Don’t neglect these essential fluids

Regular oil changes will prolong the life of your car’s engine

Reuben Van Niekerk
Consumer advice
brake fluid
engine oil
vehicle maintenance
gearbox oil
vehicle servicing

Keeping your car in a good condition requires more than just regular washing, it is what is going on under the bonnet that is important. There are certain fluids that are essential to the optimal running of your vehicle and these six fluids need to be checked regularly to ensure that your vehicle performs as it should.

Engine oil

Engine oil should be changed in line with the manufacturers recommended service intervals and at least once a year if you are driving less than the recommended oil change intervals. On some cars the requirement for an oil change is determined by the onboard computer, which takes into account a variety of parameters, including how the car is driven, to determine when the oil needs changing.  The primary role of engine oil is to lubricate the many moving parts within your engine and prevent abnormal wear and tear. If oil is not changed regularly, friction builds up between the moving parts which then causes your engine to work harder than what it should. Regular oil and oil filter changes are a sure way to prolong the life of your car’s engine.

Oil also plays a role in fuel consumption, emissions, and overall efficiency. If your car requires a top up of engine oil between services, it is important to top up with the same oil as which the engine was filled. Different oils contain different additives which do not all work well together when mixed.

Gearbox oil

Gearbox oil on both manual and automatic cars prevents gears from grinding and minimises metal to metal contact within your gearbox. Gearbox oil is not a fluid you want to neglect as inadequate levels can permanently damage your gearbox and end in a costly repair bill. While gearbox oil is one of the most difficult to periodically check as modern gearboxes have no dipstick, the level should never drop noticeably between changes. If you notice any leaks on your paving or garage floor, the vehicle should be booked in for an inspection by a specialist as soon as possible. It is also a good idea to ask your workshop to check the gearbox oil when the vehicle is booked in for a service.


Coolant or antifreeze is tasked with keeping your engine within a certain operating temperature and preventing overheating. It is also responsible for lubricating moving parts such as the water pump. Check the coolant level of your vehicle when the vehicle is cold by ensuring that the level is between the minimum and maximum marks on the coolant bottle. Again the cooling systems on modern cars are a closed system and your car shouldn't lose coolant, but leaks can occur. Be sure to never open the bottle when the car is warm as the system is pressurised when warm and you could burn and allow a lot of the coolant to escape. Coolant also deteriorates and is susceptible to build up over time and should thus be replaced by a professional every few years. Never fill your car with tap water, but, if necessary, top it up with the correct coolant for your car or with distilled water.

Brake fluid

Brake fluid is often overlooked but is critical to your safety and safe stopping. A drop in the brake fluid level can indicate a variety of factors including worn brake pads as the fluid from the reservoir keeps the system full as the friction material on the pads wears down and this is normal. However, a very low brake fluid level could indicate a leak which should be rectified as a matter of urgency.

Brake fluid is also hydroscopic, which means that it absorbs water over time, which degrades its properties. It is therefore important to have your brake fluid flushed and replaced every few years. Again, it is important to use the correct brake fluid for your specific car and this work is best carried out by a professional.

Power steering fluid

Your cars power steering uses fluid to make the turning process easier. This fluid creates a hydraulic link between the steering wheel and front wheels and lubricates moving parts in this system. Neglecting to maintain this fluid will not only make it difficult to steer the car, but it can also affect other parts of the steering system, which could lead to costly repairs. The power steering fluid has its own reservoir under the bonnet, where the fluid level can be monitored.

Windscreen washer fluid

It is also important to keep your windscreen washer fluid topped up. This can be done with boiled water from the kettle that has been left to cool and motorists can even add detergents that have been developed especially for this application. The ability to clean your windscreen with fluid when driving in dusty conditions or on a long road trip can be crucial for maintaining visibility and safety.


Apart from windscreen washer fluid and of course petrol and diesel your car shouldn't consume any other fluids, however it is important to keep an eye on all the above fluids because their loss will indicate an issue that can very quickly escalate into a large problem if not attended to correctly.

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