Vehicle Fluid Color Guide

It can be pretty unnerving to pull out of your garage and see fluid spots on the floor. Thankfully, if you know the common colors automobile fluids are, you can identify where the leak is coming from and check that fluid’s level before you hit the road. We here at Meadows Automotive fix fluid leaks all the time, so here is an automobile fluid color identification guide for your reference.


Grab a white rag or paper towel and press it on the fluid spots to identify its color. Make certain the cloth or paper towel is white so it doesn’t change the color of the fluid you sop up onto the towel. Common antifreeze/coolant colors are orange, yellow and green. Oftentimes, if you have rust in your radiator, which can happen over time, the fluid will have an orange hue to it. Causes of antifreeze/coolant leaks include a hole in the radiator, a loose hose clamp, or an o-ring that is damaged.

Gear Lubricant/Motor Oil

Gear lubricant is light brown, especially if it’s new. If the fluid smells bad, it’s most likely gear lubricant. The other vehicle fluid that is light brown is motor oil, but only if the oil is new. Old motor oil is dark brown and if it has an odor, which oil usually does not, it will smell burnt. If the fluid is black, it’s likely really old motor oil and it’s definitely time to get your vehicle’s oil changed. Dirty motor oil can damage your automobile’s engine and lead to costly and unnecessary repairs.

Brake Fluid

Usually light amber when new, another vehicle fluid that turns dark brown when it’s old is brake fluid. If the dark brown fluid is in the middle of the garage floor, it’s more likely to be motor oil. If the dark brown fluid is off to one side or the other, it might be brake fluid. This isn’t definite, though. Depending from where the brake fluid is leaking, it, too, might be near the center of the garage floor. The bottom line is don’t take chances. If your vehicle is leaking dark brown fluid, have it inspected.

Power Steering Fluid

If your vehicle is equipped with a power steering system, and most vehicles are, the fluid will either be red or pink. You might also notice some resistance when you turn your vehicle if the power steering fluid is low. As with other vehicle systems, low fluid can cause additional damage and in this case, low power steering fluid will certainly make your drive more difficult. Pull out your owner’s manual to see where your power steering fluid reservoir is and check to see if the fluid is low.

Transmission Fluid

If all is well with your power steering fluid levels, red or pink fluid can also indicate a transmission fluid leak. Some transmission oil is also orange, so determining whether the fluid leak is indeed your transmission fluid can be a bit tricky. As with some of the leaks above, your best bet is to take your vehicle to an auto mechanic to identify the source of the leak. Transmission oil leaks are difficult to identify because the oil is tucked away out of reach in most engines.

Finally, blue fluid is nothing to stress about. It’s windshield washer fluid. Still, feel free to bring your vehicle into Meadows Automotive. We’re located in Waterford Township, MI, and you can call us to set up an appointment at 248-383-1535.

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