Cars that leak leave ominous spots or puddles on the ground that can make you wonder if your vehicle is dying a slow death. The good news is if you can master the art of "spotology" by deciphering those mysterious spots you can tell whether the fluid leak is a harmless drip or a serious problem. Here's how.
There are three things to consider when it comes to those car leaks: colour, consistency and location (whether the leak happened from the front or back of the car). The Car Guy says you can place newspaper or aluminium foil under your car in the evening and then "read" the spots the next day. This way, you can tell if the leak is power steering fluid (reddish or light brown, from the front of the car) versus auto transmission fluid (also often reddish or light brown but dripping from the middle of the car).
The photo above, from Allstate, is a handy reference guide to six common car puddles you might encounter. Brake fluid is one of the most dangerous leaks to worry about, our sister site Jalopnik points out. If you see that clear to brown and slick puddle under your car (it will be even more slippery to the touch than engine oil or transmission fluid), don't even try driving it -- get it towed right away. As the Art of Manliness says:
Your car's brake system works on a hydraulic pressure system. Brake fluid serves as the hydraulic fluid that maintains that pressure. A leak in brake fluid will cause a drop in pressure, possibly resulting in brake failure. That's not something you want to happen as you're cruising down Dead Man's Hill going 60 MPH.
Fortunately, in most modern cars, brake fluid leaks are rare. If you do have one, you'll usually find it near the wheels or in the area directly under the brake pedal.
Knowing these leaks and getting them repaired if necessary can help you avoid more expensive repairs down the line (like replacing a grind-down transmission). It's also something you should do before any trip. Hit up the links below for more details on what these spots mean.