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7 fluids used in your car: What they do and when to change them

Alex Skander of Skander Tire in Evans City checks the oil in a vehicle on Tuesday, March 26. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle

Taking care of a car is no different than taking care of a body. Like going to the doctor for a checkup, cars need maintenance to stay healthy.

Alex Skander, owner of Skander Tire in Forward Township, and fellow service consultant Ray Shafer recently shared information on the seven fluids used in cars: windshield wiper fluid, engine oil, transmission fluid, brake fluid, power steering fluid, coolant and differential fluid.

This list differs for electric vehicles (EVs), which only require brake fluid, transmission fluid and coolant, the car care experts said.

Shafer said a car’s engine oil should be changed about every 5,000 miles.

“It could gunk up in the engine and destroy its internal parts,” Shafer said of the consequences of delaying oil changes.

Oil can be checked by examining the dipstick. If the oil looks muddy or grainy, it’s likely time to change it.

Transmission fluid needs to be changed less often. Shafer said most vehicles need the fluid changed every 100,000 miles, but this varies by car. He advised consulting your vehicle’s manual for specifics.

If you cannot find your manual, Skander has a database that may be able to help.

“You can call us with your license plate number, and we can pull up the vehicle,” he said. “We print a service schedule that details how often you need to change your fluids.”

Brake fluid is perhaps the most dynamic, and it is needed to provide the force created when the brake pedal is pressed. Depending on how dirty it is, it should be changed on an “as needed basis,” but there are cases where weather has an effect on it. Shafer said if the fluid isn’t changed properly, it could cause condensation within the brake line and freeze when the temperature drops.

Shafer said power steering fluid is something that “seldom needs changed.” It creates a hydraulic link between the steering wheel and a car’s front wheels. If a vehicle becomes difficult to steer, the power steering fluid may need to be changed.

Most manufacturers recommend changing a vehicle’s coolant, also known as antifreeze, every 100,000 miles, according to Shafer. Coolant pulls heat away from the engine. The outside temperature can impact this fluid — If it’s scorching hot outside, the coolant might evaporate.

“With the weather going from hot to cold, it’s a lot harder on your fluids because they break down more,” Shafer said.

Finally, differential fluids are necessary for your vehicle’s axles. Shafer said it keeps the gears lubricated to minimize wear-and-tear and should be changed every 30,000 to 50,000 miles.

While most vehicles have alert lights, there are none for fluid levels, apart from engine oil.

Shafer advises having an expert check these fluid levels to ensure your vehicle’s longevity.

Alex Skander of Skander Tire in Evans City works on tires on Tuesday, March 26. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle
Alex Skander of Skander Tire in Evans City works on the car alignment machine on Tuesday, March 26. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle
Alex Skander of Skander Tire in Evans City works on tires on Tuesday, March 26. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle
Mike McCoppin of Skander Tire in Evans City works on tires on Tuesday, March 26. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle
Alex Skander, left, and Mike McCoppin of Skander Tire in Evans City works on tires on Tuesday, March 26. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle
Alex Skander of Skander Tire in Evans City works on tires on Tuesday, March 26. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle
Alex Skander of Skander Tire in Evans City works on tires on Tuesday, March 26. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle

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