Reader Question: I accidently put power steering fluid in where the brake fluid goes, what do I do now? My husband is furious!
Don't feel too bad, this happens more often than you think...you just happened to get caught!
Take the vehicle in to your mechanic and have them flush out the brake fluid system as best they can. Do this immediately! Chances are the damage has already been done, but time is of the essence. The power steering fluid will quickly cause the seals and rubber parts in the brake system to swell. Once these seals and rubber parts become swollen they will deteriorate and leak.
I have seen a few vehicles in my shop that were in the same situation as the one you are in, and we eventually replaced just about all the rubber components of the brake system, due to this swelling condition. As you can imagine, this repair job can become very costly, and can require multiple trips to the repair shop to correct the problem.
Now, with that said this would be a great time for me to talk about fluid reservoirs, what they look like and where they are usually located. Let's start with the brake fluid reservoir first. On vehicles here in the States, the brake fluid reservoir is located on the power brake booster which is on the driver side (the left side of the vehicle) under the hood. Click here for illustrations. NOTHING else should go in the brake fluid reservoir except the manufacturer recommended brake fluid. Brake fluid should be clean and clear looking in color. When checking and filling brake fluid, be careful not to touch the fluid or the rubber inside part of the cap with your fingers! You have to be very careful not to contaminate the brake system, and even the natural oil on your fingertips can contaminate it.
The power steering fluid reservoir is usually on the driver side of the engine too, and the reservoir will usually have a screw-on cap with a small dipstick attached to it. Like brake fluid, power steering fluid should only need a small amount of fluid occasionally to "top off" the system. If more than just an ounce or two is needed, you might have a leak somewhere. Power steering fluid can either be clear or a red, pinkish color. Click here for illustrations of common power steering fluid reservoir locations.
Automatic transmission fluid reservoirs are the hardest to locate. The transmission fluid is checked with a long dipstick. This dipstick usually has a finger hole at the end of it to make checking fluid level easier (too bad it doesn't help one bit). Most of the cars in my shop today had some kind of colored plastic tip on the end of the dipstick to help locate it among the rest of the underhood clutter. Click here for illustrations of automatic transmission fluid dipstick locations. Transmission fluid is usually red in color, and the fluid is usually checked when the engine has reached normal operating temperature, with the transmission in park and with the engine running.
Coolant "overflow" reservoirs can be the easiest to find because they are located at the front of the vehicle near the radiator. This reservoir acts like a storage tank for the radiator in case additional coolant is needed, or space is needed for excess or "overflow" of coolant. The cooling system adjusts the coolant level via the thermostat as the engine demands more coolant. The coolant reservoir should not be opened when the engine is hot, and the level of coolant in the reservoir does not necessarily depict the coolant level in the radiator. When the engine is cold, the radiator cap should be removed and the coolant level inside the radiator should be inspected and topped off as well as the reservoir. For illustrations of common coolant reservoir locations, click here.
Last is the windshield washer reservoir. This one is pretty self explanatory, and really doesn't pose a threat if the wrong fluid is added to it. Although I must say I did have one customer who added coolant to her windshield washer reservoir and it made a big greasy mess on her windshield and ruined her wiper blades. You can add some cleaner or de-icer additives to the reservoir if you need to. Using actual store bought windshield washer fluid rather than just plain water will prolong the life of the rubber on the windshield wiper blades. The washer reservoir is usually mounted on the inside of either side fender. For illustrations of common washer reservoir locations, click here.
Austin C Davis
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