Last updateWed, 18 Oct 2017 10am

On The Road

Engine oil isn't the only fluid that needs to be changed

Q: I took my car to a new shop for routine maintenance service and am being told that there are other fluids – not just the engine oil – that need to be changed. This is the first time I have been told this, so I am just curious if it is really necessary.

A: Yes. Be happy that you have found a shop that checks those fluids.

These other fluids are in the cooling, power-steering, automatic-transmission and brake systems. They are all products that undergo temperature changes, have additive packages in them and require attention at specific intervals (determined by whether they are petroleum-based or synthetic).

The engine coolant turns acidic as it ages. When this happens, it will cause damage to the engine and cooling system components. Coolant in good condition will remain within the neutral range of the pH scale. A thorough service center will check coolant pH and recommend coolant changes when needed before damage occurs.

Brake-system fluid collects moisture from the environment and wear metal from the brake system itself. These contaminants cause damage and premature wear to the brake-system components, so the fluid-contaminate level should be checked at service intervals and changed as needed. Modern-day vehicles can boast brake-system components that cost as much as $1,500 or more to replace, so changing the fluid can save big money in repairs.

Power-steering system fluid breaks down over a period of time and picks up wear particles from the system hoses. Worn-out fluid causes premature wear in the system’s pump and steering rack. The hose debris will block the system’s small passageways. Changing this fluid when needed can also save thousands of dollars in repair costs.

Automatic-transmission fluid works especially hard in doing its job of connecting the engine to the drivetrain. It both lubricates and serves as a coupling agent in the transmission, and goes through a wide range of temperature changes every time the vehicle is driven. When this fluid breaks down, the result is premature wear of components inside the transmission.

Transmission replacement or rebuilding can cost $3,000 or more, so make sure to change that fluid. Note that synthetic automatic-transmission fluid has a much longer change interval than the petroleum-based fluid.

All of the above fluids require monitoring and changing, and fluid replacement must be done in its entirety. What is known as a “drain and refill” only replaces, on average, approximately 20 percent of the old fluid. The fluid is present throughout the vehicle systems, not just in the fluid receptacle. Special equipment is needed to ensure a 100 percent fluid change, so don’t hesitate to ask if your service center has invested in such equipment and will perform the correct service for you.

Please note, too, that as mentioned in last month’s article, it is important to make sure that the correct oil is being used during your oil change. Today’s vehicles may not only require a specific weight, but – based on the design and specifics of the engine – manufacturers also require certain additive packages to keep their engines running trouble-free for the long term.

Your vehicle’s fluids are its lifeblood. If you can’t remember the last time you had them checked, it is definitely time – especially as winter approaches. Prolong your vehicle’s life and help avoid big repair bills by keeping those fluids healthy.

Warren McCord is a Master Technician certified by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence.

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