Fluids Checks to Keep Your Car in Good Shape

We’ll admit it. Unless we’re planning a long car trip, we take a set-it-and-forget-it attitude toward auto maintenance. But having just paid a $900 car repair bill, keeping our trusty steed in tip-top shape is on the top of our list of things to do.

Many, probably even most, UC Davis students don’t even own a car. A bicycle is actually far more efficient for getting around town, and we have a fabulous public transportation system if you do want to bum a ride outside the grid. But if you do have a car, Lifehacker.com has come to the rescue with a list of fluids to check regularly to keep it running smoothly.

For more important information on your car’s vital systems, please click on the link above.

Five Fluids You Should Check to Keep Your Car Running Smoothly

Engine Oil

In most cars, you just need to pop up your hood, find the oil dipstick, pull it out, and wipe it down. Repeat that again and you’ll have your oil level. If it’s in the safe level, continue on your merry way. If it’s not, you need to add more. Depending on the age of the car, you may or may not need to add oil pretty often. If your car burns through a lot of oil, it’s worth going to a mechanic.

How often to check it: It was once recommended that you check your oil every time you fill up with gas, but with most modern cars you’re safe checking it once a month.
How often to replace it: This depends on the car, manufacturer, and year. The “3,000 miles or every six months” saying doesn’t really apply any more. Instead, check your owner’s manual for the manufacturer’s recommendations for changing your engine oil.

Transmission Fluid

Your transmission fluid is what keeps the gears on your car moving smoothly. You can check your transmission fluid the same way as your engine oil, except the car should be running when you do it. Unlike your engine oil, transmission fluid is part of a closed system, so it should never be low. If it is, take it into a mechanic. Instead of volume, you’re looking at the quality of the fluid. The fluid should be red and not smell burned. If the fluid is brown or smells burnt, it’s time to replace it.

How often to check it: Monthly.
How often to replace it: This varies from car to car and depends on transmission type, but it’s typically between every 50,000-100,000 miles.


As the name implies, coolant, aka antifreeze, keeps your car running cool. If you ever run low on coolant, your car’s probably going to overheat. The coolant is inside you radiator and you can typically check it by simply removing the radiator cap when the car is cool (never check it when it’s hot or your car is running) and looking inside. Once you remove the cap you should see a line the coolant should come up to. If it’s low, you can add more, but make sure you add the same type of coolant currently in the car.

How often to check it: At least twice yearly: once before summer and again before winter But it’s easy enough to glance at whenever you pop open your hood.
How often to replace it: Every 2-3 years.