What is leaking from my car? A color guide to your car fluids.

We’ve made an in-depth list for you to use to check what is leaking from your car based on the color.

Many of us have run into this problem before! You come back to your car and realize there is a puddle of mysterious liquid pooling under it. This is not a good sign for your car and usually, it is a sign of a fluid leak. The fluid can be anything from engine oil to power steering fluid. Speed Wrench has created a list to help you identify exactly what is leaking from your car.

Your car is an intricate piece of machinery that uses many fluids to help it run efficiently.

• Engine Oil- to lubricate the engine
• Coolant- helps keep the engine at the right temperature
• Transmission Fluid- helps lubricate and operation of the transmission
• Brake Fluid- operates the brakes
• Washer Fluid- Cleans the windshield
• Power Steering Fluid- Makes it easier to steer

These fluids can be easily identified by their color and texture, and sometimes an odor. A best practice is to quickly respond to any type of leak by contacting your mechanic, so you do not find yourself stuck on the side of the highway waiting for a tow truck- and not to mention an unwanted, unsettlingly high repair bill. Let’s highlight some identifying features of the fluid that keep your car running smoothly.

Red Fluid

Your vehicle uses two fluids that are red: power steering fluid and automatic transmission fluid. Both of these fluids are hydraulic fluids. It is smart to check your owners manual to see if your vehicle actually uses automatic transmission fluid in the power steering system.

Power Steering Fluid: This starts out as a red color and is affected by time. If it is fresh, it will be red, but as time goes on it will eventually turn a brown color. It is a thin consistency, with an oily feel. Some people think it smells like burnt marshmallows.

Automatic Transmission Fluid: This also starts out as a red fluid when it is new. As time goes on, it will turn to a red-brown color. It feels oily and slick, and thinner than your engine oil. It smells like petroleum.

*If you find this liquid beneath your car, a transmission inspection is recommended, especially if you notice other signs of transmissions problems i.e.: delayed shifting when the engine is cold


Light Yellow Fluid

When you notice light yellow fluid leaking, do not drive your vehicle. This fluid is most likely brake fluid. Brake fluid starts out light yellow and as time goes on gets darker. Very old brake fluid can take on a dark brown color. This fluid has an oily and slippery feel and has a distinctive smell like fish oil. It is very smart to contact your mechanic to have them look into your brake system.

Orange Fluid

Coolant and Automatic Transmission Fluid are both orange, but this color fluid can originate in two different areas of your vehicle.

Coolant: This is a primary indicator that there is rust in your cooling system and there might be some rust particles mixed in. Coolant feels slimy and tends to have a sweet odor. One of the main factors of engine damage is coolant loss- so if you run into leaking coolant you’ll want to contact your mechanic as soon as possible.

Automatic Transmission Fluid: This fluid comes up again because as it ages it can also be orange in color. A mechanic would be able to inspect your transmission to confirm what is it.

Green, Yellow or Pink Fluid

The coolant you put in your car comes in a variety of fluorescent colors, which can leak from many places throughout your cooling system. As stated before, coolant has a sweet odor and a slimy texture. If you lose too much coolant, your vehicle will soon overheat if not addressed. And bigger problems arise when your engine overheats. You could be left stranded with a huge repair bill if you are not aware of this leaky fluid.

Blue Fluid

If you notice blue fluid below your car, it is windshield washer fluid. This is a watery substance that smells just like window cleaner. Washer fluid can also come in other colors like green. Make sure that there is no crack in your washer fluid reservoir and have a technician look at its seals and lines.

Brown or Black Fluid

This is most likely engine oil. Engine oil has a light brown color when first used and then turns darker each time it moves through your engine, collecting dirt and combustion byproducts in the process. This type of fluid is a thick, slippery liquid and if it is pooling underneath your car, you’ve got a possible engine oil leak. An important step here is if you have a small leak you’ve noticed, you can hold off any issues by keeping the oil topped off until you are able to have it inspected. Which we suggest addressing sooner than later, always.

Clear FLuid

There are two options here for clear fluid pooling up underneath your car, water or gasoline. You are going to rely on your nose to know the difference here.

Water: if you have water dripping under your car, there is no real worry here. It is most likely condensation simply draining from your air conditioner.

Gasoline: on the other hand, if you see a clear fluid that smells like gasoline, you will need to call your mechanic right away. Do not drive your vehicle until you have spoken to a professional about what it could be.

Here at Speed Wrench, we hope that you now have a better understanding of what fluids are helping your car run efficiently and what they look like.  

If you happen to be experiencing any of these problems in the West Michigan area, feel free to contact us today or check out our full-service auto repair shop page to see if we can help!