Under the Bonnet Basics


KAPOW! You’ve just been sucker-punched by a blinking oil light. And unless you have private access to your very own superhero you better learn what’s going on under your bonnet, quick smart.

While most of us know more about Superman than we do our cars, there are a few things you need to know to keep yourself on the road. Even if your first real life superhero (aka Mum or Dad) taught you a thing or three about cars, their notes about all the different liquids needed under the bonnet may have slipped to the back of your mind – what with remembering to brake before you hit the curb at the forefront of your mind.

It’s easy to ignore your car’s basic needs when, well, for one, you don’t know where to find the part of the engine it goes in, and two, you’re not entirely sure what it does.  So here’s a refresher on some of the basic fluids your car needs. And with a little comic book inspired memory jog, you can be your own superhero by getting to know your under-the-bonnet basics.


Your OIL. Oil is to your engine like blood is to your body – without it things stop working.  It lubricates the moving parts of your engine (the pistons and cylinders) so they don’t cause friction. Friction is an engine’s nemesis; it causes so much heat that the metal bits of the engine begin to melt and weld together and eventually the engine itself seizes. So to make sure your engine remains functional, it needs oil.

You should check your car’s oil once a month by checking its level on the dipstick, which looks something like this:


Where would you be without BRAKE FLUID? Probably in a lot of trouble. You are using brake fluid every time you stop or slow your car. Brake fluid assists in the transfer of force when you press the brake pedal. Without brake fluid, your car will not stop as easily, creating a dangerous situation for yourself and others.  It’s a good idea to check your brake fluid regularly to make sure there aren’t any leaks in your brake lines (the lines that transfer the liquid to the brakes).  If you notice a rapid decrease in brake fluid you may have a problem with your brake lines. You can find the brake fluid reservoir on the driver’s side of the car and you can check the level by looking at the outside of the container.


That’s right, POWER STEERING FLUID. You may think you’re in complete control of your car, but you have a friendly side-kick doing the heavy lifting. The power steering system in your car helps you turn your steering wheel. Like your brakes, power steering is a hydraulic system – it uses liquid to move its component parts.  So it’s a good idea to keep an eye on your power steering fluid levels. You should be able to easily locate your power steering fluid reservoir under your bonnet, just check your car’s manual. Like most of the fluid reservoirs under your bonnet you should be able to check the level by looking at the plastic container.


Check your COOLANT.  Like the name suggests, coolant is a fluid that makes hot things cool. Just like a swim in the ocean cools you down on a hot summer’s day, coolant is used by your car’s radiator to cool your engine down and keep it from overheating. Your coolant should be checked at least twice a year – once before summer and then before winter. Coolant is usually kept in a plastic container next to the radiator so you should be able to check your coolant levels simply by looking at the container to see if the liquid inside comes up to the right level.


Check your WASHER FLUID.  Don’t underestimate the basic need for washer fluid. Nothing could be more irritating, and indeed dangerous, than a dirty windshield when you’re driving into the sun. There are a few different types of washer fluid out there, and while some need to be mixed with water, others can be used straight from the bottle.  Make sure you know which one you are getting before you use it. Washer fluid should be checked regularly (once a month), depending on how often you use it. To check its levels simply open your bonnet and look for a clear plastic container that is labelled either with words or with a windscreen symbol.

The Final Word

Just keep in mind that all cars are different, so consult your car’s manual for more specific instruction. Also, make sure your car is turned off and cooled down before you check your under-the-bonnet basics.

It’s important to keep your car well maintained, and knowing your under bonnet basics is a great start; make sure you have your car serviced regularly to ensure it’s running at its optimum. And, for the peace of mind of your very own on-road super hero, compare Roadside Assistance policies today. Happy driving!

For peace of mind on the road, compare Roadside Assistance policies today.

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Author comparethemarket.com.au

Launched in September of 2012, Comparethemarket.com.au – operated by Compare the Market Pty Ltd (CTM) – has teamed up with a range of Australia’s insurance providers so you can compare some of the latest deals, in one place, side-by-side. The team behind comparethemarket.com.au have experience in insurance, comparison, customer service and digital. If this was a stuffy corporate monologue, we’d tell you that we’re a bunch of subject matter experts specialising in User Experience, Customer Insights & Online Strategies. But to be honest, it’s just as accurate (and a whole lot easier) to say that we’re a bunch of people who want to make your experience with online comparison better. We pride ourselves on the fact that we’re forward-thinking, that we share an entrepreneurial spirit, and the fact that we like to have a bit of a laugh too. We’re all a bit too addicted to chocolate, but no one’s perfect, really.

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