in the hydraulic components. It’s okay to drive with a minor clutch fluid leak, but if all the fluid leaks out you won’t be able to use the clutch, so it’s safest to book your car in to get it checked out.
Don’t drive your car if you think there could be a brake fluid leak. Book your car in for a brake fluid flush and replacement with Fixter. Simply select your required services, pick the collection and delivery slots that suit you and leave the rest up to us! We’ll collect your car, take it to a local trusted garage, then return it back to you once the work is complete.
My car is leaking black fluid
My car is leaking black or dark brown oil
Engine oil is usually black unless it has been changed very recently. Clean oil is usually a transparent golden colour. Compare the leak with the oil on the end of your oil dipstick to check whether they match. Another way to check that it’s engine oil is to touch it. If it feels slick and is hard to wipe off your fingers, it’s almost certainly oil.
It’s always a good idea to try and locate the oil leak. The most common sources of leaks are the oil drain plug, the oil filter, and the sump gasket under the engine. Once you’re under the bonnet, it should be fairly easy to spot, and you may feel confident enough to fix it yourself. You can drive with a minor oil leak, but keep an eye on the oil level, making sure your oil tank is always filled to the appropriate level. Failing to do so could lead to more serious and expensive damage to your engine. If you notice a leak and you think it could be engine oil, you should get your car looked at by a mechanic as soon as possible. Book an oil and oil filter change with Fixter – our expert mechanics will drain and refill the engine oil, and then replace your oil filter so you can get back on the road.
My car is leaking brightly-coloured fluid
My car is leaking green, yellow, pink or blue fluid
Engine coolant comes in a whole host of different colours, meaning that if you see your car leaking bright green, yellow, pink, blue, red, or even clear liquid you might be facing a coolant leak. You may be thinking that this makes a coolant leak tricky to identify, but coolant has a distinctively, sickly sweet smell and a slimy texture, that makes it easier to differentiate it from water or other leaks. Old coolant may be rusty or dirty brown, and there may be a white crystalline deposit around the leak.
Leaks usually come from a hose, the radiator, or the heater inside the car (you’ll smell coolant when you turn the heaters on). You can drive with a minor leak, but if you lose too much coolant, the engine could overheat. It’s important to check the coolant levels regularly and book your car in for a vehicle diagnostic or service if you think you have a leak. If your coolant is rusty or brown, book an engine coolant flush and replacement to keep your car running smoothly.
My car is leaking a brightly-coloured fluid
Washer fluid usually contains a coloured dye, and has a strong smell of detergent, alcohol or ammonia. The leak could be due to a damaged or faulty washer pump, a leaking or split pipe connection or a hole in the washer fluid bottle.
You can drive your car, but get the problem fixed as soon as possible, as it’s an offence to drive with an empty washer fluid bottle, and in poor conditions it can be dangerous if you can’t clean your windscreen.
My car is leaking pink fluid
My car is leaking pink or red fluid
Power steering fluid is usually pink or red – you can compare the leak with the contents of the power steering fluid reservoir to see if they match. Also take note of the power steering fluid levels to see how serious the leak has become and how low you’re running. Leaks usually come from fluid pipe connections, the power steering pump or the steering mechanism.
If the fluid level becomes very low, the steering pump will make a horrible groaning noise when you turn the steering wheel, particularly on full lock. In this instance, top up the reservoir to maximum capacity, operate the steering wheel from lock to lock a few times, then recheck the reservoir, topping it up again if necessary. This should cure the noise. You can drive with a minor leak, but keep an eye on the fluid level and get it checked as soon as possible.
My car is leaking reddish-pink oil
Manual gearbox oil is usually a tan, red or pink colour, although older oil may be darker in colour. A manual gearbox oil leak is also easy to identify by the sickly sweet smell of the oil, especially when hot.
You can continue driving with a small gearbox oil leak, but if the oil gets too low it could cause serious damage to the gearbox. As you can’t easily check the oil level, we recommend leaving this one to the pros. Book your car in for a diagnostic check to get to the root of the problem.
My car is leaking pink fluid
Automatic transmission fluid is usually a pink or red colour and leaks usually come from the transmission casing, or from fluid lines running to the fluid cooler (this could be mounted on the transmission, or incorporated in the radiator). Transmission fluid is not only bad news for your driveway (it can stain), but it can be bad news for your car, too. It is okay to drive if the leak is minor, but low fluid levels can cause the automatic transmission to slip, or in some cases fail altogether. Very low fluid levels can cause expensive damage, so we recommend getting the leak fixed as soon as you can.
Fixter is revolutionising the car maintenance industry, one repair at a time. Fixter was founded to make car maintenance as easy as booking a taxi. Digital, transparent and stress-free, with world-class customer service. Since launching in Manchester in 2017, Fixter has expanded to more than 100 towns and cities across the UK and provided thousands of car owners with honest, convenient and affordable car repair services.