What is that Leak?

Sometimes when you see a spot from where the car was parked overnight, you wonder…What is it? Well, aside from the ugly stain in your garage, you could be letting our engine run out of oil or coolant, or at the worst, brake fluid. You don’t need to be a CSI agent to figure out what it is. But you might need to take a close-up look at the leak or the undercarriage of your vehicle or even feel the suspected substance. After identifying what the leak is, the next step is stopping it. Sometimes the leak is hard to identify. maybe this will help:


Brake fluid has a slippery oily feel that has no smell when new. As it ages it turns smoky brown from the water and contaminants that collect in the system. Look for oily residue on the inside of the wheels. That would be a sign of a leaking caliper or wheel cylinder, possibly a flex hose that connects the calipers to the frame of the car. Take a look at the brake fluid level in the reservoir and master cylinder for residue. IF THE BRAKE FLUID IS LOW, DO NOT DELAY HAVING THIS LOOKED AT. YOUR LIFE DEPENDS ON IT!


Fuel Leak

Fuel Leak

A fuel leak is clear and evaporates rapidly leaving a dark outlined stain and has a strong odor of gasoline. A fuel leak usually will never reach the ground, unless it is a large leak. The first sign is usually the strong odor, especially in a closed garage. BE CAREFUL, IF FUEL VAPORS ARE ALLOWED TO ACCUMULATE IN AN INCLOSED SPACE, THEY COULD EXPLODE. Especially if the hot water heater is in the same enclosed space.


Usually coolant is deep green in color, but lately new coolant formulas have been the color of rusty water. All formulas have a distinctive odor…like maple syrup, especially when it comes in contact with a hot exhaust. Coolant is poisonous to most pets so keep Fido and the kids away. Look for pregnant hoses (hoses billowing out near the fittings) around the engine. When the engine is cold, remove the radiator cap and look at it. Are the rubber seals cracked? Is the cap broken? A thorough pressure test of the cooling system is in order.


Power steering fluid is clear in color and has a pungent smell. A power steering leak will usually show up as a trail of oil when you turn sharply and back up, as in turning around. The power steering will be jerky after a while and will make a whining noise when turning. The power steering system on Honda powered cars is under tremendous pressure at low speeds and diminishes to 0 pressure as the vehicle reached 35 MPH. The steering boots on the front tie rods on either side will be oily or torn.


Axle Boot Grease

Axle Boot Grease

Axle grease is usually very dark and gritty to the feel. This is usually the result of a ruptured axle boot. The grease probably won’t leak onto the ground but the back of the wheel will be very greasy. A ruptured axle boot won’t disable the car immediately but it will cause the axle to deteriorate rapidly. Getting the axle boot replaced and thoroughly cleaning the axle will prolong the life of the axle threefold. If you hear a clicking sound when going around corners, it’s too late…the axle is deteriorated beyond repair. Replacement is necessary.


Most Honda’s and Acura’s are front wheel drive, so gear lube is not a factor, but if you have an S2000 or an SUV like the CRV, PILOT or MDX you could have a problem if you see a oily greasy stain under the rear differential. Honda products are very well built and don’t usually leak, but a leak could be the result of contact with a large rock or other obstruction hitting and damaging the rear differential. If the gear lube is low, you would hear a high pitched whine from the rear while driving. Have it looked at as soon as possible, because lockup of the rear wheels could result.


Strut Leak

Strut Leak

This leak is the result of a worn out shock absorber or McPherson strut. The leak will not reach the ground but will coat the lower part of a strut with an oily residue. Replacement of the front or rear pair is required. A worn out strut will cause unusual handling and excessive tire wear.


Windshield washer fluid is usually blue in color but fades to clear on concrete. It has a soapy feel and smells like alcohol. It could leak anywhere along the underside if the vehicle is equipped with a rear wiper/washer. This fluid is poison to Fido and kids because it usually contains alcohol.


Automatic transmission is a bright red in color when new, but fades to brown, similar to motor oil when older. The transmission is equipped with a cooler in or near the radiator, so the hoses to and from the transmission could leak around the area of the radiator.


Motor Oil Leak

Motor Oil Leak

Motor oil is normally found under the engine side of the engine compartment. When it get a few hundred miles on it, it turns dark brown or black. It usually leaves a puddle that doesn’t spread out evenly if the leak is fairly large. If the leak is on the valve cover, it could leak onto the exhaust manifold and create a burning smell.


That’s right, just plain water. This is a normal and expected function of the air conditioner system. The air conditioner system works as a dehumidifier. The water needs to drain out somewhere. It is usually drains via a hose through the firewall on the right side near the passengers feet. If this hose gets plugged, water will leak out onto the carpet.


This is not a leak, perhaps, but a causes bad smell otherwise. Sometimes a plastic bag adrift on the road sometimes sticks to the hot exhaust pipe. If this happens, a strong smell of burning plastic is the result. Look under the car for loose burnt plastic stuck to the hot exhaust. The only thing to do is wait until the car cools down and reach under the car and scrape as much as you can of the residue off the pipe. A good sharp knife will usually do the trick. The rest will eventually burn off, but that usually take a couple thousand miles.


After calling Honda Bob to repair the offending leak, you will need to get rid of the evidence of its existence on the garage floor. To get rid of an offending stain, sprinkle copious amounts of kitty litter on the stain. Let sit a couple days or rub it in with your feet. Sweep it up, then rinse with clear water.

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