Check the automatic transmission fluid

If you have a vehicle with a manual transmission, disregard this part of the under-the-hood check. The fluid level in a manual transmission must be checked with the vehicle on a hoist to enable the technician to reach a plug in the bottom of the transmission.

It’s best not to monkey around with this yourself. The next time your car is in for service, have the technician check the transmission fluid level for you. It’s a good idea to know what type and viscosity of fluid go into your transmission and to make sure that’s what the technician plans to use. Some newer manual transmissions use automatic transmission fluid; others use engine oil.

There are several types of transmission fluid. Each is made for a specific type of automatic transmission. Newer transmissions from the major automakers require different fluids than older ones. Because so many different kinds of transmissions are around these days, check your owner’s manual or dealership to find out which type of fluid your vehicle requires, and enter that type on your Specifications Record in Appendix B.

A faulty transmission and one that’s just low on fluid share many of the same symptoms! If your vehicle hesitates when your automatic transmission shifts gears, check the transmission fluid level before you let any mechanic start talking about servicing or adjusting your transmission or selling you a new one. Obviously, adding transmission fluid is a lot cheaper than replacing the whole transmission system! See Chapter 20 for advice.

Check the power-steering fluid

To check the power-steering fluid, locate the power-steering pump in your vehicle. If you can’t find it, your owner’s manual should tell you where it is and whether you need to check it and add to it with the engine running or turned off.

Unscrew the cap on the pump and see whether the fluid reaches the “Full” mark on the dipstick. If the level is low, check your owner’s manual or dealership to find out what kind of fluid your powersteering pump requires. Mark this on your Specifications Record in Appendix B for future reference.

Check the Brake Fluid

If your vehicle has an anti-lock braking system (ABS), consult your owner’s manual before checking your brake fluid. Some ABS systems require you to pump the brake pedal approximately 25 to 30 times before opening and inspecting the fluid reservoir.

A small amount of dirt falling into the fluid can cause the internal seals of the master cylinder to fail. Your brakes will begin to lose effectiveness and ultimately fail completely.

If you have the kind with a little plastic reservoir on top, just unscrew the cap of the reservoir shown in . If you have a metal master cylinder that contains the reservoir, use a screwdriver to pry the retaining clamp off the top.

Don’t leave the master cylinder uncovered or an open can of brake fluid sitting around for too long. Brake fluid soaks up moisture to keep it from settling in the hydraulic components and corroding them. If moist air gets to brake fluid for as little as 15 minutes, the fluid is ruined. So don’t dawdle, and keep the can tightly closed until you’re ready to use it.

Last word

Feel the wires that you encounter under the hood. If they feel hard and inflexible, if bright metal wires show through the insulation, or if the wires look corroded or very messy where they attach to various devices, they may need to be changed before they short out. Have a professional do the rewiring work for you.

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