McCullough NAPA Auto Care

How To Diagnose Your Car’s Leaks By Color and Smell

Diagnosing your car’s leak isn’t difficult once you know what to look or smell for. The color and smell of the leak are often enough to pinpoint the problem area. If your car leaves behind a puddle on the ground after it’s been parked for a while, then use this article to help diagnose where the leak is coming from. The sooner you’re able to bring your car in for service, the better! 

Transparent, Clear Leak

The most common car leak color is transparent or clear. The good news is that this is usually nothing to worry about. If the leak is clear and not accompanied by a smell, it is likely just water condensation from the air conditioner. However, gasoline can also be transparent in color but has a distinctive smell. If your transparent liquid does smell like gasoline, contact our shop soon as possible, as your fuel line may have become cracked. 

Green, Yellow, Orange, or Pink Leak

Coolant, or antifreeze, is typically green or yellow. Pink and orange can also be the colors of some coolants but are less popular. If the liquid also feels slimy and has a sweet smell, you probably have a coolant leak.

Red, Pink, or Brown Leak

Transmission fluid is often red, pink, or brown. However, this is not to be confused with a coolant leak, as coolant is rarely pink. Transmission leaks can happen in fluid lines, pans, or broken seals and should be repaired immediately.

Black, Brown, and Dark Leak

This is likely an engine oil leak. Arguably one of the easiest leaks to diagnose, engine oil leaks smell like cooking oil, is thick and slippery to the touch, and range in dark colors from brown to black. These leaks are typically from a stripped oil pan drain plug and can be repaired easily. However, allowing the damage to go unrepaired can cause further issues in your gaskets, seals, or connections. 

Blue, Green, or Glass Cleaner Smelling Leak

Windshield wiper fluid is watery to the touch and typically blue or green. It can sometimes be pink or orange in color and will usually smell like glass cleaner. You can differentiate a windshield wiper fluid leak from a coolant leak by looking at where the leak is located on the floor in relation to your car. Coolant leaks will drip from the front of the car, whereas wiper fluid leaks will usually be farther back in the engine compartment.

Fishy Smelling Leak

This is unmistakably a brake fluid leak. Brake fluid is usually clear or yellow but can be brown if it is old. If the fluid feels oily and smells like fish, you’re likely looking at a brake fluid leak that a failing master cylinder could have caused.

Burnt Marshmallow Smelling Leak

Leaking power-steering fluid often smells of burning marshmallows and is quite oily to the touch. If this smell is accompanied by a pink, red, or brown liquid on the floor, the issue is most likely due to a leak in your power steering. A power-steering leak is not to be confused with transmission fluid, as transmission fluid will smell nothing like burnt marshmallows.

The sooner you’re able to bring your leaking car in for service, the better. McCullough NAPA Auto Care can diagnose your car leak for you and get you back on the road fast! Leaking can indicate a serious issue, so it’s a good idea to contact us as soon as you notice a leak that is not clear and odorless.