What’s leaking from my car? A full guide to fluid colours and what it means for your motor

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A leak from your car is often the first sign of something having gone awry beneath the bonnet. While some leaks can be an urgent warning sign of something serious, others may have a simple explanation.

One key way to identify the source of the leak is via the colour of the fluid dripping from your car.

Other crucial factors include the consistency or smell of the liquid.

If you are unsure of the source of the leak, it is best to contact a professional.

Before doing so, you should make sure the leak is actually coming from your car.

For example, if you have parked your car in the street and there is a puddle of liquid, this could be from another car.

Take a look under your car and see if there are any immediate signs of leakage, such as a residual liquid trail.

What is leaking from my car? A colour-coded guide


If your car is secreting clear liquid which has no smell and looks like water then chances are it is just that.

Water can leak from areas such as the air conditioning unit, common in summer, or the exhaust, common in winter.

Your windscreen washers may also be leaking water.

In most cases, this is not necessarily a major issue.

But if you can not identify the root cause, then you may want to get a second opinion and be sure the liquid is just water.

Clear with a yellow or green tinge, bright green or yellow

A clear liquid might also be a sign of leaking coolant, but often this will have green, yellow or possibly even blue tie to it.

The liquid will also likely have an odour – often sweet.

In some cases, bright green or yellow leaks may also be a sign of antifreeze.

These leaks typically come from the water pump, radiator, hoses, heater core or head gasket.

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Pink, red or brown

A pink, red or brown liquid, which is slick or oily in consistency, is likely to be a result of transmission fluid.

The colour of the fluid can vary depending on the age of your car.

Typically, this type of leak does not have a strong odour.

Key areas prone to transmission fluid leaks include the axle seal and output shaft seal.

If you do notice this type of leak, it is a good idea to get professional insight.


Reddish-brown fluid leaking from your car is typically associated with power steering fluid.

The liquid is often thin in consistency, but with a sweet burning smell.

Though these leaks are rare, most commonly they come from rack end seals on racks and pinion steering systems.

You may have noticed your steering has begun to feel heavy if this is the case.

Topping up the system in line with your car manufacturer guide can solve the problem, but ongoing issues should be taken up with a mechanic.

Light brown or black

A liquid that is light brown or black in colour, and oily in consistency, is very likely to be engine oil.

Engine oil has a distinctive smell; you can check this by observing the smell from your dipstick.

The exact colour of your engine oil might depend on the age of your car or when you last had an oil change.

Oil can emit from numerous places, including the oil filter, sump plug and head gasket.

If you do notice a large leak, this could be a dangerous sign and it is important to have your vehicle checked by a professional mechanic.

Pale amber

A pale amber leak, or even one which appears multi-coloured, is most often a result of brake fluid.

The consistency of this leak is likely to be similar to that of cooking oil.

If you believe your car is leaking brake fluid, do not drive your vehicle under any circumstances.

Should you notice the brake fluid levels have dropped, seek professional help immediately.

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